Do Mau

Do Mau
Ðỗ Mậu
Allegiance Vietnamese National Army, Army of the Republic of Vietnam
Years of service 1940s–1965
Rank Brigadier General
Commands held Director of Military Security (1958–1963)
Battles/wars 1963 South Vietnamese coup, 1964 South Vietnamese coup
Other work

- Information Minister (November 1963 – January 1964)
- Deputy Prime Minister for social and cultural affairs (1964)
- Co-founder of the political party Luc Luong Dan Toc Viet (The National Viet

People’s Force), 1960s
- Author of the political memoirs Việt Nam Máu Lửa Quê Hương Tôi (Vietnam, My Country in Blood and Fire), 1,390 pages, Ed. 1986 & 1996, ISBN 1-884129-31-5, and Tâm Thư (Letter from the Heart), Ed. 1995

Brigadier General Ðỗ Mậu (born 1917) was an officer in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) best known for his roles as a recruiting strategist in both the 1963 coup that toppled President Ngo Dinh Diem and the 1964 coup led by General Nguyen Khanh that deposed the junta of General Duong Van Minh. He was born in Quang Binh Province.

Having abandoned the Communist led Viet Minh resistance to join the Vietnamese National Army, the predecessor of the ARVN, Mau rose to be head of military security under Diem. At that time a colonel with no troops to command, Mau was nevertheless an important member of the conspiracy due to his liaisons with a wide number of officers, which allowed him to recruit widely for coup participants. He initially tried to organize a coup group himself with Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao, an undetected communist agent bent on maximising infighting, and disillusioned intelligence director Tran Kim Tuyen mainly consisting of mid-level officers. Later this group was integrated into the main plot led by a group of generals; Mau had helped to liaise between some of these generals. He also concocted false data to convince Diem to send the ARVN Special Forces—mainly used to defend Diem and his family from coups in Saigon—into the countryside to battle a non-existent large-scale communist attack. The coup was successful and Diem was captured and executed.

After the coup, Mau was promoted to brigadier general and made one of 12 members of the ruling junta. Fearing his political skills, the leading generals tried to sideline him and placed him in the low-key and uninfluential post of Information Minister, where he censored newspapers. Mau responded by plotting his own coup, joining forces with Khanh and other disgrunted Generals Duong Van Duc and Tran Thien Khiem, and Colonels Nguyen Chanh Thi and Duong Ngoc Lam. Three months after Diem was deposed, the next coup was successful without needing a battle. Mau was then made one of three deputy prime ministers, overseeing social and cultural affairs.

Disillusioned with Khanh’s tendency toward military dictatorship, and isolated by the young generals, he retired from the military for good in 1964.


Early years and career

During the 1940s, he once joined the Viet Minh resistance as a Battalion Commanding officer in the Central Vietnam, but soon disillusioned by Communist cadres. He then joined the French-backed Vietnamese National Army (VNA) of the State of Vietnam and trained at a French military academy.[1] A quietly spoken officer, Mau rose up the ranks,[1] and the VNA became the ARVN after the State of Vietnam became the Republic of Vietnam when Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem deposed Bao Dai and declared himself president in a fraudulent referendum organised by his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu.[2][3]

1963 coup

As the director of military security, Mau was a participant in the 1963 South Vietnamese coup that deposed and executed President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother and chief adviser Ngo Dinh Nhu.[4] The ruling Ngo family came under pressure in the Buddhist crisis of 1963, when discontent among the country's Buddhist majority towards the pro-Catholic regime erupted into civil unrest.[5]

There were many conspiracies against Diem in 1963, many of them by different cliques of military officers independent from one another. According to Ellen Hammer, there were "perhaps as many as six and possibly more" different plots,[6] and these spanned the gamut of society to include civilian politicians, union leaders, and university students.[6]

In mid-1963, one group consisted of mid-level officers such as colonels, majors, and captains. Mau was in this group, which was coordinated by Tran Kim Tuyen, South Vietnam's director of intelligence. Tuyen had been a palace insider, but a rift had developed in recent years, and he began to plot as early as 1962.[6][7] As South Vietnam was a police state, Tuyen was an extremely powerful figure and had many contacts.[8][9] Another person in this group was Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao, an undetected communist agent who was deliberately fomenting infighting among the officers and mismanaging the Strategic Hamlet Program in order to destabilise the Saigon government.[10]

