Cover image for American reckoning : the Vietnam War and our national identity
American reckoning : the Vietnam War and our national identity
Appy, Christian G., author.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, New York : Viking, 2015.
Physical Description:
xix, 396 pages ; 24 cm
How did the Vietnam War change the way we think of ourselves as a people and a nation? Christian G. Appy, author of the widely praised oral history of the Vietnam War Patriots, now examines the relationship between the war's realities and myths and its impact on our national identity, conscience, pride, shame, popular culture, and postwar foreign policy.
Why are we in Vietnam? Saving Vietnam ; Aggression ; Paper tigers ; Vietnam, Inc. -- America at war. Our boys ; The American way of war ; The war at home -- What have we become? Victim nation ; "The pride is back" ; No more Vietnams ; Who we are.
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How did the Vietnam War change the way Americans think of themselves as a people and a nation? Christian G. Appy, author of the widely praised oral history of the Vietnam War Patriots, now examines the relationship between the war's realities and myths and its impact on the US's national identity, conscience, pride, shame, popular culture and postwar foreign policy. Drawing on a vast variety of sources from movies, songs and novels to official documents, media coverage and contemporary commentary, Appy offers an original interpretation of the war.

Author Notes

CHRISTIAN G. APPY is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the author of two previous books on the Vietnam War. Patriots was a main selection of BOMC and won the Massachusetts Book Award for nonfiction. He lives in Amherst.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Almost 40 years and two generations have passed since our humiliating departure from Vietnam. What enduring lessons have we learned after the costs inflicted upon ourselves and the Vietnamese? Not enough, according to this brutally frank and disturbing analysis of the war and its lasting impact on our sense of national identity. Appy tracks the evolution of public perceptions of the conflict. The war was seen originally as a small operation to assist a friendly people fighting a vicious Communist insurgency, but Americans saw it degenerate into a massive, costly conflict with carnage viewed daily on the evening news. The war damaged our sense of exceptionalism, but, according to Appy, the underlying assumptions that drove the policy were never considered and debated openly. Now, perhaps driven by the shock of 9/11, we again seem to see ourselves as the essential nation in opposing global jihadism, leading to our involvement in both major and minor wars in Asia and Africa. Appy paints with a broad brush and may interpret our national security needs too narrowly. Still, his assertion that our current policies could guarantee constant warfare deserves to be seriously considered.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2015 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Appy (Patriots), a University of Massachusetts historian who specializes in the Vietnam War, offers his assessment of that conflict's multifaceted legacy in the United States. In a wide-ranging, insightful book-length essay, Appy writes confidently and convincingly to support his main theory: that the way the war was fought and its outcome put an indelible dent in the idea of American exceptionalism. The war, he argues, "shattered the central tenet of American national identity-the broad faith that the United States is a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power, but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life." Appy examines how the U.S. fought the war and interprets the main cultural and political events since the war's end through the lens of its failure. He scrutinizes and interprets political machinations, as well as reportage, literature, film, and television. Appy successfully conveys the shameful, difficult, and traumatic homecoming given to the nation's 2.8 million Vietnam veterans in a book that poses a distinct challenge to those who still believe in American exceptionalism. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Choice Review

Historian Appy (Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst) has not written a balanced historical monograph but rather an extended opinion piece with 42 pages of endnotes and a clear goal. As he states in his introduction, Appy wants to use his interpretation of the Vietnam War to convince Americans to "reject ... the stubborn insistence that our nation has been a unique ... force for good in the world." Such a realization could help end "our pattern of endless military interventions." He tries to achieve this goal by attacking virtually every aspect of US participation in the Vietnam War. Adopting a radical non-interventionist view of the war (based almost exclusively on secondary sources), the author sees US policy as a devastating mistake and places most of the blame for the war on that policy. Appy also spends considerable space denouncing US atrocities in the war (even as he admits that most soldiers did not commit any) and practically ignores communist atrocities. In sum, this is a deeply flawed account of the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Nonetheless, it might have a place in large university and public libraries with substantial Vietnam War collections as an example of a spirited, present-minded attack on US policy during and after that war. Summing Up: Recommended. Large public and research library collections. --Anthony Owens Edmonds, emeritus, Ball State University



ALSO BY CHRISTIAN G. APPY Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam Cold War Constructions: The Political Culture of United States Imperialism, 1945-1966 Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) LLC 375 Hudson Street New York, New York 10014 USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China A Penguin Random House Company First published by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2015 Copyright © 2015 by Christian G. Appy Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader. Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint an excerpt from "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen. Copyright © 1984 Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP). Reprinted by permission. International copyright secured. All rights reserved. ISBN 978-0-698-19155-6 INTRODUCTION We didn't know who we were till we got here. We thought we were something else. --Robert Stone, Dog Soldiers (1974) "I DIDN'T KNOW there was a bad war," George Evans recalled. He grew up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. Starting at age six, before and after school, he helped his father deliver blocks of ice to poor and working-class people who could not afford the shiny new refrigerators advertised in all the magazines. George understood that the American Dream was beyond the grasp of his parents and most of their friends and neighbors. He was a streetwise kid. He knew life was difficult and the future uncertain. But there was one thing George trusted completely--his nation's military power and the good that it did. With all his heart he believed the United States was on the side of justice and freedom and all our wars were noble. Despite personal hardships, you could always count on Americans to be the good guys, and always victorious. It was simply unimaginable that the United States might betray that faith. "I was raised in a family and neighborhood of extreme patriots," George explains. "My father was the commander of his VFW post and I got to go to the club and hang out with the veterans. I was their little mascot." He especially looked forward to Flag Day, when he would help the World War II vets decorate the graves in a military cemetery. "Imagine how beautiful it looked to a kid to see hundreds of graves in a geometric pattern, all with shining bronze plates and flags waving in the wind. You just can't exaggerate the pull of the military on kids from neighborhoods like mine. Everything you'd seen and heard your whole life made it feel inevitable and right." But George's faith in America's global goodness was forever destroyed in Vietnam, where he served as an air force medic. "I realized that the country I was from was not the country I thought it was." One day at the hospital in Cam Ranh Bay he was ordered to clean the bodies of two young Vietnamese boys. They were dead. As he was sponging one of them with soapy water, a Vietnamese woman raced into the room. She must have been the mother, but George wasn't sure. "I'll never forget her face. I can see her still. I remember her hitting me on the chest, grabbing me. Then she was running back and forth between the two bodies, from child to child." George later learned that the boys were hit by an American military truck driver who may have been competing with other drivers over "who could hit a kid. They had some disgusting name for it, something like 'gook hockey.'" With the possible exception of the Civil War, no event in U.S. history has demanded more soul-searching than the war in Vietnam. The false pretexts used to justify our intervention, the indiscriminate brutality of our warfare, the stubborn refusal of elected leaders to withdraw despite public opposition, and the stunning failure to achieve our stated objectives--these harrowing realities provoked a profound national identity crisis, an American reckoning. The war made citizens ask fundamental questions: Who are we? What defines us as a nation and a people? What is our role in the world? Just as the Civil War forced Americans to confront the reality of slavery, an institution that stood in glaring contradiction to the nation's avowed ideals of human freedom and equality, the Vietnam War compelled millions of citizens to question the once widely held faith that their country is the greatest force for good in the world, that it always acts to advance democracy and human rights, that it is superior in both its power and its virtue. And just as the Civil War ended slavery without resolving racism and racial injustice, the Vietnam War ended without resolving the conflicting lessons and legacies of America's first defeat. The Vietnam War still matters because the crucial questions it raised remain with us today: Should we continue to seek global military superiority? Can we use our power justly? Can we successfully intervene in distant lands to crush insurgencies (or support them), establish order, and promote democracy? What degree of sacrifice will the public bear and who among us should bear it? Is it possible for American citizens and their elected representatives to change our nation's foreign policy or is it permanently controlled by an imperial presidency and an unaccountable military-industrial complex? Our answers to those questions are shaped by the experience and memory of the Vietnam War, but in ways that are cloudy and confusing as well as contested. I believe we could make better contributions to our current debates if we had a clearer understanding of that war's impact on our national identity, from its origins after World War II all the way to the present. But this is not a conventional chronological history. There are already many good ones. Nor am I interested in irresolvable speculation about how the war might have turned out differently if only other decisions had been made or alternative strategies pursued. I want instead to explore the ways the war changed our national self-perception. It is such an important and even obvious subject you might assume it has been thoroughly examined and exhausted. After all, there is now a vast literature about various aspects of the Vietnam War--so many books we don't even have a precise count and no one could possibly read them all. Surprisingly, however, only a small number have taken on this topic and none have tracked it over a six-decade span. My ambition, therefore, is not just to enrich our understanding of the Vietnam War, but to show how we have wrestled with the myths and realities of our nation's global role from the early days of the Cold War to the wars of the twenty-first century. To do so, I have drawn on a great variety of sources--everything from movies, songs, memoirs, novels, and advertisements to official documents, polling data, media coverage, Pentagon studies, government