112. Telegram From the Consulate at Hue to the Department of State1

4. Buddha Birthday Celebration Hue May 8 erupted into large-scale demonstration at Hue Radio Station between 2000 hours local and 2330 hours. At 2245 hours estimated 3,000 crowd assembled and guarded by 8 armored cars, one Company CG, one Company minus ARVN, police armored cars and some carbines fired into air to disperse mob which apparently not unruly but perhaps deemed menacing by authorities. Grenade explosion on radio station porch killed four children, one woman. Other incidents, possibly some resulting from panic, claimed two more children plus one person age unknown killed. Total casualties for evening 8 killed, 4 wounded.2

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Background this incident started May 7 when police attempted enforce law that no flags other than Viet-Namese to be flown.3 Police apparently encountered popular resistance to enforcement of law as thousands Buddhist flags publicly displayed. At police request evening May 7 Province Chief Dang reportedly rescinded order. Morning May 8 demonstration at large Tu Dam Pagoda resulted in speech by Chief Bonze in presence Buddhist Dang criticizing GVN suppression freedom religion, favoritism of Catholics. Parade banners during day anti-GVN orientated. Translations of same will be forwarded when available.

Evening May 8 crowd gathered at radio station where Head Bonze scheduled broadcast speech. Permission refused at last minute by GVN. Bonzes on scene urged people remain peaceful. GVN fire hoses and exhortations of Province Chief unsuccessful in dispersing crowd. Troops arrived and ordered dispersal.

Bonzes said stand still, do not fight, GVN claims some threw rocks at radio station, although indications are this not true. Firing then broke out.

1100 hours May 9, Province Chief addressed estimated 800 youth, demonstrators, explained crowd actions spurred by oppositionist agitators had necessitated troop action to maintain order. Head Bonze requested crowd disperse peacefully and turn in flags. Some of crowd heard chanting “down with Catholicism”.

At moment Hue quiet. Population controls and unusual troop deployment not observed. However, situation very fluid and reports of Buddhist demonstration to occur afternoon May 9 flowing in. Buddhists very upset. American community on Emergency Phase II Alert but no threat to Americans apparent at present.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 25 S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate. Received at 8:33 a.m.
  2. At 7 p.m. the Embassy in Saigon sent a second report of the incident to Washington, listing seven dead and seven injured. The Embassy noted that Vietnamese Government troops may have fired into the crowd, but most of the casualties resulted, the Embassy reported, from a bomb, a concussion grenade, or “from general melee”. The Embassy observed that although there had been no indication of Viet Cong activity in connection with the incident, the Viet Cong could be expected to exploit future demonstrations. (Telegram 1005 from Saigon, May 9; Ibid., SOC 14-1 S VIET) Subsequent accounts of the May 8 incident in Hue have generally listed the casualties as nine killed and fourteen wounded. (United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 3, p. 5; Hilsman, To Move a Nation, p. 468; Mecklin, Mission in Torment, p. 153) In a detailed assessment of the Buddhist demonstrations in Hue May 8-10, Consul Helble reported that seven people died on the evening of May 8, and one of those injured subsequently died. He noted that approximately 15 additional demonstrators were injured, but added that exact figures were difficult to determine. Two of those killed, both children, died from being crushed by armored vehicles. (Airgram A-20 from Hue, June 3; Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET)
  3. The law limiting the use of religious flags was established by Decree 189/BNV/NA/P 5, which became effective on May 12, 1958. According to the law, religious sect flags could be flown only on religious holidays at places of worship or private homes with the permission of the local authorities. In airgram A-20, cited in footnote 2 above, Helble noted that the law was “never observed” until the attempt to enforce it, apparently on orders from President Diem, at Hue on the most important Buddhist holiday of the year. (The text of the regulations outlined in Decree 189 is contained in a communique issued by the Mayor of Danang on April 8, 1963, which was transmitted to Washington as enclosure 6 to airgram A-20)