What events led up to the Buddhist monk riots referred to as one of the turning points during the Vietnam era?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The protests of Buddhist monks were calls for the new government of Vietnam to uphold its promises of religious freedom.  President Ngo Dinh Diem's government had consistently favored Catholics, even though the Buddhist population was in the majority of the Southern Part of the nation.  In a controversy about the raising of the flag with an image of the Gautama Buddha on it, Buddhists felt slighted.  At Hue Vesak, a crowd of Buddhists protested the government actions and were shot by government forces, with nine being killed.  In response to this and the other examples of discrimination faced by Buddhists, a monk by the name of Thich Quan Duk burned himself to death in the middle of a busy Saigon street.  This action spawned more acts of rebellion and helped to bring about the reality that the problems in Vietnam were being addressed by those who lacked a fear of death.  This carried transnational implications, when Norman Morrison, a United States citizen who was also a Quaker dedicated to pacifism, stood outside then Secretary of Defense McNamara's office and doused himself with kerosene at the Pentagon.  Mirroring the Buddhist Monk's actions, Morrison's actions were done in the same vein of seeking to bring out a voice of opposition to a government that repudiated the sounds of dissent.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The main event that led to the rioting by Buddhists against the Diem regime was the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk named Quang Duc on a street in Saigon.  This happened on June 11, 1963.

This monk burned himself to death in protest of the policies of the Diem regime.  Ngo Dinh Diem and his family were Catholic.  The vast majority of people in Vietnam were Buddhist.  Even so, Diem discriminated against Buddhists.  An example of this came when he did not allow Buddhists to conduct public celebrations of a major religious holiday in the city of Hue.  This led to protests that were repressed harshly.

In response to actions such as this, Quang Duc killed himself.  His example, in addition to the insensitive (to say the least) reaction of the Diem regime (Diem's wife welcomed suicides like that, using the word "barbeque") led to huge unrest among Buddhists in Vietnam.

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