propaganda, presidential speeches, and contemporary commentary. And, of course, I have relied on a long list of superb scholars and journalists whose work made this one possible. My main argument is that the Vietnam War shattered the central tenet of American national identity--the broad faith that the United States is a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power, but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life. A common term for this belief is "American exceptionalism." Because that term has been bandied about so much in recent years as a political slogan and a litmus test of patriotism, we need to be reminded that it has deep roots and meaning throughout our history. In many ways the nation was founded on the faith that it was blessed with unrivaled resources, freedoms, and prospects. So deep were those convictions they took on the power of myth--they were beyond debate. Dissenting movements throughout our history did little to challenge the faith. That's what made the Vietnam War's impact so significant. Never before had such a wide range of Americans come to doubt their nation's superiority; never before had so many questioned its use of military force; never before had so many challenged the assumption that their country had higher moral standards. Of course, the faith in American exceptionalism has hardly disappeared. Countless times since the Vietnam War our presidents have invoked it in support of wars and interventions around the world. Although the public has been more reluctant to use military force than its leaders, there is still substantial support for the idea that our power is benign and that America remains a singularly admirable nation. That's why virtually everyone who runs for higher office in the United States pledges allegiance to the creed. Yet even many ardent believers understand that the faith is no longer as broad or assured as it was before the Vietnam War. In 2000, for example, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the war's end, Henry Kissinger wrote: "One of the most important casualties of the Vietnam tragedy was the tradition of American 'exceptionalism.' The once near-universal faith in the uniqueness of our values--and their relevance around the world--gave way to intense divisions over the very validity of those values and the lengths we should go to promote and defend them." Kissinger had been almost as responsible as President Richard Nixon for prolonging the Vietnam War an additional six years. When it finally ended in 1975, 58,000 Americans had died, and three million Vietnamese. Yet in 2000 Kissinger chose to mourn the loss of American exceptionalism. For him, there was nothing so terrible about the war to justify any doubt about our nation's superiority. Unlike Kissinger, many others believed the war exposed American exceptionalism as a dangerous myth. They did not regret its passing. National aggrandizement had led the United States into an unjust and unwinnable war. In Robert Stone's 1974 novel Dog Soldiers, for example, John Converse is a disillusioned American journalist in Vietnam who persuades an old Marine Corps buddy to smuggle heroin into the United States. As they discuss the deal, with gunfire in the background, Converse says: "We didn't know who we were till we got here. We thought we were something else." The war, he implies, was a kind of awakening. It enabled Americans to recognize their capacity for bloodlust and evil. His friend Ray Hicks offers a witheringly sardonic comment about the price of that awakening: "What a bummer for the gooks," he says. Americans were learning hard truths about themselves and their nation on the backs of a people they dehumanized and killed and whose country they wrecked. It was an expensive education and Vietnam bore by far its greatest cost. For many people, major reappraisals came slowly, a testament to their deep trust in American institutions and values. In the 1950s and early 1960s, before the major military escalation in Vietnam and the shocking revelations it brought, Americans had remarkable faith in their elected officials. Until the mid-1960s, roughly three-quarters of Americans told pollsters they trusted the government to do the right thing. Therefore, when public leaders announced that the United States was in Vietnam to save the people of South Vietnam from Communist aggression and to defend freedom and democracy, few challenged the accuracy of the claim or the necessity of the commitment. And when Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy said the struggle in Vietnam was required to prevent Communism from taking over one nation after another like tumbling dominoes until our own shores would be directly imperiled, that seemed not just a reasonable theory, but a frightening possibility. And the broad acceptance of Cold War policies was bolstered by the era's equally broad religiosity. The idea that the United States was engaged in a godly crusade against atheistic Communism was not an extreme position in the 1950s, but part of everyday discourse. It was still unimaginable to most Americans that their own nation would wage aggressive war and justify it with unfounded claims, that it would support antidemocratic governments reviled by their own people, and that American troops would be sent to fight in countries where they were widely regarded not as liberators, but as imperialist invaders. Of course, there were cracks in the Cold War consensus even in the 1950s--the emergence of a mass struggle for civil rights, new forms of dissenting art, literature, and music, early signs of a growing youth culture, and the critical perspectives of older left-wing activists and intellectuals whose challenges to state and corporate power dated back to the intense political struggles of the 1930s. Even so, it is hard today to recover a full sense of how effectively the dominant Cold War culture blanketed the nation with an uncritical acceptance of America's right and responsibility to intervene overseas. But as the Vietnam War continued, year after year, that faith declined dramatically. Alarming evidence mounted that the United States was doing exactly the opposite of what its leaders claimed. Instead of saving South Vietnam, U.S. warfare was destroying it. South Vietnam was not an independent nation, but wholly dependent on American support. The United States did not make progress by amassing huge body counts of enemy killed, but only convinced more Vietnamese that it was a foreign aggressor. Prolonging the war did not preserve American credibility; it only did further damage to the nation's reputation. As citizens came to reject their government's claims, many also shed the once commonplace assumption that Americans place a higher value on life than foreign foes. That faith was eviscerated by the vision of U.S. soldiers burning down the homes of Vietnamese peasants and forcing millions off their ancestral land; the incessant U.S. bombing, year after year, with nothing to show for it but further death and destruction; and the indelible images from My Lai, where an American company of infantrymen slaughtered five hundred unarmed, unresisting Vietnamese civilians. By 1971, 58 percent of Americans had concluded that the war in Vietnam was not just a mistake, but immoral. More than at any time in our past, broad sections of the public, cutting across lines of class, gender, race, and religion, rejected the claim that American military power was an invincible force for good. Many concluded that the United States was as capable of wrongdoing as any nation or people, if not more so. And by 1973, when the final U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, only a third of Americans still trusted the government to do what was right. Critics of the war were not the only ones whose faith in American exceptionalism was damaged or destroyed. Pro-war hawks were also disillusioned. They agonized over the U.S. failure in Vietnam. Why had the greatest military power in world history been unable or unwilling to prevail against a small, poor, agricultural people? What happened to the America that had rallied so magnificently to defeat Fascism in World War II? Had the protests and divisions of the 1960s forever destroyed our national will and patriotism? And how would the world ever respect us again knowing that we abandoned the Vietnamese government we had so long supported? For the political right, defeat in Vietnam was an intense motivator. Conservatives were determined to rebuild everything they thought the war had destroyed--American power, pride, prestige, and patriotism. Above all, they wanted to resuscitate a faith in American supremacy. Their restoration project was a key factor in the rightward movement of American culture and politics in the decades after Vietnam. It depended, in part, on efforts to redefine the political and moral meanings of the Vietnam War. Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 saying Vietnam had been a "noble cause"--a war that should have been fought and could have been won. Only a core of hard-line conservatives agreed with that, but many more voters agreed with Reagan's claim that the country and its military had been badly weakened and unfairly attacked by the protest movements of the 1960s, liberal politicians, and a biased media. Right-wing challenges to the patriotism of even mainstream liberal Democratic leaders put many former critics of the Vietnam War on the defensive. Few prominent Americans were eager to continue the passionate debates the war had raised. The most searing evidence of the damage the United States had done in and to Vietnam largely disappeared from public view and consciousness. In its place, a new mainstream consensus emerged around the idea that the Vietnam War had primarily been an American tragedy that had badly wounded and divided the nation. The focus was on healing, not history. Attention turned to those Americans who seemed most obviously wounded by the war--Vietnam veterans. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, completed in 1982, encouraged citizens to honor military veterans without debating the merits or meaning of the wars they fought. In one characteristic piece of mid-1980s rhetoric, Chrysler president Lee Iacocca appeared in an advertisement praising Vietnam veterans "who fought in a time and in a place nobody really understood, who knew only one thing: they were called and they went. . . . That in the truest sense is the spirit of America." The war that had once led so many to anguish over their nation's devastating impact on other lands was increasingly leading citizens to worry about the need to rebuild American pride and power. Fanning that concern was a growing sense of national victimhood, a belief that the country had become the unjustified target of inexplicable foreign threats. Prior to 9/11, this belief was fueled most powerfully by the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-1981, when Americans watched with horror as TV news showed footage of angry Iranian crowds burning American flags and chanting anti-U.S. slogans. A new nationalism arose--defensive, inward-looking, and resentful. Along with it came renewed expressions of American exceptionalism, but it was a far more embittered and fragile faith than it had been in the decades before the Vietnam War. And for all the pumped-up patriotism of the post-Vietnam decades--all the chanting of "U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A." and all the chest-pounding TV ads ("The pride is back!"), there was never broad public support for protracted military interventions. Fear of "another Vietnam" permeated the culture, even the ranks of the military. Reagan and his followers argued against what they called the Vietnam syndrome--a dangerous reluctance to use military force. But even advocates of a more aggressive foreign policy were hesitant to pursue policies that might produce high American casualties. Despite many military interventions in the 1980s and 1990s, fewer than eight hundred American troops lost their lives in warfare during the quarter century after the Vietnam War. The attacks of 9/11 decisively destroyed the cautionary lessons of the Vietnam War, at least among the tiny group of people who formulated American foreign policy. George W. Bush launched a "Global War on Terror" premised on the idea that the United States was an exemplar of all that was good in the world fighting against all that was evil. He started two wars that led to protracted occupations and provoked bloody anti-American insurgencies. Both wars continued long after a majority of Americans had come to oppose them and were further prolonged by Barack Obama, a Democratic president who had been one of the first critics of the Iraq War. Indeed, through drone warfare and the secret deployment of Special Operations Forces to some 120 countries, Obama has extended U.S. military intervention as widely as ever. The size of our domestic and foreign spy network has grown so large no one even knows precisely how to measure it or how much it costs. Nor can anyone say for sure that our global commitment to "homeland security" has made us any safer, or that the animosity our policies engender in faraway places will not further endanger us decades into the future. Nor is there any serious plan at the highest levels of power to change course. If the legacy of the Vietnam War is to offer any guidance, we need to complete the moral and political reckoning it awakened. And if our nation's future is to be less militarized, our empire of foreign military bases scaled back, and our pattern of endless military interventions ended, a necessary first step is to reject--fully and finally--the stubborn insistence that our nation has been a unique and unrivaled force for good in the world. Only an honest accounting of our history will allow us to chart a new path in the world. The past is always speaking to us, if we only listen. PART 1 Why Are We in Vietnam? 