Gen. Nguyen Chanh Thi, 84, Seen as Hero in Vietnam, Dies





Gen. Nguyen Chanh Thi, a popular and flamboyant South Vietnamese senior officer whose firing in the spring of 1966 set off civil warfare within his own country at the same time it was fighting the Communist north, died Saturday in Lancaster, Pa. He was 84.

Matthew Kalafat, his son-in-law, announced the death.

General Thi administered a huge swath of the northern part of South Vietnam when his chief rival in the ruling military junta, Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, the premier, persuaded eight generals in the 10-man junta to join him in ousting General Thi.

Buddhists, who made up a majority in South Vietnam, rose up in a rebellion that came to be called “the struggle movement.” Interpretations of the importance of the ouster of General Thi, a Buddhist, in starting the rioting and other civil disobedience vary.

American diplomats at first applauded his ouster and accused him of acting like a warlord. The New York Times reported that President Lyndon B. Johnson’s strong expression of support of Premier Ky at a meeting in Honolulu in February 1966 was a tacit license for the Vietnamese leader to act against General Thi.

By summer, government forces, with the aid of the United States military, had defeated the struggle movement. General Thi was dismissed from the army and sent to the United States for sinus treatment, which his son-in-law said he did not need. (The general said his only sinus problem was “the stink of corruption.”) It turned out to be a permanent exile.



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