Monique Brinson Demery

  • Aired:  11/06/13
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"Finding the Dragon Lady" author Monique Brinson Demery explains how she tracked down Madame Nhu, deposed first lady of Vietnam. (6:47)

>> Jon: WELCOME BACK, MYGUEST TONIGHT, AN AUTHOR NEW

BOOK CALLED FINDING THE DRAGONLADY, THE MYSTERY OF

VIETNAM'S MADAM NHU.

PLEASE WELCOME MONIQUEBRINSON DEMERY.

HELLO!

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

>> THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

>> Jon: I HAVE TO SAY,FINDING THE DRAGON LADY, HAS

ONE OF THE GREATEST BOOKCOVER PICTURES OF ALL TIME.

THIS IS, I'M ASSUMING, HERHIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION PHOTO,

I DON'T-- WHAT IS THIS PHOTOTHAT WE ARE LOOKING AT?

>> THIS IS A GREAT PHOTO.

MADAME NHU HAD A WOMEN'S MILITIAIN SOUTH VIETNAM AND SHE WAS

OUT INSPECTING THE TROOPSMAKING SURE THEIR JACKETS

WERE FITTING RIGHT AND THEIRPANTS, BECAUSE ACTUALLY THEY

WERE VERY STYLISH, THEWOMEN'S MILITIA.

SO SHE WAS OUT THERE ANDSORT OF SHOWING OFF HER AIM.

>> Jon: HER AIM FOR THEMILITIA.

NOW HOW DID YOU-- SHE GOESINTO EXILE.

AND HOW DID YOU THINK OH,YOU KNOW WHAT I SHOULD DO, I

SHOULD CALL HER.

HOW DID THATOCCUR TO YOU?

>> WELL, THE FIRST THINGTHAT OCCURRED TO ME WAS I

NEVER SAW AN OBITUARY FORHER, SO SHE FADED FROM VIEW

BUT SHE WAS STILL ALIVE.

SO JUST BECAUSE SHE WASN'TTALKING TO OTHER PEOPLE, I

THOUGHT WELL, I COULD TRY.

>> Jon: RIGHT.

AND YOU STRUCK UP ACORRESPONDENCE WITH HER.

>> I DID.

AND WE HAD PHONECONVERSATIONS AND AT THE END

SHE EVEN E-MAILED WHICH ITHOUGHT WAS SORT OF COOL FOR

THE DRAGON LADY.

>> Jon: YEAH.

DID SHE, WAS THAT HER HANDLE,WAS THAT HER-- IS THERE AN

EMOTICON THAT HAS A LADYWITH A GUN ON IT?

>> IT WAS HER KIDS INTERNETACCOUNT THAT THEN SHE USED.

BUT SHE WOULD HAVE A GREATTWITTER NAME I'M SURE.

>> Jon: NOW SHE WAS NOT THEFIRST LADY OF SOUTH VIETNAM.

SHE WAS MARRIED TO, I GUESS,THE PRESIDENT'S BROTHER.

>> RIGHT.

SO WE CALL HER THE FIRSTLADY BECAUSE SHE WAS THE

HOSTESS, SHE WAS THEDIPLOMATIC.

>> Jon: HE WAS NOT MARRIED,THE PRESIDENT.

>> CORRECT.

HE WAS NOT MARRIED.

SO HE CHOSE FOR HIS FIRSTLADY HIS YOUNGER BROTHER'S

WIFE.

AND WHO WOULDN'T CHOOSE HER.

I MEAN SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL.

SHE WAS VERY ELEGANT.

AND SHE ACTUALLY WAS PRETTYASTUTE.

>> Jon: AS A POLITICAL -->> AS A POLITICIAN.

>> Jon: THEY SAY, YOU KNOW,SHE'S REALLY THE REASON THAT

KENNEDY KIND OF BACKED THECOUP, YEAH?

>> YEAH.

KENNEDY HAD A LOT OF TROUBLEWITH MADAM NHU BECAUSE HE ALWAYS

SAID THAT THE MEN IN HERFAMILY LOOKED LIKE THEY WERE

BEING LED AROUND BY HERAPRON STRINGS.

AND SO HE JUST REALLY DIDN'TWANT TO LOOK LIKE AMERICA

WAS DOING THE SAME.

SO MEANWHILE HIS OWN WIFEJACKIE WAS THE PERFECT IMAGE

OF A FIRST LADY.

SHE WAS REFINED.

SHE WAS QUIET, FOR THE MOSTPART.

AND MADAME NHU WASEVERYTHING-- ACCORDING TO

JACKIE, SHE WAS EVERYTHINGTHAT JACK FOUND

UNATTRACTIVE.

>> Jon: RIGHT.

WELL-- A LADY WITH A GUN.

FOR JACK KENNEDY THAT'S APROBLEM.

BUT IN MANY RESPECTS, YOUKNOW, THAT DECISION IS WHAT

SORT OF LED TO THECOMMUNISTS COMING INTO

VIETNAM WHICH THEN LED TO IGUESS YOU COULD SAY

ULTIMATELY THE MOVIE"FORREST GUMP" BEATING "PULP

FICTION" AT THE OSCARS WHICHI THINK WE ALL AGREE WAS THE

REAL TRAGEDY OF THIS ENTIREDEBACLE.