1 Saving Vietnam I have never seen anything funnier--or more inspiring--than red-necked American sailors performing the duties of baby-sitters and maids-of-all-work. . . . I saw one notoriously loud, cursing boatswain's mate on the forecastle, bouncing a brown bare-bottom baby on his knee while stuffing a Baby Ruth into its toothless mouth. . . . These little acts of spontaneous kindness were happening by the hundreds. . . . This was the force, heartfelt and uncontrived, that finally washed away the poisons of Communist hatred. --Thomas A. Dooley, Deliver Us From Evil (1956) THE FIRST POPULAR American book about Vietnam was a love story. Written by a young navy doctor named Tom Dooley, it showed how bighearted Americans could save a small, infant nation with Christian compassion. Lieutenant Dooley's message carried the weight of personal experience--he participated in Operation Passage to Freedom, the navy mission that helped transport more than 800,000 northern Vietnamese to the South between August 1954 and May 1955. Dooley gave medical care to the "hordes of refugees from terror-ridden North Vietnam," and vividly described their exodus to "Free Vietnam" in the South. Despite widespread illness and frailty, many refugees drew strength and solace from their Catholic faith. Long before most Americans could find Vietnam on a map, Dooley convinced millions that the U.S. role there was nothing less than a holy mission to rescue poor and tortured Christians from godless Communism. Dooley's 1956 book, Deliver Us From Evil, casts the United States in an indisputably heroic role. It is a tale with clearly delineated villains and saviors. Vietnam has just emerged from a brutal eight-year war with France that put an end to decades of French colonial rule. But Vietnamese Communists led that fight and threaten to conquer the entire country. It is essential, Dooley argues, that America step in to prevent that disaster. It might be too late to save all of Vietnam, since the Communists are rapidly consolidating control in the North. But the United States can still help to create an independent new nation in the South, one that might stand as a beacon of freedom and hope to the entire world and a tribute to America's exceptional generosity. The twenty-eight-year-old Dr. Dooley offers a simple and appealing solution to the threat of Communist aggression: not all-out war, but human kindness. "We had come late to Viet Nam, but we had come. And we brought not bombs and guns, but help and love." Would that suffice? After all, this is Cold War America--the 1950s--when magazines use crimson arrows to show how the Communist menace shoots out from the Soviet Union and Red China, posing a constant threat of another global war. Dooley acknowledges that hard-line anti-Communists might be skeptical of his approach. In the opening pages of Deliver Us From Evil , he introduces Ensign Potts, a spit-and-polish officer fresh from Annapolis. Potts accuses Dooley of naive sentimentality: "You preach of love, understanding and helpfulness. That's not the Navy's job . . . I believe the only answer is preventive war." Potts wants to bomb two hundred Red targets in the Soviet Union and China. "Sure, the toll of American lives would be heavy, but the sacrifice would be justified to rid mankind of the Communist peril." Amazingly, Dooley quickly converts Ensign Potts to the power of love. It happens in Hawaii at Hickam Air Force Base. Dooley is just back from Vietnam, and he and Potts run into two dozen South Vietnamese air force cadets. The cadets rush to the doctor and smother him in hugs. He doesn't recognize them at first ("Who could remember one face among those hundreds of thousands?") but notices that many have "a scar where an ear should have been." I remembered that in the Roman Catholic province of Bao Lac, near the frontier of China, the Communist Viet Minh often would tear an ear partially off with a pincer like a pair of pliers and leave the ear dangling. That was one penalty for the crime of listening to evil words. The evil words were the words of the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. . . . Give us this day our daily bread . . . and deliver us from evil." When a crowd gathers around the Hickam reunion, Dooley offers an impromptu speech about Communist atrocities and how he had to amputate many of the cadets' damaged ears. "I suspect I did not succeed in keeping the tears out of my voice." Eventually many in the crowd began to cry. "Not in many a year had that number of tears hit the deck at Hickam. And among those who wept and did not bother to hide it was Ensign Potts. The same young officer who half an hour before had scoffed at my softness." "Mr. Potts," I said, "don't you think these kids would do anything, even at the risk of their lives, because of the way they feel about one American?" In all the honesty of his enthusiastic heart, Ensign Potts replied: "Yes, Doctor, I think they would. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps there is a special power in love." This vignette, at once grisly and mawkish, exemplifies Dooley's message--unspeakable Communist brutality can be overcome by compassion. America's "touching and tender care" can "conquer" the hearts of Vietnamese. And then, like adoring children, they will proudly fight with, and for, America. But to win the hearts and minds of the world's poor would require that Americans, especially men, overcome any fear of appearing "soft." Even "red-necked sailors" might need to take on the "duties of baby-sitters and maids-of-all-work." In doing so, they might save their own souls as well as others. "Let us stop being afraid to speak of compassion, and generosity," Dooley writes. "Christ said it all in the three words of His great commandment: 'Love one another.'" What a contrast to the policy of "massive retaliation"--the Eisenhower administration doctrine that threatened to respond to any foreign military provocation with an all-out nuclear attack. If the Soviet military so much as drove a truck into Western Europe, the United States claimed the right and will to unleash its full arsenal, which by 1954 included thermonuclear weapons hundreds of times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Compared with the saber rattling of nuclear brinkmanship, Dooley's call for Christian love seems like a stunningly benign and idealistic prescription for Cold War success. Yet Dooley did not actually propose a radical alternative to Cold War militarism. He supported the political, military, and corporate objectives of America's most powerful institutions and lodged only minor criticism over tactics. Above all, he saw aid and service as the most effective means of "selling America." And sell it he did. Although Jesus may have demanded that we not "sound a trumpet" to announce our charitable acts, Dooley was a consummate trumpet blower. With rival ideologies battling for every soul, he insisted that American aid should not only be "clearly marked" but verbally advertised. He had his staff memorize the Vietnamese phrase for "This is American aid" and ordered them to use it every time they offered any assistance, even if it was just to help a child pull up his pants. And he took every opportunity to put in a good word for capitalism: Rest assured, we continually explained to thousands of refugees . . . that only in a country which permits companies to grow large could such fabulous charity be found. With every one of those thousands of capsules of terramycin and with every dose of vitamins on a baby's tongue, these words were said: "Dai La My-Quoc Vien-Tro [This is American Aid]." To most Americans in the 1950s, that seemed like good common sense. Of course the world should know about the size and generosity of our companies, and how much more the American way of life had to offer than Communism. And very few Americans in that era would have cringed at Dooley's paternalism. At perhaps no other point in U.S. history did a greater portion of Americans share the powerful conviction that their nation was the greatest in the world, not only unmatched in its military and economic power but morally, politically, and culturally superior as well. The idea that America was chosen (and challenged) by God to stand above other nations had been developing for centuries. It was present even in 1630 when John Winthrop declared that the Puritan colony in Massachusetts Bay would be a "city upon a hill" that might inspire the world. That faith expanded along with the nation. By the mid-nineteenth century, many Americans believed it was their "manifest destiny" to seize the entire continent, even if it required a war against Mexico and further wars against Indians. In the years after World War II the faith in American exceptionalism reached its peak. In part, the exuberant nationalism reflected the triumph of World War II. No other nation emerged from that bloodbath in better shape. True, the United States had lost more than 400,000 people, a death toll surpassed only by the Civil War. But in the global context of sixty million dead, America had been spared the scale of suffering so common elsewhere, fueling the conviction that God or destiny had reserved a special role for the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. The Soviet Union, by contrast, had lost twenty-seven million, an unfathomable figure, and even many small nations had more war-related deaths than the United States. Vietnam, for example, lost at least a million and a half people in a 1944-45 famine caused by Japanese wartime exploitation. As the rest of the world struggled to rise from the rubble of war, the United States hardly missed a beat in transforming its humming factories and mills from the production of tanks and warplanes to cars and refrigerators. It had to be conceded that America was not perfect--racial discrimination and pockets of poverty were lingering problems--but the overriding view, at least among white people of reasonable means, was that these flaws were neither glaring nor permanent. The common chorus, sung in virtually every high school auditorium, at almost every Rotary Club luncheon, at barbecues and parades throughout the land, was that no other nation offered such abundant opportunity, such expansive freedom, such a bright and promising future. The fervent faith in American exceptionalism was the nation's most agreed-upon religion of the 1950s. It was the central tenet of what was commonly called American national identity. The heart of American exceptionalism was the assumption that the United States was a unique force for good in the world. Although citizens might take pride in their nation's armed might or the fact that it had never lost a war, there was also an unquestioned faith that America sought to share its blessings with the world. It was not an imperial aggressor seeking global conquest. It wanted for others only the great gifts enjoyed by Americans themselves--freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and free enterprise. It