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THE INFLUENCE OF SMALL RELIGIOUS / POLITICAL / MILITARY
GROUPS ON NATIONAL POLITICS
A CASE STUDY
THE PHAT GIAO HOA HAO, REPUBLIC OF VIET NAM


Frisco W. Short
Colonel, United States Army


Purpose : To study the formation, development, and influence of small regionally oriented and religiously rooted sects on a central Government . A case study of the Hoa Hao Buddhist of South Vietnam offeres an opportunity to investigate in general their unique history and look specifically at their millitary operations and political influence on their country .

Discussion : The Phat Giao Hoa Hao sect was formed a short 35 years ago in 1939 . Their founder, Huynh Phu So, wrote a series of books prescribing a return to basic Buddhist princinples with a more personal and individual systerm of worship . In the eight years So led the movement (five of which he was either in jail, protective custody, exile, or an insane asylum) the Hoa Hao organized a military force, created a polotical party and converted over a million people to Hoa Hao Buddhism . During the period between So's death in 1947 and the present, the Hoa Hao organized, trained, and equiped a 30,000 man army, fought a major war against the Central Government of President Ngo Dinh Diem, fought the Viet Minh and fought each other on occasion. Their increased their ranks to an estimated three million believers and created a very influential political party . Presently the Hoa Hao Sect enjoys the highest level of pacification in South Viet Nam, a very high standard of living and a strong regional economy .

Conlusion : The Hoa Hao have played a major role in the development of South Viet Nam in the past 35 years . They could, however, have played a much more important role if they had been permitted to do so . They and other sects like them could also have provided the Central Government with a powerful popular support base to counter that enjoyed by the National Liberation Front if they had been properly led .

 

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