JULY 7, 1959
NEW YORK—Just five years ago, on July 7, President Ngo Dinh Diem took office as chief of state of the interim government of South Vietnam. Less than two years later he proclaimed South Vietnam a republic and became its first President.
Many people felt great pessimism following the Geneva agreements on Indo-China. They felt it would be impossible for this part of Vietnam to exist and survive the Communist inroads and internal squabbles which inevitably come in a newly formed government. Many felt that the President could never master this difficult situation and establish a stable government and show that an Asian country could resist both colonialism and communism.
Those of us who have been interested watched the press reports from that time on with some anxiety and great interest, and on this fifth anniversary it seems that we in this country should salute President Ngo for his leadership and for the progress made in the Republic of Vietnam.
The President showed great wisdom in handling the domestic situation. The attacks of war lords and of armed sects were systematically routed, and a stable atmosphere was created in which reconstruction could be undertaken. At the time he proclaimed the republic a constituent assembly was elected to draft a constitution and a National Assembly was inaugurated.
To complicate matters for this new republic in the first years, almost a million refugees from Communist North Vietnam poured in, but somehow they were resettled and attained productive citizenship. Only the inauguration of a farsighted program could have brought about these results. There had to be agrarian reform. Credit and cooperatives were established and the land was resettled as well.
In October, 1956, the Constitution, which guaranteed basic freedoms to the people, was proclaimed. To be sure, progress was sometimes slow but it was steady in such areas as education, public health, industrialization and public administration.
Vietnam has grown in stature and in the respect of its neighbors. In 1957 the Colombo Plan held its annual conference in Saigon and in the spring of that same year the President of the Republic of Vietnam made a state visit to the United States at the invitation of President Eisenhower. He was already familiar with this country because he had been here as a student and during his time of voluntary exile.
It is tragic for countries to be divided as Vietnam and Korea are, but free Vietnam has shown that where people can enjoy higher standards of living and feel they are moving forward and achieving greater freedom and justice they will fight not to be held back but to be allowed to continue their march toward greater achievement.
We in the U.S. can feel that in this country we have given aid wisely. But there should be a greater knowledge among our people of what is being achieved and a greater interest. So, I give you today this information sent to me by the American Friends of Vietnam, and I hope that the number of these friends will grow quickly in this country.