Tuyen's group had many officers who were members of the opposition Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang and Dai Viet Quoc Dan Dang,[6] who had been discriminated against on issues of promotions, which were preferentially given to members of the regime's secret Can Lao Party.[11][12] These included commanders of airborne, marine and tank units from the 5th Division,[6] mostly at battalion level.[13]

As Mau was in a role that involved coordinating with other senior officers, he was an effective conduit for coup plotting.[14] He was popular and needed by the other officers as he was able to keep compromising information about them from Ngo Dinh Nhu's, Diem's younger brother and main strategist.[15]

When Tuyen's machinations were discovered, he was exiled by Nhu.[16] Mau and Thao took over but their initial coup plans for July 15 were shelved when American CIA agent Lucien Conein instructed Thao's superior, General Tran Thien Khiem, the head of the army, to stop the coup on the grounds that it was premature.[17][18] Thao and Mau's group resumed plotting, intending to move on October 24, and they recruited a total of 3,000 men.[19] They augmented their forces with an assortment of officers from auxiliary units such as from the Signal Corps, Transportation Corps and some Vietnam Air Force pilots.[13] Mau also enlisted the help of Khiem following Tuyen's departure into exile.[13]

Mau also gained the cooperation of an assortment of military and civilian dissidents known as the Military and Civilian Front for the Revolution in Vietnam (MCFRV). The MCFRV had started to plot independently in August and their leader was a cousin of Mau.[13]

Following the Xa Loi Pagoda raids, the senior generals started their own plot in earnest, having only had vague plans prior to this.[6][20] General Tran Van Don, nominally a high-ranking general, but in a position without command of troops because the palace distrusted him, was sought out by Mau, who wanted to collaborate. Mau later accompanied the ranking general in the plot, Duong Van Minh, on recruitment campaigns.[14] Despite his high rank, Minh was out of favour and served as the Presidential Military Advisor, a meaningless desk job where he had no subordinates in the field and no access to soldiers.[20] Mau helped Minh to secure the cooperation of General Nguyen Khanh,[14] who commanded the II Corps that oversaw the central highlands of the country, and Colonel Nguyen Van Thieu,[14] who commanded the 5th Division based just outside the capital Saigon in Bien Hoa. According to Thieu, Mau and Minh had promised to establish a more strongly anti-communist government to expulge Nhu and his wife out of the country and keep Diem as a figurehead president.[21]

In October, the younger officers' plot was integrated into the generals' larger group, which was more likely to succeed,[22] because Khiem and Mau were involved with both groups.[23] The coup was successfully executed on 1 November 1963 under the leadership of Generals Duong Van Minh and Tran Van Don.[24]

When the coup was about to take place, Mau helped to get to weaken loyalist forces. Mau concocted military intelligence reports with false data that claimed that the communist Vietcong were massing outside the capital for an offensive.[25] He then convinced Diem and Nhu to send several companies of ARVN Special Forces personnel out of the capital to fight the communists.[25]

The US had cut off funding for the CIA-trained Special Forces because Diem used them to stop coups, repress dissidents and attack Buddhist pagodas in the capital instead of combating the communists in rural areas.[26][27] Mau's trick meant that what was effectively a private unit of the Ngo family would be unable to defend them.[28]

Another of Diem's brother, Ngo Dinh Can, began to suspect Mau and told the palace, which told army chief General Tran Thien Khiem to have Mau arrested. However, Khiem, who was also part of the plot, deliberately procrastinated and Mau remained free. In the meantime, it was too late for the brothers to bring their loyalists back into the capital.[25] Mau helped to organise a lunchtime meeting at Joint General Staff Headquarters at Tan Son Nhut Air Base and invite senior officers to the event. There, at 13:45 on November 1, the coup was launched, and those who remained loyal to Diem were arrested.[29]

Mau found himself on the opposite side to his nephew and Air Force Lieutenant Do Tho, Diem's aide de camp.[4] Late in the evening, Tho accompanied the Ngo brothers as they escaped the rebel siege on Gia Long Palace and absconded to the home of a Chinese supporter in Cholon.[30] The next day the brothers were captured and executed.[31] Tho died in action a few months later in a plane crash.[32]

