Book Review: ‘The Lost Mandate Of Heaven’

A historical look at Ngo Dihn Diem, president of South Vietnam

Vietnam has always been a volatile topic historically, politically, and journalistically. Many think the Vietnam War began with the Johnson and Nixon presidencies, but in fact, it was John F. Kennedy who started the campaign. The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dihn Diem, President of Vietnam presents a hidden truth behind Camelot that is eye-opening and sobering.

Author Geoffrey Shaw talks about Vietnam before the outbreak of military involvement by the United States. He discusses how the mainstream media in the 1950s and 1960s influenced a nation and a young president against an ally in the Pan Asian region.

Shaw describes Diem not as the murderous despot that the press painted, but as a Vietnamese patriot who, though flawed, wanted nothing more than to modernize his nation and fortify it against communist influence. From early on, Diem was active in politics. A faithful Catholic, he often felt the call to serve in the ministry, but according to Shaw, he got involved in politics as a duty to his people. With American support, he became the president of South Vietnam in 1955.

Events changed when the press began to criticize his handling of domestic of affairs, calling him a brutal dictator. Despite opposition from members of his cabinet, JFK soon begin to strain his relationship with Diem, eventually leading to the capture and murder of the South Vietnamese leader.

Shaw gives a historical study of Diem and his administration. He admits the faults of the leader while also breaking down how beneficial his friendship was to the United States at the early stages of the Cold War.

Shaw is not a partisan writing a political fluff piece. He is a historian from the University of Manitoba who focuses on U.S. diplomatic and military history in Southeast Asia. He is a scholar, former professor, and currently serves as the president of the Alexandrian Defense Group, a counter-insurgency warfare think tank. He provides plenty of background, sources, and information relating to the book’s topics.

The Lost Mandate Of Heaven describes Ngo Dihn Diem as a man who, though conflicted, wanted nothing other than to keep his nation safe from the growing threat of communism in the region. The book is interesting, thorough, and provides a better understanding of the historical backdrop of the events leading up to the Vietnam War.

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