Republic of Vietnam

The flag of the Republic of Vietnam Military Forces. Used from 1955 to 1975.
The flag of the Republic of Vietnam Military Forces.
Used from 1955 to 1975.

The Republic of Vietnam was the portion of southern Vietnam that fought against communist North Vietnam in the Second Indochina War (Vietnam War). It was created after the defeat of previous colonial masters, the French, and ceased to exist with the seizure of its capital, Saigon, by communist forces.

Southern Vietnam was historically the home of the Cham peoples. When the French arrived in the 19th century, they made the southern part of the country, which they named Cochin-China, a full colony. It was, therefore, more firmly French-run than the rest of Indochina.

Saigon was more thoroughly internationalized than the remainder of the country, and the people were more familiar with the capitalist system and French culture. The French created the state of Vietnam in 1949, which centered on the Cochin-China colony and had the emperor as head of state.

The defeat of the French and the Geneva Conference of 1954 established the state as occupying the territory south of the 17th parallel. In the following year the Republic of Vietnam was announced after Emperor Bao Dai was deposed.

The first president of the republic was Ngo Dinh Diem, who had been involved in the ousting of the emperor and who adopted an authoritarian approach to ruling the country. When Diem was deposed and killed, a brief interlude under Nguyen Cao Ky was succeeded by military rule, which began in 1965.

In 1967 Nguyen Van Thieu was elected president and then was reelected unopposed four years later. Despite the massive outlay of lives and materiél to resist the North Vietnamese, after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 1973 as a result of the Paris Accord, the capture of Saigon in 1975 seems to have been inevitable.

Ngo Dinh Diem
Ngo Dinh Diem

Although the Republic of Vietnam had developed a sophisticated bicameral parliamentary system, its existence was tainted more or less throughout by corruption and by the authoritarian rule of its presidents and rulers.

A number of people have characterized the state as little more than a puppet U.S. state, and certainly it would not have lasted so long without large scale U.S. military support.

However, it would be scarcely fair to consider the presidents of the republic, notably Nguyen Van Thieu, as mere puppets. Indeed Nguyen Van Thieu was often trenchant in his criticisms of U.S. leaders and intransigent in pursuing policies of his own devising.