Finding the Dragon Lady

Finding the Dragon Lady

The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu

Book - 2013
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In November 1963, the president of South Vietnam and his brother were brutally executed in a coup that was sanctioned and supported by the American government. President Kennedy later explained to his close friend Paul "Red" Fay that the reason the United States made the fateful decision to get rid of the Ngos was in no small part because of South Vietnam's first lady, Madame Nhu. "That goddamn bitch," Fay remembers President Kennedy saying, "She's responsible ... that bitch stuck her nose in and boiled up the whole situation down there."

The coup marked the collapse of the Diem government and became the US entry point for a decade-long conflict in Vietnam. Kennedy's death and the atrocities of the ensuing war eclipsed the memory of Madame Nhu--with her daunting mixture of fierceness and beauty. But at the time, to David Halberstam, she was "the beautiful but diabolic sex dictatress," and Malcolm Browne called her "the most dangerous enemy a man can have."

By 1987, the once-glamorous celebrity had retreated into exile and seclusion, and remained there until young American Monique Demery tracked her down in Paris thirty years later. Finding the Dragon Lady is Demery's story of her improbable relationship with Madame Nhu, and--having ultimately been entrusted with Madame Nhu's unpublished memoirs and her diary from the years leading up to the coup--the first full history of the Dragon Lady herself, a woman who was feared and fantasized over in her time, and who singlehandedly frustrated the government of one of the world's superpowers.
Publisher: New York : PublicAffairs, c2013
Edition: 1st ed. --
ISBN: 9781610392815
1610392817
Branch Call Number: 959.77043092 Tran -D
Characteristics: xi, 258 p. : ill., map

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StarGladiator
Aug 20, 2018

This is a remarkable work of scholarship and research by Ms. Demery; excruciatingly well balanced and informative on the Diem regime or administration in Vietnam and the role played by the controversial Madame Nhu - - President Diem's sister-in-law and acting First Lady.
I especially appreciated the inclusion of the top section on p. 142 quoting Karnow's opinion that had President Diem and Madame Nhu remained in power, the large scale US military build up would never have occurred. Historically speaking, we know that both President Diem and President Kennedy were against a large US military presence in South Vietnam. Although the exact details of what occurred during the coup which ousted President Diem, followed with his horrific murder [atrocities were committed on him prior to death] aren't crystal clear, the coup's outcome acted opposite to what JFK wanted: a more inclusive government consensus - - but we are now aware that JFK had moved, by the time of his assassination, on preparations to fire both Ambassador Lodge of South Vietnam and Averell Harriman [presidential emissary in negotiations between South and North Vietnam] because they were working at cross purposes to JFK - - both hawks to his increasingly dovish position.
In Harriman's authorized biography he fully admits that he was aware he was about to be fired by JFK, and thanks to a declassified memo - - briefly touched upon in Ted Sorensen's book - - we are now aware that JFK had lost trust in his national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, and planned to move him over to State and replace that position with Ted Sorensen, whom he trusted. This is a most salient detail since the national security advisor position was the communications interface between the president and various ambassadors, foreign embassies and CIA stations abroad. Several historians, in pouring over Kennedy's memos and notes and Bundy's cables, noted some major differences between them!?
In Seymour Hersh's godawful disinformation book, The Dark Side of Camelot, he attempts to nonsensically discredit JFK by pointint out that McGeorge Bundy was affiliated with the CIA as it was Bundy who recruited Lawrence Devlin [CIA station chief in the Congo] to the CIA in the 1950s. One of the very few points Hersh gets correct, but JFK had no way of knowing that McGeorge Bundy was CIA all the way! [Of course, Hersh conveniently neglected to mention that Devlin had been ordered repeatedly by the CIA to murder Patrice Lumumba - - during the Eisenhower Administration - - but ignored those directives as, like JFK, he both supported and believed Lumumba was the Congo's best future hope.]
A little know, recondite fact not mentioned by Ms. Demery is that a short time before the coup and murder of President Diem and his brother, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., went outside his authority and fired the CIA station chief in Saigon, replacing him with Lucien Conein, thus Ambassador Lodge, Averell Harriman and McGeorge Bundy exercised considerable control over American interests and influence in Vietnam at the time of the coup and several weeks later when President Kennedy was murdered in Dallas.
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1997-12-23/news/9712230205_1_south-vietnam-joint-chiefs-assassination-records-review-board
https://consortiumnews.com/2013/11/25/jfks-embrace-of-third-world-nationalists/

LPL_DanC Sep 24, 2015

If you are a history buff, or interested in true accounts of researchers tracking down mysterious, reclusive figures, this will be a page turner. Author Demery was always fascinated by Madame Nhu, who served as de facto first lady of South Vietnam during the presidency of her brother-in-law in the early 1960s. Demery locates Madame Nhu 50 years later, living in obscurity in a Paris apartment. This book tells the story of Demery's search, and what she learned about Madame Nhu's life before, during, and after the Vietnam War.

c
CRAIGEEJ
Sep 18, 2014

A great read talk about a woman of determination and the tiger skins alone were worth the read and they even threw in Beverly Hills. who'd a thunk it. But when your locked up in a dark room with your mother for months after your birth I guess you "HEAR" things.

r
Rock_Shadow
Nov 23, 2013

Though only president Diem’s sister-in-law, Madame Nhu was a driving force of the presidency, with her iron will, morality laws such as outlawing abortion, divorce, adultery, contraceptives, beauty pageants and more. I admire Demery for her tenacity in finding and interviewing the recluse Dragon Lady, and for bringing her story to the spotlight. Through Demery’s book I learned a lot more about why and how the Vietnam War started. The web of intimate details of the Vietnamese presidential family, of the influence of the American press, and of political intrigue both in Vietnam and in the US was well researched. Demery didn’t have a chance to truly get inside of Madame Nhu, but what she did find was amazing enough.

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