Madame Nhu, the sister-in-law of South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem and the woman who would come to symbolize everything wrong with the American involvement in the Vietnam War, died Sunday in Rome. Although her exact date of birth was uncertain, she was believed to be 87. Born Tran Le Xuan, she was married to Ngo Dinh Nhu, who controlled the secret police and special forces from 1955 to 1963, and she was the official hostess to the unmarried president. Perhaps her most famous statement came in 1963, when several Buddhist monks set themselves on fire to protest Diem’s regime, and she referred to the self-immolations as “barbecues” and said “let them burn and we shall clap our hands.” She escaped the coup that killed her husband and brother-in-law because she was in Los Angeles—and she became vehemently anti-American in her later years, sympathizing with the communists she had worked so hard to keep out of power.
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