would use its power to protect and advance those freedoms but never to assert its narrow national interests, and never without clear provocation or just cause. That was the conventional wisdom of Americans who read Deliver Us From Evil . The best seller might never have appeared without crucial assistance. Dooley was a gifted storyteller, but a clumsy and inexperienced writer. When Viking Press rejected his initial drafts, Dooley got essential support from William Lederer, a writer and former navy officer with close contacts to the CIA and Reader's Digest. Lederer persuaded a group of Reader's Digest editors to listen to Dooley's stories. Captivated by his accounts, they proceeded to whip his manuscript into a publishable Cold War parable of good versus evil. Deliver Us From Evil first appeared as a condensation in Reader's Digest , which was then the nation's largest-circulation magazine, with five million American subscribers. The Digest also helped Dooley secure a contract for a longer edition of the book with Farrar, Straus and Cudahy. In multiple printings it sold more than a million copies. While now gathering dust in libraries and used-book stores, Deliver Us From Evil was one of the most widely read books about Vietnam ever written. And many who did not read the book nevertheless knew about Tom Dooley because he was a master of TV-age communication and self-promotion. There were, for starters, the hundreds of speeches. Describing a talk to high school students, Dooley writes: "I gave them the whole sordid story of the refugee camps, the Communist atrocities, the 'Passage to Freedom,' and the perilous future of southern Viet Nam. I talked for an hour--you can see I was getting to be quite a windbag--and you could have heard a pin drop." That was only the beginning. By the end of 1956, Dooley had returned to Southeast Asia, this time as a civilian doctor, to offer medical care from small, modest clinics in the remote, rural countryside of Laos. From Laos, Dooley taped weekly radio broadcasts that reached tens of millions of listeners throughout the American Midwest. And by 1959 he had written two more best-selling books about his experiences. His fame soared. Americans began to think of him as a "jungle doctor" like the famous Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the Franco-German physician whose work in French Equatorial Africa earned him the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize. As lofty as his reputation became, Dooley was not a remote figure. He often returned to the United States for promotional tours, giving speeches and appearing on TV shows like What's My Line? , This Is Your Life , and Jack Paar's Tonight Show . Charismatic, handsome, and articulate, Dooley knew how to blend irreverence and religiosity, pop culture and piety, self-deprecation and admonition. He could be charming and funny even when his subjects were troubling. While Deliver Us From Evil tells an exodus story of slavery to freedom in which Dooley is a kind of Moses, the doctor's persona was more like that of a happy-go-lucky pied piper than the scary, serious Moses played by Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments , a hugely popular film that appeared in 1956, the same year Deliver Us From Evil was published. By the end of the 1950s, Dooley was, in effect, America's poster boy for foreign service, just the kind of figure Senator John Kennedy had in mind when he proposed the Peace Corps during his 1960 presidential bid. The idea had been percolating for years (and even proposed in Congress), but Kennedy had not yet endorsed it. He and some of his aides worried that Republican candidate Richard Nixon might attack the plan as a naive and ineffectual approach to the Cold War. On October 13, 1960, JFK squared off with Nixon in their third of four televised debates. As usual, they argued about who would be a tougher and more effective opponent of Communism. Much of the debate focused on the tiny islands of Quemoy and Matsu, a few miles off the coast of China. Would the United States defend the islands in the event of a Red Chinese attack? Nixon said yes. Kennedy said yes too (but only if the attack included a direct threat to Taiwan). In those early Cold War years, Americans were learning that any spot on the globe, no matter how obscure or previously unknown, might suddenly be proclaimed crucial to national security. Though their differences over the islands were slight, Kennedy had described Nixon's view as "trigger-happy." This prompted Nixon to strike back, suggesting that Republicans were actually more peace-minded than Democrats. It was Democrats, he argued--Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman--who had led the United States into the major wars of the twentieth century, not Republicans. "We've been strong, but we haven't been trigger-happy." At 2:00 a.m. the next day, Kennedy arrived at the University of Michigan, perhaps wanting to reclaim the mantle of peace that Nixon had momentarily seized. Ten thousand students had waited hours to catch a glimpse of the handsome young candidate, and Kennedy was not about to disappoint them. He stood on the steps of the Michigan Union and gave a short, unprepared speech. After a few banal comments on the importance of the election, he asked: "How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers: how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service?" JFK's campaign was flooded by offers from potential volunteers. A few weeks later, in San Francisco, Kennedy made his Peace Corps proposal more concrete. He introduced the subject with a single sentence: "All of us have admired what Dr. Tom Dooley has done in Laos." A round of applause erupted and Kennedy did not need to say more about Dooley--the young doctor had become a one-line symbol of service. JFK then called for "a peace corps of talented young men and women" to "serve our country around the globe." Like Dooley, Kennedy viewed foreign service as inseparable from national service. By serving well abroad, you would serve America. JFK railed against the Eisenhower administration for filling American embassies with "men who lack compassion for the needy" and "do not even know how to pronounce the name of the head of the country to which they are accredited." By contrast, he argued, Communist nations were deploying hundreds of well-trained and committed scientists, engineers, teachers, and doctors as "missionaries for world communism." We can do better, Kennedy said. The cause of freedom depended upon it. Nixon quickly attacked the plan, saying it would become a "haven for draft dodgers," a "cult of escapism." A few days later, Kennedy was elected president by a margin of only 120,000 votes. In the heady months of transition from the Eisenhower era to Camelot, Dooley's fame peaked. By then, magazine polls listed him as one of the ten most esteemed men in the world. A Gallup poll ranked him third, just behind the pope and President Dwight Eisenhower. At the apex of his celebrity, in January 1961, two days before Kennedy's inauguration, Tom Dooley died of cancer. He was just thirty-four. The public had been following his struggle with the disease for months. The emotion stirred by Dooley's death--a man who inspired so much youthful idealism--offered a small prefiguring of the nation's grief when the young president was assassinated less than three years later. Along with their ability to awaken hopeful commitments, Dooley and Kennedy also shared a common religion. Both Kennedy and Dooley wore their Catholicism lightly enough to appeal to audiences that had just begun to shed older anti-Catholic prejudices. Yet Dooley's popularity as a "medical missionary" was undoubtedly enhanced by the intense religiosity of post-World War II America. Formal memberships in all faith communities soared to more than two-thirds of the public and an astonishing 99 percent of Americans claimed to believe in God. In 1954, Congress added "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance, a formal declaration that loyalty to God and country were inseparable. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible, published in 1952, sold more than twenty-six million copies its first year, and religious books accounted for almost half of the decade's nonfiction best sellers. Biblical epics were a staple of 1950s Hollywood. The religious awakening of the 1950s was partly inspired by Cold War anxieties and a powerful need to contrast America's religious faith with "godless Communism." Director Cecil B. DeMille appeared at the beginning of his blockbuster film The Ten Commandments to encourage audiences to link his Bible stories to the Cold War conflicts of 1956. The central question, he said, was whether men would be "ruled by God's law, or by the whims of a dictator like Ramses. Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God? This same struggle is still going on today." Of all American denominations, Catholics made the most striking gains in this period. Their numbers doubled from 1940 to 1960. One of the most popular television shows of the mid-1950s was Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's Life Is Worth Living , which often attracted more than thirty million viewers even when it ran opposite Milton Berle's popular comedy hour. Sheen's anti-Communism was a model of restraint compared with that of Cardinal Francis Spellman, who called on his New York flock to defend "the rights of God and man against Christ-hating communists whose allegiance is pledged to Satan!" Yet Sheen fully embraced Cold War Americanism, and his popularity reflected the broader culture's growing tendency to regard Catholics as loyal patriots and to discard the prejudiced assumption that Catholics were bound to parochial, Old World allegiances. That shift helped John Kennedy get elected president. Catholics were especially fervent fans of Tom Dooley. After his death, many promoted his canonization, and his books were sometimes read as nearly sacred texts. The review of Deliver Us From Evil in the Catholic journal Torch claimed that Dooley's actual subject was not Vietnam, but Christ. "This is a book of Christ. This war in Viet Nam is His Passion, this suffering His; this blood is shed in His name. And all this love and this labor and dedicated skill are the compassion of His Sacred Heart." Dooley never went that far, but he certainly encouraged the hyperbole. His book is full of devout refugees clinging to rosaries and crosses, tortured priests, and Catholic schoolchildren hideously punished for their faith. And a reader might wrongly conclude from Dooley that most Vietnamese were Catholic (instead of 5-10 percent). The deep religious underpinning of early Cold War policy is partly concealed by the era's flamboyant consumerism and pleasure-seeking. Pink and aqua appliances, hip-wagging rock 'n' roll, cars with shark-size tail fins, and the three-martini lunch all seemed at odds with piety. But in 1955, theologian Will Herberg argued that the most striking characteristic of the religious awakening of the 1950s was its coexistence with rising secularism. He attempted to reconcile the paradox by suggesting that the heart of American religious faith, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish, conservative or liberal, was an adherence to the "civic religion" or "common religion" of "the American Way of Life." Faith in God was widely viewed as the sine qua non of national identity, the essence of what it meant to be an American and the foundation of the country's central institutions and values. Speaking in support of the American Legion's 1955 Back to God campaign, President Eisenhower said, "Without God, there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life. Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first--the most basic--expression of Americanism." The idea that religious faith framed the Cold War competition with Communism was a pervasive sentiment, informing the politics of people as different as Catholic conservative Cardinal Spellman and Catholic liberal senator Mike Mansfield, Protestant conservative publisher Henry Luce and Protestant liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the young Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Henry Luce's famous 1941 call for an "American century" was a classic expression of civic religion, of "God and country" boosterism, the fusion of religion and nationalism. Born in China to Presbyterian missionaries, Luce presided over a publishing empire that included Time , Life , Fortune , and Sports Illustrated magazines. "The American Century," his landmark essay, urged the nation to "exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit." American ideals were the new gospel that needed to be promoted, even if it required force. "We must now undertake to be the Good Samaritan of the entire world." In 1941, Luce's view was hardly dominant. It was nearly ten months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and isolationist sentiment was still strong; at least half the country wanted the United States to stay out of World War II, never mind take on responsibility for the entire world. By the mid-1950s, however, Luce's brand of American universalism was flowering. It was in full bloom on June 1, 1956, at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, site of the first public conference sponsored by the American Friends of Vietnam. This politically diverse organization had formed the prior year to promote the South Vietnamese government of Catholic president Ngo Dinh Diem. The group included people as different as General John "Iron Mike" O'Daniel, liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and socialist Norman Thomas, as well as Senator John Kennedy and Dr. Tom Dooley. Their differences exemplify the broad consensus that shaped and supported early U.S. Cold War foreign policy. This loose coalition of internationalist cold warriors was acutely aware of the importance of public relations and the need to tell a clear and persuasive story to gain support for their cause. The American Friends of Vietnam helped write a Vietnam narrative that dominated American political culture at least until Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated in an American-backed coup in November 1963, just a few weeks before Kennedy himself was killed. Here, in brief, was how the story was typically told: After World War II, French control over Indochina was threatened by Ho Chi Minh's Communist insurgency. This Red aggression had to be put down or it would spread uncontrollably across Southeast Asia. Therefore, the United States gave billions of dollars in aid to help France defeat the Communists. Despite U.S. support, France lost the war in 1954. When the great powers met at Geneva to set the terms of peace, they ceded control of North Vietnam to the Communists. The United States felt a responsibility to keep South Vietnam free. Although the Geneva Accords called for an election in 1956 to reunite Vietnam under a single government, American leaders encouraged South Vietnam to cancel it because the Reds could not be trusted to conduct a free and fair election. Instead, the United States supported the creation of a permanent South Vietnam under the leadership of Ngo Dinh Diem. America would provide mature and indispensable guidance to this infant nation. This narrative was reinforced by two of the featured speakers at the American Friends of Vietnam conference, Tom Dooley and Senator John Kennedy. Dooley beseeched the audience to see Communism "not as a distant, far-away, nebulous, ethereal thing--but as an evil, driving, malicious ogre" capable of unimaginable forms of torture. "I wish I had photographs here of the hideous atrocities that we witnessed in our camps every single day." Lacking photographs, he told a story. During his "very first week" in Vietnam he claimed to have taken custody of a group of Catholic schoolchildren who had been caught saying the Lord's Prayer by Communist guards. To punish the children for their "treason," the guards "rammed into each child's ear a chopstick; rending the canal, splitting the drum." When it was Senator Kennedy's turn to speak, he began with what had already become a Cold War cliché--the idea that containing Communism in small countries like Vietnam was necessary because otherwise it would spread from one nation to another. "Vietnam represents the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the keystone in the arch, the finger in the dike." All three metaphors presented Communism as innately expansive and aggressive, a "Red Tide" that must be held back at all costs. But then Kennedy switched to yet another metaphor: the family. "If we are not the parents of little Vietnam, then surely we are the godparents. We presided at its birth, we gave assistance to its life, we have helped to shape its future. . . . This is our offspring. We cannot abandon it." It was an appealing image--flattering to every generous impulse of a great and wealthy nation, and all the more compelling when paired with Dooley's account of tortured children in need of protection. We would only be doing what was right and necessary, fulfilling the obligation of a parent to a child. These sentiments greatly helped build popular support for Cold War policies. Dooley and Kennedy encouraged Americans to imagine themselves the adoptive parents of needy Asian children and childlike nations. Though both men were raised in privileged families, each expressed compassion for the less fortunate. Kennedy liked to quote a line from Luke: "Of those to whom much is given, much is required." Dooley, born into a wealthy St. Louis manufacturing family, told people he was destined to become a "society doctor" until he was transformed by his exposure to human suffering in Southeast Asia. Many Americans felt patriotic pride in Dooley's mission. It was as if he were serving the world's far-flung poor on behalf of all Americans, and many believed his people-to-people diplomacy enhanced their nation's reputation. Popular culture in the 1950s was full of stories that prepared the soil for deeper U.S. involvement in Asia by romanticizing the capacity of Americans to reach out peacefully and effectively to grateful Asians. James Michener, the king of best-selling writers about the Pacific, was especially enthusiastic about Asian-American bonding. In 1951, while the United States was bogged down in a bloody and frustrating war in Korea, Michener offered the heartening news that on every Pacific island he visited, he was invariably approached by a person of "good sense and responsible years" who asked this question: "Did the American government send you out here to report on whether or not we want America to take over this island? Let me tell you, my friend, we dream of nothing else. When will America adopt us?" Michener would have his vast readership believe that Asians were virtually begging the United States to run their countries and would view it not as an imposition of colonialism but as a blessing. Perhaps America could indeed be, as Henry Luce had envisioned, "the Good Samaritan of the entire world." Michener's first major success was Tales of the South Pacific (1947), his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories that was adapted into one of the most popular musicals of all time, South Pacific (1949). It ran on Broadway for five years and has been reprised ever since in countless community and high school productions. The cast album was the number one best-selling record for more than a year and the sound track from the popular 1958 film version of South Pacific sold five million copies. When the show was revived on Broadway in 2008, it won seven Tony Awards. This pleasing and sentimental romance has moved countless Americans to imagine tropical Asia as a site in which American virtue blossoms as fully as the romance at its center. South Pacific features a young navy nurse, Ensign Nellie Forbush, a "cockeyed optimist" from Little Rock, Arkansas. While serving in the islands during World War II, she falls in love with a wealthy, middle-aged French plantation owner, Emile de Becque. But when Nellie discovers that de Becque is a widower who has two children from his marriage to a Polynesian woman, she is horrified. As Michener's original story bluntly put it, to marry a man "who had lived openly with a nigger was beyond the pale." So is the prospect of becoming stepmother to two mixed-race children. Nellie calls off the engagement. But when de Becque nearly dies on a mission to help the Allies defeat the Japanese, Nellie's heart melts. She concludes that her racial prejudice is mere "piffle." As the curtain falls, audiences cheer as the happy foursome sits down to eat on a patio overlooking the Pacific. As Christina Klein has persuasively written, South Pacific --and many other early Cold War stories about Asia--offered the heartwarming suggestion that American overseas interventions foster love and racial tolerance. American ideals are not betrayed by war, but fulfilled. The willingness to embrace others like adoptive parents could be good for everyone. The needy would be uplifted, and American virtue amplified. In reality, most midcentury American white people found the prospect of social contact with people of color discomfiting or unimaginable, and segregated neighborhoods and schools were the norm throughout the land, whether institutionalized by law (as in the South), or by the standard practices of banks, Realtors, school committees, and individuals. Even cross-race adoptions were forbidden or discouraged. In 1949, Pearl Buck, who had written a famous book about China called The Good Earth , started Welcome House, the first agency to promote the adoption of biracial Asian American children by white parents. The persistence of racism was not just a domestic problem. Many foreign nations, especially the Soviet Union, frequently criticized American hypocrisy. How could the United States call itself the "land of opportunity" and the leader of the Free World when it continued to deny millions of its own people basic civil rights? American diplomats did their best to accentuate the positive. They pointed to the achievements of individual Negroes like Jackie Robinson, who broke the color line in baseball in 1947, or Ralph Bunche, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. Or they cited Truman's decision to integrate the military in 1948 and the Supreme Court's 1954 decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional. But those signs of progress could hardly stand up against the evidence of ongoing racial violence and injustice. In 1955, for example, a black fourteen-year-old from Chicago named Emmett Till was tortured and lynched in Mississippi for allegedly saying "bye, baby" to a white woman. His murderers were acquitted by an all-white jury (and later bragged about their crime to the press). Till's mother asked for an open casket to reveal her son's mutilated body to the world. In 1958, two young black boys in North Carolina, ages seven and nine, were charged with rape and jailed after a white girl kissed one of them on the cheek in an innocent game of "house." After four months of civil rights protest and international outrage over the "kissing case," the charges were dropped. And in 1961 the ambassador from Chad, a newly independent African nation, was driving from the United Nations to Washington, DC, to present his credentials to President Kennedy. When he stopped for a cup of coffee on Route 40 in Maryland, he was denied service because of his color. Though a growing number of whites agreed that there was a "Negro problem," few perceived that racism was deeply entrenched in white-controlled institutions and culture. There was even less acknowledgment that all people of color, including Asians, were the targets of racial hostility. Anti-Asian racism had been stoked by decades of "yellow peril" imagery in which hordes of nameless, indistinguishable Asians--often depicted as rodents, apes, or reptiles--threatened white America. The knife was sharpened by three American wars in Asia--against Filipinos at the turn of the century, Japanese in World War II, and North Koreans and Chinese in the Korean War. In light of those realities, many Americans must have been relieved by Michener's claim that Asians would love to be "adopted" by Americans. Also reassuring were press reports from Japan during America's postwar occupation (1945-1952) promoting the idea that wartime hostilities had evolved into a warm teacher-student alliance. And South Pacific suggested that racial prejudice was unnatural and easily overcome. As one of the musical's best-known songs put it, you had to be "carefully taught" to hate and fear people "whose eyes are oddly made" or have skin of a "different shade." Nellie showed how easy it was to dispense with all that piffle. In many corners of post-World War II culture, Americans were encouraged to care about Asia and the