After the coup was completed, the media found out about the conspiracy organised by Tuyen and Thao that had been more advanced than that of the generals before being integrated into the main plot. Don thought that the younger officers had publicised their well-advanced plot in order to gain personal acclaim and distract attention from the generals' success, so he threatened to have them arrested. Mau intervened to protect them.[15]

Mau was one of the principal tacticians in the coup. He did not explicitly command troops, but had a thorough knowledge of the backgrounds of most of the ARVN officers and their strengths and weaknesses.[1] This had allowed him to help recruit rebels, avoid loyalists and engineer the previous coup. The Military Revolutionary Council (MRC) of General Duong Van Minh respected Mau, but their fears about his shrewdness led them to place him in the relatively powerless post of Minister of Information, even though he was one of 12 members of the MRC. Mau's closest aides were posted further away from any real power.[33]

Mau's main responsibility was to stifle anti-government sentiment. Saigon newspapers, which been able to operate liberally in the post-Diem era, reported that the junta was paralysed because all 12 generals in the MRC had equal power.[34][35] They strongly attacked Prime Minister Nguyen Ngoc Tho, accusing his civilian government of being "tools" of the MRC.[36] They also questioned Tho's activities under Diem's presidency, accusing him of personally benefiting from corruption under Diem's land policy.[36] Mau's ministry had already circulated a long list of topics that were not to be reported on.[35] Tho could no longer withstand what the reporting about him and called journalists into his office and assailed them for what he regarded as inaccurate, irresponsible and disloyal reporting.[35] Tho accused them of lying, and claimed that one of the journalists was a communist while another was a drug addict.[35] He said that his administration would "take steps to meet the situation" if the media did not behave responsibly. The next day Mau's ministry closed down three newspapers for "disloyalty".[35] During this time, Mau enacted the "Golden Rules" to govern media conduct: Do not promote Communism or neutralism. Do not endanger national security or the army's morale. Do not spread false news of any kind. Do not slander individuals. Do not bolster vices.[37]

1964 coup

Disgruntled, Mau began recruiting for a coup against Minh's MRC, sounding out exiles in Cambodia and France as well as those who had returned after the overthrow of Diem.[33] Mau started by targeting General Nguyen Khanh, who was moved from the II Corps in the central highlands to the I Corps in the far north of South Vietnam. This, it was speculated, was to keep him far away from Saigon.[1][38] This was contrary to Khanh's request for a transfer to the Mekong Delta close to Saigon. Khanh made no attempt to hide his annoyance at not being given a more important job by the MRC.[1] Khanh had long been regarded as an ambitious and unscrupulous officer by his colleagues,[39] and he had a well-known reputation for switching sides in high-level disputes for personal gain.[38][40]

The most important link in Mau's plan was Colonel Nguyen Chanh Thi, the former paratroop commander who had fled to Cambodia in the wake of the failed 1960 coup attempt against Diem. Mau persuaded the junta to install Thi as Khanh's deputy in I Corps. He tricked the junta into doing so by reasoning that Khanh had largely been responsible for putting down the 1960 revolt and that Thi would be an ideal mechanism for keeping Khanh in check, whom they distrusted. Privately, Mau predicted that Thi would be a bridge between him in Saigon and Khanh in Hue. He was correct in thinking that the 1960 conflict would be irrelevant in the shifting of allegiances of time and that the pair would work together for their current aims.[33] Mau recruited General Tran Thien Khiem, who had worked with him during the November 1963 coup. Khiem had assisted Diem in putting down the 1960 plot and had since been demoted from being Chief of Staff of the ARVN to the commander of the III Corps that surrounded Saigon following Diem's fall. Khiem readily joined the plot and controlled the divisions surrounding the capital.[33] Khiem, Khanh and Mau kept in touch surreptitiously on a regular basis, supplementing their forces with an assortment of Marine, Air Force and Special Forces officers. Mau also recruited the chief of the Civil Guard, Duong Ngoc Lam who was under investigation by the junta for swindling military funds, and General Duong Van Duc, who had recently returned from Paris and was an assistant to General Le Van Kim, the chief of the junta's general staff.[41]

