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Only Religions Count in Vietnam': Thich Tri Quang and the Vietnam War

Mcallister, James

Thich Tri Quang has long been one of the most controversial actors in the history of the Vietnam War. Scholars on the right have argued that Tri Quang was in all likelihood a communist agent operating at the behest of Hanoi. Scholars on the left have argued that Tri Quang was a peaceful religious leader devoted to democracy and a rapid end to the war. This article argues that neither of these interpretations is persuasive. As American officials rightly concluded throughout the war, there was no compelling evidence to suggest that Tri Quang was a communist agent or in any way sympathetic to the goals of Hanoi or the NLF. Drawing on the extensive archival evidence of Tri Quang's conversations with American officials, it is apparent that Tri Quang was in fact strongly anti-communist and quite receptive to the use of American military power against North Vietnam and China. The main factor that led to conflict between the Buddhist movement and the Johnson administration was Tri Quang's insistence that the military regimes that followed Ngo Dinh Diem were hostile to Buddhism and incapable of leading the struggle against Communism to a successful conclusion. Thich Tri Quang's importance in understanding the course of the Vietnam War can hardly be underestimated. In the aftermath of President Ngo Dinh Diem's violent suppression of Buddhist protests in May 1963, Tri Quang played a major role in sparking and sustaining the long crisis that ultimately lead to Diem's removal from power in November 1963. Unwilling to return to the political sidelines after the murder of Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, Tri Quang continued to exert his great influence over the political life of South Vietnam by granting or withholding his support from the various military regimes that ruled the country between 1964 and 1966.
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