|Nguyen Van Thieu|
Nguyen Van Thieu was the son of a small landowning family in a Vietnam colonized by the French. He aspired to freedom for his country and joined Ho Chi Minh’s liberation struggle in 1945.
However, he subsequently defected to fight on the side of the French against his former allies. His ability as a military leader was soon recognized and, from 1954, he took command of the Vietnamese Military Academy of South Vietnam after it won independence from France.
He served under Ngo Dinh Diem but also took part in Ngo’s assassination in 1963, with the tacit support of U.S. authorities. He subsequently took a leading role in Nguyen Cao Ky’s military government, and was elected president of the Republic of Vietnam in 1967 and then reelected unopposed in 1971.
Nguyen Van Theiu’s administration tended toward authoritarianism, with U.S. support possibly because the United States had no alternatives. Nguyen Van Thieu was nevertheless critical of U.S. policies and politicians.
He resented their lack of interest in Vietnamese culture and history, refusal to learn the Vietnamese language, and demands for democracy. Even as he was airlifted out of Saigon in 1975 just before it fell to communism, he accused the United States of running away and abandoning his country.
He was as an ally of U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson and then Richard Nixon, as he led the South Vietnamese state against the Communist forces. He worked with U.S. military advisers and then with the large-scale deployment of U.S. and allied forces. As the Communists gained ground, he agreed to participate in negotiations that resulted in the peace agreement of 1973.
As U.S. forces withdrew from South Vietnam and the North Vietnamese advanced, he ordered all South Vietnamese forces to protect Saigon, but was unsuccessful. As the city fell he resigned as president and fled to exile, first in London and then in the United States.