Hacking my way through a tricky part of the book today—a section in which I must encapsulate the tumult of late-1960s South Vietnamese politics in the space of two paragraphs. The chore has me focusing on the figure of Nguyen Cao Ky, the air marshal who became South Vietnam’s prime minister in 1965 (and who recently passed away). While his achievements, or lack thereof, have been long debated, one thing is for sure: Nguyen had no illusions about his capabilities, as evidenced by his memories of the post-coup military meeting that brought him to power:
I asked all of [the officers] — 60 or 70 of them, you know, in the room. I said, “Okay — ah, one more time. Anyone want to be prime minister?” And they said no. So [Gen. Nguyen Van] Thieu said, “I propose Ky.” And all of them just stood up and accept the offer. But then I, I didn’t give them the answer. I said, “I have to go back and talk with my wife first.” And when I told her about that offer, you know, she was not excited. She said, “Oh no! Not that job! Not as a prime minister!” Ha, ha. I’m not a good politician. I’m not a good diplomat. You know, I think all I know, the only thing I can do well is, you know, flying the airplane. I said, “Well? What can I do now?”
On the plus side, he did end up giving the world a daughter who revolutionized the world of Vietnamese-language aerobics.