Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu

Born as Tran Le Xuan (Beautiful Spring) in 1924 to a Vietnamese family that had enriched itself in service to the French colonialists, Le Xuan dropped out of Hanoi's Lycee Albert Sarraut. She was fluent in French but never learned to write in Vietnamese. Tran Le Xuan married Ngo Dinh Nhu in 1944, and because Ngo Dinh Diem was a bachelor, she was for all intents and purposes the first lady of the Republic of Vietnam. Madame Nhu issued decrees banning divorce, adultery, prostitution, dancing, boxing, beauty contests, and fortune-telling, among other things. Regarding herself a feminist, she lectured on women's issues and commanded her own paramilitary organization, the Women's Solidarity Movement.

Madame Nhu saw herself as the reincarnation of the Trung sisters, ancient leaders in the struggle for independence from China. She was extremely thoughtless to and unfeeling about anyone outside the ruling clique or the sufferings that Diem's incompetent, corrupt, and increasingly cruel government imposed on the people. When Buddhist monks and a nun immolated themselves protesting Diem's government, she airily referred to them as Buddhist "barbeques." Nhu encouraged her outlandishness by adding that "if the Buddhists want to have another barbecue, I will be glad to supply the gasoline." Such comments helped strengthen U.S. opposition to Diem, paving the way for the November 1963 coup. Madame Nhu was in the United States, campaigning for support for the Diem regime, in November 1963 when Diem and her husband were assassinated. She then moved to Rome.