Dương Văn Minh

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About this sound Dương Văn Minh (February 16, 1916 – August 6, 2001), popularly known as “Big Minh”, was a South 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 after leading a coup in which Diệm was assassinated. Minh lasted only three months before being toppled by Nguyễn Khánh, but he led that nation again in April 1975, during the last two days of its existence, 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 executed after being captured, and Minh was heavily blamed for ordering his 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 disinterested. 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 false charges of promoting neutralism and a truce with the communists. Minh was angered by these events and disliked Khánh anyway, and did not help him run the country. 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.

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