At the time, there was innuendo that some generals in the MRC would become neutralist and stop fighting the communists, and that they were plotting with French President Charles de Gaulle, who supported such a solution in order to remove the US presence. Duc used his French experience to concoct some plausible sounding and incriminating documents for Mau, which purported to show that some junta members were French agents. Some of the documents were leaked to some senior American officials.[42]

On January 1964, troops led by Khanh, Khiem and Thi overthrew the MRC in a bloodless coup.[43][44] Khanh assumed control of a new junta, and Mau was one three Deputy Prime Ministers, overseeing social and cultural affairs.[45][46]


  1. ^ a b c d e Shaplen, p. 230.
  2. ^ Jacobs, pp. 85–86.
  3. ^ Karnow, pp. 237–240.
  4. ^ a b Hammer, p. 293.
  5. ^ Tucker, pp. 289–294.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Hammer, p. 250.
  7. ^ Shaplen, p. 197.
  8. ^ Tucker, p. 407.
  9. ^ Shaplen, p. 158.
  10. ^ Tucker, p. 325.
  11. ^ Dommen, p. 418.
  12. ^ Hammer, pp. 131–133.
  13. ^ a b c d Shaplen, p. 198.
  14. ^ a b c d Hammer, p. 249.
  15. ^ a b Hammer, p. 251.
  16. ^ Shaplen, pp. 197–198.
  17. ^ Karnow, p. 300.
  18. ^ Hammer, p. 264.
  19. ^ Karnow, p. 317.
  20. ^ a b Shaplen, p. 199.
  21. ^ Hammer, p. 287.
  22. ^ Tang, p. 52.
  23. ^ Shaplen, p. 206.
  24. ^ Shaplen, p. 205.
  25. ^ a b c Hammer, p. 273.
  26. ^ Jones, pp. 370–380.
  27. ^ Jacobs, pp. 145–155.
  28. ^ Karnow, p. 319.
  29. ^ Hammer, p. 285.
  30. ^ Jones, p. 418.
  31. ^ Tucker, pp. 289–295.
  32. ^ Hammer, p. 294.
  33. ^ a b c d Shaplen, p. 231.
  34. ^ Shaplen, p. 221.
  35. ^ a b c d e Moyar, p. 280.
  36. ^ a b Shaplen, p. 223.
  37. ^ "Golden Rules in Saigon". Time. 1964-01-24.,9171,875683,00.html?promoid=googlep. 
  38. ^ a b Karnow, pp. 354–355.
  39. ^ Logevall, p. 161.
  40. ^ Shaplen, p. 228.
  41. ^ Shaplen, pp. 231–232.
  42. ^ Shaplen, p. 232.
  43. ^ Karnow, p. 354.
  44. ^ Shaplen, pp. 331–334.
  45. ^ Shaplen, pp. 236–237.
  46. ^ Karnow, p. 355.


  • Dommen, Arthur J. (2001). The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans: Nationalism and Communism in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253338549. 
  • Hammer, Ellen J. (1987). A Death in November: America in Vietnam, 1963. New York City, New York: E. P. Dutton. ISBN 0-525-24210-4. 
  • Jacobs, Seth (2006). Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950–1963. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-4447-8. 
  • Jones, Howard (2003). Death of a Generation: how the assassinations of Diem and JFK prolonged the Vietnam War. New York City, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505286-2. 
  • Kahin, George McT. (1979). "Political Polarization in South Vietnam: U.S. Policy in the Post-Diem Period". Pacific Affairs (Vancouver, British Columbia) 52 (4): 647–673. 
  • Karnow, Stanley (1997). Vietnam: A history. New York City, New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-84218-4. 
  • Langguth, A. J. (2000). Our Vietnam: the war, 1954–1975. New York City, New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81202-9. 
  • Logevall, Fredrik (2006). "The French recognition of China and its implications for the Vietnam War". In Roberts, Priscilla. Behind the bamboo curtain : China, Vietnam, and the world beyond Asia. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804755027. 
  • Moyar, Mark (2006). Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965. New York City, New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521869110. 
  • Shaplen, Robert (1966). The Lost Revolution: Vietnam 1945–1965. London: Andre Deutsch. 
  • Truong Nhu Tang (1986). Journal of a Vietcong. London: Cape. ISBN 0224028197. 
  • Tucker, Spencer C. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social and Military History. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-040-9. 

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