Pacific. Books like Deliver Us From Evil (1956), The Ugly American (1958), and Hawaii (1959), long-running musicals like South Pacific and The King and I , and numerous films, articles, and travel accounts all told compelling stories that raised public awareness of these distant lands. More than that, they suggested that Americans should be concerned about Asia not just because it harbored the threat of Communism, but because humanitarian commitments overseas exemplified the nation's highest ideals; they were a fulfillment of our national destiny. What happened to that vision? It didn't die in 1961 with Tom Dooley, but it was soon eviscerated by the escalating war in Vietnam. By 1965, Dooley himself was well on his way toward historical obscurity, and by the time the Vietnam War ended in 1975, about the only thing most Americans could remember about "Tom Dooley" was an old Kingston Trio song of the same name, which began, "Hang down your head, Tom Dooley." Worse still, the song wasn't even about Dr. Dooley; it was about a nineteenth-century murderer. But before Dooley could be forgotten he had to be discredited. In the early 1960s, when the number of U.S. servicemen in Vietnam was still below fifteen thousand and fewer than a hundred of them had died, a small but committed opposition to American policy began to develop. Its first significant actions focused less on petitions and protests and more on something less dramatic: research. All social movements require information and analysis, but it was especially crucial to the early anti-Vietnam War movement because the mass media generally supported official claims about the distant war and its necessity. From today's vantage point, with critical evidence readily available on the Internet, it is hard to recall a time when finding and distributing information that fundamentally challenged the government required so much effort. The three TV networks offered only fifteen minutes of nightly news (CBS was the first to move to thirty minutes in September 1963). Dissenting views rarely made it into those broadcasts, and the major newspapers and magazines also tended to reinforce the stated objectives of U.S. foreign policy. For critical analysis, you had to read small-circulation magazines or newsletters that most Americans had never heard about, such as The Nation , I. F. Stone's Weekly , and, in the mid-1960s, Ramparts . Ramparts magazine was founded in 1962 as a liberal Catholic quarterly, but by 1965 it had become an important organ of New Left opinion. The young radicals of the New Left believed postwar liberals were essentially indistinguishable from conservatives--too slow to support civil rights and other domestic reforms at home and too eager to embrace militant Cold War policies overseas. They also rejected (at least until the late 1960s) the doctrinaire, undemocratic traditions of the Communist "Old Left" and called for an expansion of "participatory democracy" to give citizens a greater voice in everything, including the shaping of foreign policy in the nuclear age. Ramparts ran its first major article on Vietnam in January 1965. Written by Robert Scheer, it was called "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley." The main point was to demonstrate that Dooley's vision of idealistic Americans saving South Vietnam was fraudulent. Though Scheer did not question Dooley's "well-meaning" motives, he argued that the doctor was nonetheless a "master publicist" of government lies and distortions about Vietnam. Dooley had given Americans the false impression that Vietnam was mostly a Catholic country. Equally deceitful was his suggestion that most Vietnamese were hostile toward the Viet Minh--the revolutionaries led by Ho Chi Minh who defeated France. In fact, most Vietnamese viewed the Viet Minh as patriotic heroes. But Scheer had much bigger fish to fry than Dooley. In his telling, America moved into Vietnam not to rescue a suffering majority of that country's poor, but to prop up a tiny elite against the wishes of the masses. He found much of his evidence hidden in plain sight, information that had been ignored or explained away by most of the media. For example, he quoted Dwight Eisenhower's 1963 memoir in which the former president wrote: "I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that, had elections been held at the time of the fighting [against France], possibly 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader." This view was published even earlier in a 1955 Look magazine article by Leo Cherne, a founder of American Friends of Vietnam, who expressed concern that "if elections were held today, the overwhelming majority of Vietnamese would vote Communist." These statements stood in flat contradiction to the dominant public claim that Communists could only seize all of Vietnam through subversion, terror, and military support from China and Russia. Here were the former president (Eisenhower) and one of the strongest public supporters of the American-backed government in South Vietnam (Leo Cherne) admitting that the Communists could have won at the ballot box; that Ho Chi Minh was supported in the South as well as the North. It was not the Reds who had made elections impossible, but the United States and Diem. It was the Diem government, with U.S. encouragement, that refused to hold the nationwide elections promised by the Geneva Accords. The nation that had proclaimed itself the leader of the Free World, a supporter of self-determination and democracy everywhere, had forced the Vietnamese majority who supported Ho Chi Minh to find other means besides the democratic process to achieve their political goals. Just as shocking, Scheer (and his sometime coauthor Warren Hinckle) argued that Ngo Dinh Diem was essentially handpicked by the United States to be the leader of South Vietnam. Diem was a devout Catholic bachelor, and his popular support in Vietnam was "minuscule," but he gained the crucial support of a small group of prominent Americans even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu. From 1950 to 1954, while his nation was mired in a bloody war, Diem was mostly overseas, much of the time in the United States, where he often stayed at the Maryknoll seminaries in New Jersey and New York. From there the "absentee aristocrat" met and impressed Cardinal Francis Spellman, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, and Senators John Kennedy and Mike Mansfield. These men, along with dozens of lesser known but influential people such as Edward Lansdale, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., General William Donovan, Henry Luce, Leo Cherne, Joseph Buttinger, Harold Oram, Wesley Fishel, Angier Biddle Duke, Congresswoman Edna Kelly, and Congressman Walter Judd, formed what Ramparts dubbed the Vietnam Lobby, a politically diverse and loose-knit group, most of whom became members of the American Friends of Vietnam when it formed in 1955. They believed Diem could establish a popular, anti-Communist government because he had only served the French briefly, and never in the military. But that meant little in a land that gave the greatest patriotic credentials to those who had actively opposed foreign invaders. Diem did not fight for the French, but he had not fought against them. That key distinction did not deter the Vietnam Lobby. It launched an impressive public relations campaign to promote Diem as a nationalist reformer who would stand up to Communism without the stigma of colonial masters calling his shots. By the time the French were defeated in 1954, Diem's name was on the lips of everyone shaping U.S. policy in the region. The U.S. government successfully pushed to have him appointed prime minister of South Vietnam. A year later he became president in a referendum guaranteed to produce an all but unanimous "election." The Vietnam Lobby was not primarily responsible for U.S. intervention in Vietnam. That distinction belongs to Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who were already committed to building a non-Communist state in South Vietnam. But the lobby did play a key role in sustaining U.S. support for Ngo Dinh Diem, especially during his rocky first year when some U.S. officials were scouting around for a possible replacement. Once Diem consolidated his power over a variety of rival non-Communist sects in the spring of 1955, the Vietnam Lobby and the U.S. government practically competed over who could offer the most over-the-top praise. The pinnacle of official adulation for Diem came in May 1957, when he made a state visit to the United States. He was given a red carpet airport greeting by Eisenhower, a twenty-one-gun salute, a standing ovation by a joint session of Congress, a ticker-tape parade in New York City, and a banquet presided over by publishing magnate Henry Luce and attended by John D. Rockefeller, Eleanor Roosevelt, William Randolph Hearst Jr., and Senators Mansfield and Kennedy. The press did little more than echo the kudos. "Brave," "courageous," "devout," "incorruptible," "freedom-loving," "miracle worker"--the praise for Diem was so lavish his American publicist, Harold Oram, should have raised his $3,000 monthly fee. Oram's job was pretty easy, since five media moguls were members of American Friends of Vietnam. Beneath the stirring headlines, however, some of the brutal realities of Diem's rule occasionally leaked through. For example, a Life magazine article ("The Tough Miracle Man of South Vietnam") began with what had become a standard account of "the miracles he has wrought"--establishing "order from chaos," initiating "reform," saving Vietnam from "national suicide." Yet the article goes on to offer a stunning revelation: "Behind a façade of photographs, flags and slogans there is a grim structure of decrees, 're-education centers,' secret police. . . . Ordinance No. 6, signed and issued by Diem in January 1956, provides that 'individuals considered dangerous to national defense and common security may be confined on executive order' in a 'concentration camp.'" This level of candor about U.S. support for an authoritarian regime was rare in mass-circulation publications. Few Americans were aware of Diem's harsh rule, or that it became even more draconian in 1959 with the creation of roving tribunals that traveled the countryside and summarily executed anyone regarded as a threat to national security. South Vietnamese papers had photographs of the executions showing people getting their heads chopped off with a guillotine. Diem wanted people to know what was in store for them if they rebelled. In the United States, no such photographs appeared. Even as evidence against Diem mounted--his dictatorial rule, his repression of dissent, his discrimination against non-Catholics, his unpopularity--most of it stayed out of the headlines. As late as 1961, Vice President Lyndon Johnson called Diem "the Winston Churchill of Asia." When a journalist asked Johnson if he really believed in that comparison, LBJ replied, "Shit, Diem's the only boy we got out there." Those who championed Diem as pro-democracy had to twist logic and language beyond the breaking point. "Vietnam's Democratic One-Man Rule" was the Orwellian title of a 1959 New Leader article written by Wesley Fishel, a Michigan State political scientist who helped train Diem's secret police. Fishel claimed that Diem had a democratic "vision," but it would take time to implement. Diem's dictatorial powers would provide the stability necessary for democracy to evolve. At bottom, the argument rested on the claim that the Vietnamese were not "ready" for democracy. They were too "immature." As Fishel put it, "The peoples of Southeast Asia are not, generally speaking, sufficiently sophisticated to understand what we mean by democracy." The blanket of propaganda that hid Diem's failure to gain popular support ripped open in June 1963 when a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, burned himself to death on a Saigon street. Journalist Malcolm Browne's photograph of the immolation circled the globe. It showed the robed monk, with shaved head, sitting perfectly upright, legs crossed in the lotus position, engulfed in flames. "Jesus Christ!" President Kennedy exclaimed as he viewed the photograph on the front page of the New York Times . Thich Quang Duc's self-sacrifice was an indelible protest against Ngo Dinh Diem. It symbolized the much larger Buddhist uprising against a regime that reserved high office for Diem's own family and other Catholics, and