Monday, May 4, 2020

Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley!

Could this one man have started the Vietnam War?

We were perusing YouTube last night and saw a vintage episode of What's My Line?  The celebrity guest was Dr. Tom Dooley, who I'd never heard of before.  Of course, I'd heard of the traditional Appalachian folk song made popular by the Kingston Trio, but this was a different Tom Dooley. That song was about a Tom Dula, a Civil War veteran who lived in Appalachia and stabbed his girlfriend to death.

As we watched the show and they introduced young Doctor Tom Dooley, Mark remarked "what a poofter!" which turned out to be prescient.  It turns out this young man had an interesting background, depending on which version of his life story you believe.   If you believe the LA Times, you probably get the wrong story.  They fell for his line about being born to poor working-class parents, without doing any original research of their own.  The LA Times - a tabloid even back then!

As best reconstructed, though, he was the son of wealthy parents. His grandfather ran the American Car and Foundry operation in St Louis, and his father took over that job later on. He didn't have to want for anything in life.  And as you might expect, he lived the life of a young playboy on his parent's money for many years.

He served briefly in the military during World War II as a medic, and after the war went to Notre Dame, but failed to graduate. He then went to medical school, which was permissible the time without an undergraduate degree, but struggled to pass his courses.  He then rejoined the military and became a doctor there.

He was sent off to Southeast Asia, years before the Vietnam War, to help evacuate Vietnamese Catholics from the North. The French had withdrawn from French Indochina - as it was called back then - and under the peace treaty the country was divided in half.  Catholicism was always a minority religion in Vietnam, but stories about persecution of Christians by the Viet Minh were spread to encourage Vietnamese Catholics to resettle to the South.

The US government hoped to install Ngô Đình Diệm as the leader of this new South Vietnamese government, with the support of a large (but minority) Catholic population.   Dooley wrote colorful dispatches of his experiences in Vietnam, and was encouraged to do this by the CIA.  In fact, his case officer encouraged him to write a book about his experiences, exaggerating or fabricating stories of torture and abuse of Catholics by the Viet Minh. That book, Deliver Us from Evil, was a New York Times bestseller.

It was only years later that his case officer admitted that the stories of atrocities committed by the Viet Minh against Catholics were entirely fabricated. And if you think about it, it really makes no sense at all. Why would they torture small children and priests if their goal was to gain support for Communism in the North?   Bear in mind this all happened during the "Red Scare" of the 1950's, when it was felt that Communism was going to "take over" the world - Godless Communism, no less.  And a young Catholic President elected in 1960 wasn't about to let that happen.

The book was quite popular in the United States.  Dooley went on promotional tours, positing himself as a "Jungle Doctor" like Albert Schweitzer (sans Nobel Prize).  Unfortunately for Dooley, he was outed as a homosexual and forced to leave the military.   Since he was so key to the CIA's propaganda campaign, however, he was allowed to resign from the Military.  He returned to Southeast Asia, this time to Laos, where he helped establish a number of health clinics, garnering himself the name "Dr. America" (like anything else about him, however, this could be a self-generated myth).  He also smuggled arms and spied for the CIA, using these clinics as a cover.

The story has a sad ending, however.  Dooley contracted cancer and died at age 34, just as America's involvement with Vietnam was starting.

Oh, wait, there is another sad ending.  We were drawn into a pointless war for two decades, that killed off about 60,000 American soldiers, wounded many more, and left others mentally damaged, drug addicted, and homeless.

The other sad part?  We dropped more bombs on Vietnam that we did in all of World War II.  Some are still going off today, crippling and killing men, women, and children.  We dumped toxic cancer-causing chemicals such as Agent Orange.   A quarter-million South Vietnamese were killed, at the very least, and well over a million in the North.   The entire region became politically unstable, and neighboring countries such as Laos and Cambodia were also drawn into the war.  After the war, political instability in Cambodia lead to the massacre of millions of people.

But hey, let's not lose focus here, this guy died, and that's the real tragedy, and donchuforgetit!

So what's the point of this?   Well, it is another example of The Columbine Effect - that at the time these events occurred, we all believed the "story" told by the media and the government.  It was only after a decade or so that we came to realize that much of what we were being told was hooey.  It wasn't until the publication of The Pentagon Papers that people realized that Tom Dooley was a shameless self-promoter and a liar of the first order - but likely a pawn used by the CIA to its own ends.  He may actually have felt he was being a "good Catholic" helping these underserved people, as well as the church and Cardinal Frances Spellman.

Historical events are never very clear at the time they occur.  It can take years or even decades before we see what the whole picture really was.   By then, no one cares.   It also illustrates how the media is less interested in the truth than "a good story" and by "a good story" I mean one that people click on.  Truth doesn't sell very well - it is boring and tedious to read, what with all these "facts" bogging down the emotional impact of the tale.

Today - and every day for over a month now, and at least two more months into the future - the New York Times publishes one of its "gloom" stories about how someone died from the Corona Virus.   Yes, these are sad private tragedies - so are stories about other people who died of other causes today.  The Times is selling an agenda - that we should all stay home and that the government 'botched' the response and only Bernie can save us.

The reality of our situation today will only become apparent a decade from now - and perhaps not even then.  What is clear to me is that if you think this is all almost over, shit's just starting.    There will continue to be a steady stream of deaths all summer long - about 1,000 a day until September, but by then we'll be "used to it."   The economic impact is just starting to be felt, though.   The economy was going to tank, anyway, and so many companies were buried in debt before this all started.

Airlines hemorrhage cash owning airplanes flying no passengers.  One reason they "turn around" aircraft so quickly at airports - refuel them and re-fill them with passengers - is that for every hour you own an airliner, it has to be making money for you, as it costs thousands of dollars an hour just sitting there.  Now imagine entire fleets of airplanes just sitting there.   And no, even if they are "paid for" it's "costing them something" - a lot, in fact.   Most, however, are not paid for, but leased or subject to loan payments.

Car companies are the same deal - leveraged in debt in an industry with cutthroat competition and a cash-flow requirement worse than a drug habit.  The whole thing was crashing down before the virus - now throw in a month of no car sales whatsoever, and going forward, people scared to spend a nickel.

And retail?   So many retail companies were heavily laden with debt before this all started - and they were all teetering on the brink of bankruptcy as it was.  Expect a bloodbath in retail, particularly for companies that had to close stores for a month or more.   Americans learned how to buy online, and it is doubtful that "brick and mortar" will ever recover to pre-virus levels.

The virus will be a distant memory by December of this year.  The economic recession - and possibly depression - will take years to recover from.   But again, we really won't know what happened, for at least a decade or more, when historians write down history in the history books.