Wednesday, July 27, 2011

South Vietnam's unlikely leader dies [Nguyen Cao Ky]

Asia Times ^ | 7/27/2011 | Donald Kirk

PANAMA CITY, Florida - Here in the Florida panhandle, looking over the Gulf of Mexico, ruminating on old times covering the Vietnam War with Don Tate, another correspondent from those days, we had to have a few laughs over one of the war's more colorful figures.

Could any of the cast of characters we encountered then have been a more unlikely leader of the country into which American leaders were pouring blood and treasure than Nguyen Cao Ky, the flyboy from Hanoi who was actually the prime minister of South Vietnam for two years in the mid-1960s?


"I liked him," said Tate, who was covering Vietnam for the Scripps-Howard newspapers while I was with the old Washington (DC) Star. "I liked those purple scarves. He always seemed like he wanted to win the war."

It was easy to make light of Ky for what he was, the pampered puppet of the American war machine, the opportunist who rose to power after the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem when, really, there was no one else around. Still, when he died a few days ago at the age of 80, it was hard to find anything really bad to say about a man whose name conjured so many memories of chance meetings with an amiable person who was more a symbol of his times than an important actor.

"I only really saw him once," said Tate. "He was watching a doubles [tennis] match at the Cercle Sportif [in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City]. I was playing with another American against two of Vietnam's best players. He was there with other Cercle members judging whether we should be accepted as members. They were acting like they didn't know a war was going on."

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