1952 presidential election

Lying about Vietnam: it was now a Washington way of life.  The lies started with the war’s ontological premise.  We were supposed to be defending a ‘country’ called “South Vietnam.’  But South Vietnam was not quite a country at all.  Vietnamese independence fighters had begun battling the French since practically the day they stopped fighting side by side in World War II.  In 1954 they fought their colonial overlords to a final defeat at the stronghold of Dien Bien Phu.  It was the first military loss for a European colonial power in three hundred years.  Though these stalwarts, the Vietminh, now controlled four-fifths of the country’s territory, at the peace conference in Geneva they made a concession: they agreed to administer an armistice area half that size, demarcated at the seventeenth parallel (but for some last-minute haggling, it would have been the eighteenth).  A government loyal to the French would administer the lands to the south.  The ad hoc demarcation was to last twenty-four months, at which time the winner of an internationally supervised election in 1956 would run the entire country.
Instead, the division lasted for nineteen years.  The reason was the United Sates, which saw to it the reunification election never took place.  American intelligence knew that Ho Chi Minh, the Communist leader of the independence fighters, would have won 80 percent of the vote.  The seventeenth parallel was read backward as an ordinary international boundary.  If 'North Vietnam’ crossed it, they’d be guilty of 'aggression.’  Meanwhile, the CIA launched a propaganda campaign to depopulate North Vietnam, whose sizable Catholic population was shipped to 'South Vietnam’ via the U.S. Seventh Fleet.  There, they found themselves part of a citizenry that had no reason for being in history, culture, or geography; even as the U.S. pretended- then came to believe- they were a brave, independence-loving nation of long standing.  Actually the great city in the South, Saigon, had been France’s imperial headquarters.  There, France had crowned a figurehead emperor at the tender age of twelve.  During World War II, Emperor Bao Dai had collaborated with Vichy France and the Japanese.  This was the man the South Vietnamese were supposed to venerate as the leader of their independent nation.
He was replaced by someone worse: a wily hustler named Ngo Dinh Diem.  In 1952, Diem engineered a presidential election between himself and the emperor, with the help of U.S. government advisers, and 'won’ 98.2 percent of the vote.  He then revived the guillotine as punishment for anyone 'infringing upon the security of the state.’  His favorite rebuff to an insult from a political opponent was 'Shoot him dead!’  His sister-in-law Madame Nhu, who served as his emissary abroad, told Americans the last thing her family was interested in was 'your crazy freedoms.’  This was the government to which the United States would now ask its citizens to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.  Diem was not a Communist.  And that, said America, made him a democrat.
Ho Chi Minh had no special beef with the United States.  He liked to quote the Declaration of Independence; on the march to Hanoi during World War II, his forces called themselves the Viet-American Army; after the war, Ho sent telegrams to President Truman offering an independent Vietnam as 'a fertile field for American capital and enterprise.’  (Truman never answered.)  The French reconquered Vietnam with what was practically an American mercenary force: 78 percent of the French army’s funding came from the United States.  More hawkish Americans lobbied for direct intervention; Richard Nixon, after his visit in 1953, advised Eisenhower that two or three atomic bombs would do the trick.  Ho Chi Minh’s supporters in South Vietnam began their guerrilla war in 1960.  It led to a kind of Cold War nervous breakdown.  Falter in Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson claimed in 1964, and 'they may just chase you into your own kitchen.
—  Rick Perlstein, Nixonland, pgs 100-101