discriminated against the Buddhist majority. Americans may already have known that Diem's rule was threatened in the countryside by a Communist-led insurgency. But now a mass audience was learning that Diem was also opposed by nonviolent Buddhists. Obvious questions arose. Why is the United States supporting a ruler hated by monks? What had Diem done to inspire such extreme protest? How could this happen after eight years of American aid and military support? Five more monks immolated themselves that summer and fall, keeping media attention on the Buddhist uprising and Diem's effort to repress it by storming hundreds of temples, killing dozens, and imprisoning thousands. On November 1, 1963, Diem was overthrown by a junta of his own military officers. Diem and his brother were thrown in the back of an armored personnel carrier with their hands tied behind their backs. Then they were murdered. South Vietnam's "miracle man" was shot in the back of the head. The Kennedy administration denied any responsibility for the coup. In fact, the president had authorized it. He directed the Central Intelligence Agency and American ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, to assure the plotting generals that the United States would approve their seizure of power and would give them the support that had once belonged to Diem. Kennedy did not order Diem's murder, but he should not have been shocked when it happened. The history of military coups is not noted for its nonviolence. Kennedy soured on Diem partly because he was dictatorial and unpopular. But he was mostly concerned that Diem had failed to crush the Communist-led insurgency. In fact, the White House was worried that Diem's brother Nhu might be negotiating some kind of accommodation with the Communists. Near the end, Washington found Diem not too tyrannical, but too weak. Perhaps a military junta would do a better job. And so the generals were given the green light to move against the man America had supported for eight years. The Communist-led insurgency would continue to attack each new American "puppet" government in Saigon. The insurgency first emerged in the South and had roots in the anticolonial war against France. From 1954 to 1959 its supporters focused on political organizing, building ideological commitment to the cause of reuniting Vietnam under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. But by 1959, these southern revolutionaries began to take up arms against the American-backed government. They viewed the United States as a neo colonial power--not an old-school colonial power like France that ruled directly but a new ("neo") kind of imperialist that dominated small countries indirectly through proxy governments like Diem's. The southern guerrillas called themselves the People's Liberation Armed Forces (under the political authority of the National Liberation Front), but were soon dubbed the Viet Cong by an American public relations officer eager to find a name that branded all the insurgents as Communists (Viet Cong means Vietnamese Communist). While the Viet Cong was Communist-led, it did include non-Communist elements. Over time the southern guerrillas began to receive increasing support from Communist North Vietnam. Beginning in 1959, small numbers of North Vietnamese Army troops moved south to support the insurgency. As the United States escalated the war, hundreds of thousands of these uniformed regular army troops poured into the South. However, in the early 1960s, with little northern support, the southern insurgency came very close to victory. Indeed, despite Kennedy's escalation of U.S. military personnel (from 800 in 1961 to 16,700 in 1963), economic aid (from $250 million to $400 million per year), and arms (helicopters, fighter jets, napalm, chemical defoliants), by 1963 many U.S. policymakers privately concluded that Saigon was losing the war to the Viet Cong. That was the reality that moved Washington to abandon Diem. With the decline and fall of Diem, a new form of criticism appeared in the mainstream U.S. media. Journalists like David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan began to document the many failures of American policy. It wasn't working nearly as well as senior officials publicly claimed. For all the U.S. support and training, the South Vietnamese military was poorly motivated and incompetent. The government was corrupt and widely despised. The Viet Cong, by contrast, were tenacious and skillful. Yet even the most critical mainstream journalists did not challenge the underlying legitimacy of American intervention. Virtually everyone agreed that it was right for the United States to try to "save" South Vietnam. The only debate was over which tactics might achieve that goal. What made the mid-1960s articles in Ramparts , Viet-Report , and I. F. Stone's Weekly so path-breaking were their fundamental challenges to U.S. intervention in Vietnam. U.S. policy was not merely failing, they argued, but fraudulent and unjust. The United States was not supporting democracy and self-determination. In fact, it had opposed the popular will of the Vietnamese, first by giving massive support to France's bloody war to preserve imperial control (1946-1954) and then with the cancellation of nationwide elections in 1956 and its intervention to build a permanent, non-Communist South Vietnam. Antiwar critics turned Tom Dooley's picture of Vietnam upside down. Instead of rescuing the freedom-loving masses of Vietnam from an aggressive minority with an alien ideology, the United States was protecting a small, repressive regime against the will of its own people. Instead of saving an infant South Vietnam, it was keeping an ancient civilization divided and war torn. These claims became more widely shared as U.S. military escalation skyrocketed from 1965 to 1968. By the mid-1960s, Americans saw war news on television almost every night. The networks continued to support U.S. intervention, but many of the stories and images presented troubling evidence of the war's brutality and intractability. As the killing continued with no end in sight, official justifications became less and less persuasive. By 1971, one poll found that 71 percent of Americans agreed that the war had been a "mistake" and a remarkable 58 percent believed it was "immoral." In the same year, 1971, whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg released a massive collection of top secret government documents to the New York Times and sixteen other newspapers. Ellsberg was a once hawkish U.S. defense analyst who had turned against the war. He hoped the documents would galvanize even greater antiwar opposition by exposing the long history of government lies about the war. Quickly dubbed "The Pentagon Papers," they were widely excerpted and soon published in book form. They made Dooley's Deliver Us From Evil sound like a bizarre fairy tale from the distant past. Among other revelations, The Pentagon Papers detailed the CIA's key role in promoting the migration of Vietnamese Catholics from the North to the South. While Dooley had made it sound like a spontaneous flight from Communist terror, the once secret documents showed that the CIA launched a major propaganda initiative to increase the migration. The goal was to build a political constituency of Catholics for Ngo Dinh Diem in the South. The CIA's Edward Lansdale deployed agents to North Vietnam to sow terror among the people. They broadcast false reports about Chinese troops moving across the northern border raping and pillaging; about forced-labor camps set up by Ho Chi Minh; about the U.S. intention to drop nuclear bombs on North Vietnam. The CIA even distributed propaganda claiming that the Virgin Mary herself had moved to South Vietnam. Many Catholics would have moved south without prompting, but the CIA's fearmongering surely inflated the migration. Diem predicted only a few thousand refugees and was surprised by the flood. Lansdale bragged that his psychological warfare campaign tripled the number of Vietnamese refugees from at least one Catholic district. Catholics who remained in North Vietnam had to accommodate their faith to Communist Party ideology just as southern Buddhists had to accommodate their faith to Diem's Catholic-dominated state. However, Tom Dooley's lurid stories of Viet Minh atrocities against Catholic children and priests have never been substantiated. His nearly pornographic accounts of priests with nails driven into their heads in sadistic imitation of the "crown of thorns," or schoolchildren having chopsticks jammed into their ears, were almost certainly invented. In 1956, the U.S. Information Agency investigated Dooley's atrocity claims. It found no evidence to support them but did nothing to repudiate them. Even William Lederer, who helped Dooley write and publish his famous book, later admitted that the atrocity stories were fraudulent. In a 1991 interview, Lederer said the "atrocities described [in Deliver Us From Evil ] never took place or were committed by the French. I traveled all over the country and never saw anything like them." Nor did one of Dooley's most trusted aides, Norman Baker, believe his boss. "If I'd found a priest hanging by his heels with nails hammered into his head, I'd have the whole camp hearing about it." But Baker never saw anything of the kind. Dooley was once a famous exemplar of American service, but his actual life was invisible to the public that adored him. Some of the details remain unknown. For example, although Dooley and Lansdale had many contacts, Dooley may not have realized that Lansdale worked for the CIA. But it is clear that the CIA supported Dooley's work and regarded him as a valuable, if somewhat unreliable, asset--a positive symbol and spokesman for American policy in Southeast Asia. In fact, the CIA saved Dooley's career. Unknown to the public, the navy pressured Dooley to resign in early 1956, before the publication of Deliver Us From Evil . He was the target of a navy sting operation to prove that he was a homosexual. The Office of Naval Intelligence, with multiple agents, informants, and phone bugs, found the evidence they sought. The navy wanted Dooley out, but did not want a public smearing of the man who was doing so much for the navy's public image. Admiral Arleigh Burke had already drafted an admiring forward to Deliver Us From Evil, praising the "courageous exploits of the young lieutenant." The public was encouraged to believe that Dooley resigned voluntarily. Incredibly, a few days later Dooley was cheerfully telling people about his plans to return to Southeast Asia as a civilian to establish medical clinics in Laos. Virtually overnight, he was secretly transformed from a navy outcast to a CIA asset. His Laotian project was supported officially by the International Rescue Committee, but secretly by the CIA and even the military. They all understood that Dooley was a promising champion of U.S. foreign policy. Unlike thousands of gay men who were victimized more cruelly by the military, Dooley continued to be celebrated as a Cold War hero. In fact, his fame came only after he was forced out of the navy. And even after Dooley's death and Kennedy's assassination, American officials still talked about "saving" Vietnam. The new president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, sometimes made it sound as if Vietnam were not the site of a war so much as the recipient of a Great Society project aimed at eliminating economic hardship. In April 1965, just as he was ordering a major military escalation in Vietnam, Johnson gave an address on the war in which he said: Now there must be a much more massive effort to improve the life of man in that conflict-torn corner of our world. . . . The vast Mekong River can provide food and water and power on a scale to dwarf even our own TVA. The wonders of modern medicine can be spread through villages where thousands die every year from lack of care. . . . We should not allow people to go hungry and wear rags while our own warehouses overflow. Later, joking around with his advisers, Johnson said he had used the speech to throw a bone to all the "sob sisters and peace societies." Even as evidence mounted that the war was devastating the South Vietnamese countryside, U.S. leaders still claimed, as they did in 1954-55, that they were saving Vietnamese refugees from Communism. By 1965 the "refugees" were not flowing from North to South, but from the rural countryside of South Vietnam into refugee camps and the cities. American officials said these displaced people were fleeing from Viet Cong aggression and terror. In fact, U.S. military policy drove the vast majority of peasants off their land. The goal was to get the farmers away from Viet Cong insurgents who relied on villagers for food, hiding places, intelligence, and recruits. By packing peasants onto trucks and helicopters and removing them to refugee camps, the U.S. military believed it could establish better control over South Vietnam. Once the civilians had been relocated, the military redefined their former villages as free-fire zones and claimed the right to destroy anything seen there again, including people who chose to return to their ancestral homes. In a 1967 military operation called Cedar Falls--the largest to that point in the war--American troops forced six thousand people off their land in and around Ben Suc, about thirty miles northwest of Saigon. They were rural peasants who were tied to their land by history, culture, and religion. Two-thirds of those removed were children. Once the villagers were "resettled" in a refugee camp, journalist Jonathan Schell noticed that the military gave these same people a different label. They had first called them "hostile civilians" or "Viet Cong suspects." But once they were forced onto choppers or trucks and hauled into the confines of U.S.