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Kirkus ReviewsAn accomplished biography of an almost forgotten, but important, player in American Vietnam War policymaking in the mid- and late 1950s.
A handful of Americans, most of them intelligence operatives, were present at the creation of the Republic of (South) Vietnam in 1954. One of them was Dr. Thomas A. Dooley, the until-then unremarkable son of a prominent St. Louis family. Dooley went to North Vietnam in 1954 as a US Navy doctor to administer to refugees who wished to flee south before the Communist takeover. The next year the self-promoting, flamboyant physician became "the symbol of Vietnamese-American friendship in the ongoing struggle to promote the first democracy in Southeast Asia," notes Fisher (Humanities/St. Louis Univ.) in this myth-breaking biography. Fisher presents a deeply researched and highly critical study of a man who in the late 1950s was "America's first celebrity-saint" by virtue of his seemingly selfless medical work in Vietnam and Laos and his loudly professed Roman Catholic beliefs. However, according to Fisher's convincing work, Dooley actually was an abrasive, arrogant, self-aggrandizing egotist who was also "naive to the point of self-delusion." It appears that he did truly care about helping destitute Vietnamese and Lao citizens. But Dooley, who died of cancer in 1961, allowed himself to be used shamelessly by the CIA and by the so-called Vietnam Lobby to put an idealistic face on the growing American involvement in Vietnam. One of the "lives" Fisher's subtitle refers to was Dooley's secret homosexual persona. Dooley's homosexuality shadowed every facet of his life in the homophobic era in which he lived, especially after it led to his embarrassing dismissal from the Navy.
Fisher's examination of that part of Dooley's life is, like the rest of the book, insightful and enlightening.