There was this song popular in the early Sixties, when I was young and impressionable. I like to sing it still, and give a gutteral delivery to the last word of the refrain
Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley
Poor Boy You’re Gonna Die!
Who knew? — as the Jewish comedians of New York City made famous
The story in Appy’s first chapter that this reviewer found most revealing about the American Catholic anti-Communist connection with the Vietnam War is the story of how Tom Dooley, a Navy doctor who worked in a refugee camp in Haiphong in the final phase of the Franco-Viet Minh War and its aftermath, told stories of American kindness and Communist brutality in Vietnam that reached millions through Reader’s Digest, his own best-selling books, and television appearances starting in the latter half of the 1950s.
The cutting edge of Dooley’s account was his tales of Communists crucifying Vietnamese Catholics and sticking chopsticks through the eardrums of their children. His grisly stories of Communist atrocities were never supported by any other source, even though the U.S. Information Service sought to get confirming details, as Appy’s account documents. Yet no one questioned their veracity at the time or through the entire U.S. war in Vietnam that followed a decade later.
Many years after the war people who had worked with him revealed the truth: Dooley had fabricated the stories out of whole cloth. But it was those stories that had ingratiated Dooley with powerful people whose interests it served. The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke, for example, wrote a forward for Dooley’s first book, Deliver Us from Evil.
Dooley was forced to resign from the Navy after a Naval Intelligence sting operation established that he was a homosexual, but the Navy kept the information under wraps, allowing him to establish medical clinics and hospitals in Northern Laos and write two more books that pushed more stories of atrocities by Communist forces, while passing on information to the CIA. The major mass print and electronic media outlets all featured Dooley and his stories of Communist horrors. By the time of his death of cancer in 1961, Dooley had become the third-most esteemed [by US citizens] person on Earth, just after the pope and the former president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. But although his charm and talent for self-promotion were important in his rise to fame, it was primarily the result of decisions by powerful figures in the national-security state and their allies in the media. And Dooley’s role in shaping the popular American view of Vietnam was not so much to confirm the unique goodness of the American people as to peddle a systematic deception about the Vietnamese adversary.
Gareth Porter, Vietnam War and the Permanent War State, 18 Dec 2015, reviewing
Christian Appy, American Reckoning, the Vietnam War and Our National Identity.