WAS SHE IN ANY WAY STILLFRIGHTENED?

WAS SHE PARANOID THAT FORCESWERE GOING TO BE OUT TO GET

HER?

>> SURE.

SO BY THE TIME I FOUND HER,I HAD TO SWEAR UP AND DOWN

THAT I WAS NOT A GOVERNMENTAGENT.

I WAS NOT MARRIED TO AGOVERNMENT AGENT.

NO ONE IN MY FAMILY BELONGEDTO THE CIA.

AND SHE REALLY DIDN'T TRUSTME AT FIRST.

AND I CAN UNDERSTAND WHY.

SHE HAD BEEN BURNED BEFORE.

SO IT TOOK A LONG TIME TOEARN HER TRUST.

>> Jon: AND YOU HAD SET UPMANY DIFFERENT MEETINGS WITH

HER.

YOU WENT TO PARIS THIS YEAR.

BUT SHE NEVER ACTUALLY SHOWSUP.

>> NO.

SHE DOESN'T.

AND AT THE END OF THE DAY ITHINK SHE LIKES TO THINK OF

HERSELF AS THIS POWERFUL,BEAUTIFUL WOMAN.

AND SO FOR HER TO SHOWHERSELF AS SORT OF AN OLDER

WOMAN, DIMINISHED, FORGOTTENBY EVERYBODY BUT ME, I THINK

WOULD HAVE BEEN A HARD EGOTHING.

>> Jon: ABSOLUTELY.

AND WAS THERE EVER A POINTIN YOUR MIND WHERE YOU

THOUGHT OH, I'M BEINGCATFISHED HERE.

THIS IS PROBABLY THAT-- THISIS PROBABLY THAT TOUIASOSOPO GUY

THAT GOT MANTI T'EO. I MEAN HOW DID YOU IN YOUR

MIND GET THIS SO THAT YOUVERIFIED THAT IT WAS REALLY

HER?

>> I HAD TO LISTEN A LOT OFHER CONVERSATIONS.

AND THEY WOULD MEANDER.

AND I WOULD GO ALONG.

SOMETIMES WONDERING WHERE WEWOULD END UP.

BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY, IWENT THROUGH THE ARCHIVES IN

D.C. AND IN FRANCE AND ISPOKE TO A LOT OF HER

COLLEAGUES, PEOPLE WHO HATEDHER AT THE TIME AND WERE

WRITING AGAINST HER.

AND THE STORIES MATCH UP.

IT WAS DEFINITELY HER THAT IWAS TALKING TO.

>> Jon: AND SHE ALSO HAD HERMEMOIRS THAT SHE WANTED TO

GET OUT THERE.

>> SHE DID.

SHE HAD TWO VOLUMES OFSEVERAL HUNDRED PAGES, WHICH

WERE REALLY PIECES OF THEMWERE REALLY ENLIGHTENING.

AND THE OTHER PARTS WEREBIBLICAL, SORT OF SCRIPTURE,

TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF THEUNIVERSE TYPE OF WRITING.

>> Jon: REALLY?

>> REALLY.

>> Jon: LIKE KIND OF DUNGEONSAND DRAGONS TEENAGER TYPE

STUFF OR WHAT IF WE'RE ALLJUST MARBLES FLOATING AND

AND-- THAT SORT OFPHILOSOPHY.

>> MORE LIKE PREDESTINED,THIS LIFE WAS CHOSEN FOR ME.

>> Jon: OH, REALLY.

>> YEAH.

>> Jon: SO SHE WAS FATALLISTICABOUT WHAT HAPPENED TO HER.

>> MARTYRED, YEAH.

>> Jon: DID SHE HAVE ANYSELF-AWARENESS OF, YOU KNOW

SHE WAS NOT A NICE PERSON.

THE BUDDHIST MONKS WOULDIMMOLATE IN VIETNAM IN

PROTEST AND SHE WOULD SAYLET THEM BURN, YOU KNOW, SHE

WAS KIND OF A TERRIBLEPERSON.

>> THE BARBECUE COMMENT.

>> Jon: YEAH, YEAH.

>> SHE DID EXPRESS ONEREGRET AND THE REGRET WAS

THAT SHE HADN'T BEEN MOREHUMBLE.

IN OTHER WORDS, NOT THAT SHEWAS WRONG, BUT THAT SHE

SHOULD HAVE ACTED A LITTLEBIT LESS LOUDLY ABOUT HER

ACHIEVEMENTS.

>> Jon: OH MY GOD.

I HAVE ONE REGRET.

I DIDN'T TRY TO HIDE MYAWESOMENESS.

LOVE IT A FASCINATING STORY.

AND IT'S ONE OF THOSE THINGS,BOY, IT TAKES ONE PERSON'S

CURIOSITY TO BRING TO LIFE ASTORY THAT OTHERWISE I THINK

WOULD HAVE GONE AWAY.

AND ONE THAT I THINK ITWOULD HAVE BEEN SAD IF THIS

HAD NEVER COME TO LIGHT SO ITHINK IT'S WONDERFUL SO

THANK YOU FOR DOING IT.

THE BOOK IS FINDING THEDRAGON LADY.

IT'S ON THE BOOK SHELVESNOW.

MONIQUE BRINSON DEMERY.

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