-controlled camps, they were called "refugees." A poster at the camp read "Welcome to the Reception Center for Refugees Fleeing Communism." But they weren't refugees from Communism. They were essentially American prisoners. By war's end, the United States had driven more than five million South Vietnamese off their land--roughly one-third of the population. Most of them ended up in refugee camps, in shantytowns near American military bases, or in the cities. These civilians were victims of one of the largest forced relocations in history. The scale of this human displacement was at least five times greater than Operation Passage to Freedom--the mass movement of northern Vietnamese to the south in the mid-1950s. The U.S. military actually counted the refugees it "generated" as a metric of progress. The more, the better. But a growing number of home front critics viewed this as additional evidence that the United States was destroying Vietnam, not "saving" it. The most graphic evidence was the indiscriminate destruction caused by American bombs, napalm, artillery, and chemical defoliants. The devastating impact of U.S. warfare was dramatically revealed during the Tet Offensive of 1968. When the Communists launched their surprise attack all across South Vietnam and into the cities, the U.S. responded with a massive counteroffensive of bombing and artillery strikes to drive the Communists back into the countryside. These attacks destroyed many thickly populated towns and city neighborhoods. Thousands of civilians died in the rubble. In Ben Tre, a town in the Mekong Delta, the U.S. counteroffensive was particularly devastating. Journalist Peter Arnett asked an American officer to explain. The major replied with what would become the war's most infamous line: "It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it." A few weeks later, on March 18, 1968, Democratic senator Robert Kennedy gave his first major speech as a candidate for president at Kansas State University, where the Young Republicans had five times more members than the Young Democrats. The field house was packed with 14,500 students. Kennedy quoted the American officer's line about Ben Tre and then expanded it to raise fundamental questions about the entire war: "If it becomes 'necessary' to destroy all of South Vietnam in order to 'save it,' will we do that too? And if we care so little about South Vietnam that we are willing to see the land destroyed and its people dead, then why are we there in the first place? . . . Will it be said of us, as Tacitus said of Rome: 'They made a desert and called it peace'?" The cheers were deafening. Observers compared it to seeing a rock star. "We want Bobby!" they screamed. Three months later, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The war would go on for seven more years. By the time Robert Kennedy died, millions of Americans had come to believe that Vietnam needed to be saved, not from the Communists but from the United States. In 1967, for example, a group of antiwar activists sailed a fifty-foot ketch, the Phoenix of Hiroshima , to North Vietnam to offer medical supplies for the treatment of civilians wounded by American bombs. And the Catholics most strongly associated with Vietnam by the late 1960s were not Cardinal Spellman and Tom Dooley, but the brothers Daniel and Philip Berrigan, antiwar priests who were convicted of destroying draft records in Catonsville, Maryland, with homemade napalm. At their 1968 trial, Daniel Berrigan read a statement that included these words: "Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise. For we are sick at heart, our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of the Burning Children." This was no longer Tom Dooley's America. More than at any moment in history, Americans had come to believe their nation as capable of evil as any other. National identity was no longer figured as a kind sailor "bouncing a brown bare-bottom baby on his knee." It was more likely to be represented as a napalm-dropping American jet. American exceptionalism was on its deathbed. Back in the 1950s, if an army general said that Vietnam was like a "child" in need of development, most Americans would have considered it a reasonable idea. And if the general went on to say that "the Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner," that "life is cheap in the Orient," most would have taken it as a sage cultural insight. But in 1974, when those very words were uttered by General William Westmoreland, the man who had commanded American forces in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968, a great many of his fellow citizens found them repulsive and racist. Even so, at war's end in 1975 there remained an urge to recover some faith in exceptional American virtue. Ironically, Americans returned to the idea of parental adoption of Asians, this time not as a metaphor for beneficent U.S. intervention, but as an actual response to the unfolding disaster. On April 3, 1975, as Communist forces were routing the South Vietnamese military en route to their final victory, U.S. officials agreed to airlift thousands of Vietnamese children to the United States for adoption. Operation Babylift was embraced by U.S. ambassador Graham Martin in hopes that it might move Congress to pass a major new allocation of aid to support the crumbling regime of Nguyen Van Thieu. The Agency for International Development organized the airlift and set up a telephone hotline to handle inquiries from prospective parents. It was inundated with thousands of calls. MIT political scientist Lucien Pye, a proponent of the Vietnam War, believed Americans who responded to Operation Babylift were "trying to prove that we are not really abandoning these people. The guilt feeling is very deep, cutting across hawk and dove alike. We want to know we're still good, we're still decent." The media tracked the airlift closely, searching for feel-good stories amid the war's ruins. It began horribly. On April 4, an air force C-5A Galaxy jet, the world's largest air transport, filled with 328 children, aid workers, government employees, and crew, had to crash-land after a hatch exploded. One hundred and fifty-three passengers were killed, most of them children and babies. A few thousand children made it safely to the United States, and the media generally concluded that they had been rescued from a terrible fate. But these silver lining stories masked a painful reality. A significant portion of the airlifted children were not actually orphans. In war-ravaged Vietnam some families put children in orphanages for protection, hoping to get them back in safer times. Sending those children to the United States without parental consent, critics argued, was tantamount to kidnapping. A legal suit was brought forward to give Vietnamese parents a right to recover their children. Experts on both sides testified that many children were not eligible for adoption under international standards. The files of some children had been deliberately altered to make them seem eligible. Yet the judge threw out the case, sealed the files, and ordered the attorneys not to inform Vietnamese families of their contents. In the decades since, a considerable number of Vietnamese families divided by Operation Babylift have tried to reunite. Few have succeeded. With the media focused on the evacuation of Vietnamese children, American officials waited until Communist forces had completely surrounded Saigon before ordering an evacuation of Americans and those Vietnamese who sought exile. When the evacuation did finally commence at the end of the month, tens of thousands managed to get out, but untold thousands of South Vietnamese were abandoned. The fall of Saigon in 1975, with its searing images of the U.S. embassy surrounded by desperate people begging for places on the final helicopters, made brutally clear that America had not saved the South Vietnam it had tried for twenty-one years to create and preserve. Nor could it honestly be said that the United States unequivocally saved the individual Vietnamese it carried to the United States. After all, these refugees had not only lost a war, they had lost their home. 2 Aggression MOVIE STAR AUDREY Hepburn is smiling and radiant, dressed entirely in white--white top, white slacks, white shoes. A white jacket is draped over one shoulder. She is looking at us from the cover of Ladies' Home Journal , January 1967. A banner across the top asks "Would you believe she's 37?" The inside story says Hepburn is not too old to change her once "pure" and "inviolate" image. "All convention is rigidifying," she declares. In an upcoming film, Two for the Road , "she will wear mini-skirts, vinyl shorts and also--are you ready?--has a love scene with Albert Finney in which she wears nothing." Even away from the set she was seen "frugging in discotheques" and "wearing all the go-go-goodies." Times were indeed changing, and not just in film, fashion, music, dance, and sexuality. The same issue of Ladies' Home Journal that featured the Hepburn story ran a disturbing article by Martha Gellhorn. A searing account of Vietnamese refugees, war orphans, and wounded children, it may have been the most damning exposé of the civilian suffering caused by the American war in Vietnam yet to appear in a mass-circulation U.S. magazine. The previous August (1966), at age fifty-eight, Gellhorn had traveled to South Vietnam to write a series of articles about the impact of the war on Vietnamese civilians. "I would never have chosen to go near a war again if my own country had not, mysteriously, begun to wage an undeclared war," she recalled years later. At first, she had paid little attention to the "obscure Asian country," but by early 1965 it was no longer possible to ignore. We were suddenly, enormously involved in a war, without any explanation that made sense to me. . . . All the war reports I could find sounded inhuman, like describing a deadly football game between a team of heroes and a team of devils and chalking up the score by "body counts" and "kill ratio." The American dead were mourned, but not enough; they should have been mourned with bitter unceasing questions about the value of sacrificing these young lives. The Vietnamese people were apparently forgotten except as clichés in speeches. American bombing missions were announced as if bombs were a selective weapon, or as if only the proclaimed enemy lived on the ground. Vietnamese civilians lived all over the ground, under that rain of bombs. They were being "freed from aggression" mercilessly. Excerpted from American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity by Christian G. Appy All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Who Are We?p. xi
Part 1 Why Are We in Vietnam?
1 Saving Vietnam
2 Aggression
3 Paper Tigers
4 Vietnam, Inc.p. 91
Part 2 America at War
5 Our Boysp. 119
6 The American Way of Warp. 151
7 The War at Homep. 183
Part 3 What Have We Become?
8 Victim Nationp. 221
9 "The Pride Is Back"p. 251
10 No More Vietnamsp. 275
11 Who We Arep. 305
Acknowledgmentsp. 337
Notesp. 341
Indexp. 385

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