Duong Van Minh

Duong Van Minh

Dương Văn Minh ( listen) (16 February 1916 – 6 August 2001), popularly known as “Big Minh”, was a Vietnamese general and politician. He was a senior general in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) during the rule of Ngô Đình Diệm. In 1963, he became president of the Republic after leading a coup in which Diệm was assassinated. Minh lasted only three months before being toppled by Nguyễn Khánh, but assumed power again in April 1975, two days before surrendering to communist forces.

The son of a wealthy landlord, Minh joined the French Army at the start of World War II, and was captured and tortured by the Imperial Japanese, who invaded and seized French Indochina. During this time, Minh’s teeth were plucked out, leaving him with his distinctive smile. After his release, he joined the French-backed Vietnamese National Army (VNA) and was imprisoned by the communist-dominated Việt Minh before breaking out. In 1955, when Vietnam was partitioned and the State of Vietnam controlled the southern half under Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm, Minh led the VNA in decisively defeating the Bình Xuyên paramilitary crime syndicate in street combat and dismantling the Hòa Hảo religious tradition's private army. This made him popular with the people and Diệm, but the latter later put him in a powerless position, regarding him as a threat.

In 1963, the authoritarian Diệm became increasingly unpopular due to the Buddhist crisis and the ARVN generals decided to launch a coup, which Minh eventually led. Diệm was assassinated on 2 November 1963 shortly after being deposed. Minh was accused of ordering an aide, Nguyễn Văn Nhung, to kill Diệm. Minh then led a junta for three months, but he was an unsuccessful leader and was heavily criticized for being lethargic and uninterested. During his three months of rule, many civilian problems intensified and the communists made significant gains. Angered at not receiving his desired post, General Nguyễn Khánh led a group of similarly motivated officers in a bloodless coup in January 1964. Khánh allowed Minh to stay on as a token head of state in order to capitalize on Minh's public standing, but Khánh had the real power. In the meantime, Khánh had four of Minh's colleagues tried and put under house arrest on purported charges of promoting neutralism and a truce with the communists. After a power struggle, Khánh had Minh exiled. Minh stayed away before deciding to return and challenge General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu in the presidential election of 1971. When it became obvious that Thiệu would rig the poll, Minh withdrew and did not return until 1972, keeping a low profile.

Minh then advocated a “third force”, maintaining that Vietnam could be reunified without a military victory to a hardline communist or anti-communist government. However, this was not something that Thiệu agreed with. In April 1975, as South Vietnam was on the verge of being overrun, Thiệu resigned. A week later, Minh was chosen by the legislature and became president on 28 April 1975. It was thought that Minh would be able to negotiate a cease-fire due to his policy stance, but the communists were on the verge of gaining absolute power, so they pushed on. Saigon fell two days later on 30 April, and Minh ordered the surrender to prevent bloody urban street fighting. Minh was spared the lengthy incarceration meted out to South Vietnamese military personnel and civil servants, and lived quietly until being allowed to emigrate to France in 1983. He later moved to California, where he died. He remains a controversial figure among supporters of South Vietnam due to his decision to surrender rather than fight to the death.

He earned his nickname “Big Minh”, because at approximately 1.83 m (6 ft) tall and weighing 90 kg (198 lb), he was remarkably larger than the average Vietnamese. The nickname also served to distinguish him from another South Vietnamese general, Trần Văn Minh, who was known as “Little Minh”.

Read more about Duong Van Minh:  Early Years, Vietnamese National Army/battles Against Bình Xuyên and Hòa Hảo, Overthrow of Diệm, Rule, Overthrow By Nguyễn Khánh, August and September Power Struggle With Khánh, Exile, Second Presidency, Life in Exile, Death

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