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Thich Tri Quang and Buddhist political objectives in South Vietnam
Date of Creation:
April 20, 1966
Date of Declassification:
October 14, 1993
Type of Document:
Intelligence memorandum
Level of Classification:
Status of Copy:
Pagination, Illustration:
17 p.
A Buddhist political victory stemming from the current political crisis in South Vietnam would almost certainly entail a temporary setback to US objectives and programs, but would not portend total disaster. The professed aims of the Buddhist leaders stress preservations of South Vietnamese independence and freedom from Communist dominations. For all their obstreperousness, naivete, and apparent irresponsibility, the Buddhists are a potent political factor with which any government must come to terms if it is to achieve stability. The political bonzes, such as Thich Tri Quang, do not necessarily speak for or represent the true aspirations of all South Vietnamese Buddhists, but they do have a more effective, mass-based political organization than anyone else in Vietnam other than the Communists. The Buddhist hierarchy is not Communist, although the activities of its leaders often aid the Communist cause. The attitudes and behavior of these men, and the Vietnamese public receptiveness of their political influence, have been conditioned by complex religious, political and sociological factors over the course of Vietnamese history. Should the Buddhists succeed in bringing to power a government under their control, the US would be confronted with delicate political problems. Over the long term, however, a Buddhist-dominated government could have the effect of stabilizing the Vietnam situation. It is unlikely that a Buddhist government would deliberately hand South Vietnam to the Communists. Although the Buddhists desire the eventual termination of US presence and influence, key Buddhist leaders recognize that US economic and military support will be needed for some time. Though they appear to desire an independent South Vietnam under Buddhist control, they probably recognize that this goal cannot be achieved without US support and assistance against the Communists. A Buddhist-controlled government would be viewed with resentment and great apprehension by other political and religious groups in South Vietnam, and some of these groups might attempt to bring the government down. Faced with a choice between the Buddhists and the Viet Cong, however, most other groups would probably eventually decide to go along with the Buddhists, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. Buddhist acquisition of political power would also cause deep strains within the Vietnamese military establishment. Over the short run, the unity and effectiveness of the armed forces would probably be impaired. It is at least possible, however, that the degree of latent support for the Buddhists prevalent throughout the armed forces could eventually result in better military unity and a greater sense of identity between the army and the populace.
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