5 Stars By D W on 2016-10-18
A must read if you served in Vietnam.
Outstanding book. I served in Vietnam and thought I knew a lot about the politics of the war. After reading this book I now have a much better understanding. No blood and guts or description of the battles. Just the politics.
5 Stars By Dr. Lee D. Carlson on 2015-02-28
A history of twisted thought and the Coppola Four-Star Clowns
For those of age during the Vietnam war, there is no doubt that objectivity is difficult as to why America got involved and eventually pulled out. The view of those who fought the war is usually quite different from those who instigated it and were responsible for its disastrous outcome. It takes courage to go into battle and fight for a cause that through the detestable bureaucratic legislation called the draft one is forced to fight for. It takes just as much courage to voluntarily fight in a war that has been marketed as being necessary, unavoidable, and winnable. This book gives further evidence that the disaster of the Vietnam war was not the result of those who fought it, but rather with the DC clowns who feigned competence in military matters and those who remained silent or acquiesced in the horrible circus of political maneuvering.
There are some who may hold to the premise that Lyndon Johnson and his closest advisors showed real guts in attempting to fight against the Vietnamese Communist threat and to “save American face”. But it does not take any intestinal fortitude or keen intellect to indulge in the deceit and verbal machinations that are delineated in meticulous detail in this book. For those readers who want the raw, naked truth about Vietnam, this book is highly recommended, and its study will reveal that the author has definitely done his homework.
Having its origin in the National Security Act of 1947, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) during the Vietnam war is portrayed in this book as more of a collection of “technicians for planners” than a body of individuals who carefully thought out strategies and tactics. Some readers may be shocked as to what little influence the JCS had on actual policy decisions during the buildup of the war and its actual execution in the years that followed. One can only wonder whether this was the result of tacit agreement with those policies or rather from an excess of veneration for the Presidency and his cabinet officers. The author seems to argue for a superposition of both of these, and frequently the JCS is accused of placating the president.
Robert McNamara is rightfully portrayed as an evil demon in this book, as a government bureaucrat who cannot engage in self-criticism and smug in the certainty of his analysis and assessments of progress in the war. McNamara’s dwelling at the time was definitely a cesspool of apodictic certainty as is well brought out in this book, especially in the manner in which he interacted with the president and the JCS.
Johnson failed along with his vision of the Great Society. The JCS failed. Robert McNamara and Cyrus Vance failed. The only success of that time was the drive to end the debacle of the Vietnam war. This book is a microscopic view of these failures, and the biggest lesson to take away from the study of this book is an appreciation of just how removed from reality a government bureaucracy can be, and how uncritical adulation for a president or an idea can result in horrible destruction and heartache.
5 Stars By Richard C. Geschke on 2017-02-19
White House Intrigue
The makings of the Vietnam War upon serious study and retrospect will make one want to scream. How our White House under the leadership of Lyndon Baines Johnson gradually and without the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff got involved in a land war in Vietnam.
In a period of two years of constant arguing and intrigue the United States found itself hopelessly entangled in a war. Much of the military leaders advised against getting involved in the war. The only White House official who argued against military involvement was George Ball who did not bring his dissent outside the walls of the White House.
H.R. McMaster brings forth the wrong thinking and mistake prone analysis of President Johnson and Robert McNamara who stumbled their way in making a full military commitment. In doing so in a stealthy way and lying to the American public they found themselves fully immersed in a political civil war in which we could not win.
5 Stars By Max Eastman on 2017-02-23
This is more than a "good" book, this is one of the must have books on the Vietnam war. McMaster's meticulous exposure of the individual actors decision making and forced consensus illuminates the slide into a war that had no victory or exit grand strategy. Crippled by political competition, interservice rivalry, ignored legal duties, habitual lies, toadyism, and an insecure and politically obsessed President created the "perfect storm" for a disaster.
What makes this book so valuable is its illumination of how government processes, flawed assumptions, and self-interested actors can create a and organizational dynamic that insures failure. No single actor had an understanding of the enemy, or of how to break the will of an enemy whose will was nearly unbreakable. And the decision makers were unwilling to face the reality that the only alternative to belligerents who won't surrender, as in WWII and the war in Europe, is to utterly destroy and occupy the country of the enemy - an option they would not (for logical reasons) pursue.
So the participants became obsessed with compromise, and doing "just enough" to "communicate" their seriousness to the enemy - an enemy that had already concluded that the US did not have the will or seriousness to carry on an indefinite and never ending war of attrition. Moreover, any attempt by skeptical generals to recommend to the President the use maximum force (or withdrawal) was sidelined, rejected, or water-down.
Another reviewer suggested that the author's conclusion was that the General's knew how to win the war, but the reviewer misread the book's message. McMaster's criticisms are leveled at everyone involved, including the JCS. In particular, the JCS's unwillingness to strongly buck McNamara's and Taylor's forced "consensus", and be candid with Congress, may have facilitated the unfolding disaster. It is clear they did not have the full answer, but some knew that it would AT LEAST require a five year war with 500k to 700K troops - a viewpoint that was discounted or buried by the civilian "experts".
Could the the war have been won? Perhaps. Harry G. Summers book "On Strategy" makes a good case for his alternatives. In the end South Vietnam fell NOT because of the "venality" of the South Vietnamese government nor the sympathies for the North Vietnamese but for conventional reasons - they were defeated in the conventional war by better forces, who were better supplied.
If this book is suggestive of how McMaster's understands 'the right thing to do' as the NSC advisor and will stand up to his CinC and Bannon, he was an excellent choice to replace Flynn. We shall see.
5 Stars By Stephen Bang on 2017-04-15
extremely important and valuable
This book is extremely important and valuable for two reasons. First, I believe it is a very honest and accurate description of how Eisenhower, JFK, and LBJ got America into the Vietnam War. There are a lot of biased books, but this book is heavily documented, based on declassified memos and communications from the highest ranking civilian and military leaders. It seems to me that both “war hawks” and “war doves” will find it honest and informative. Second, the author was recently appointed as National Security Advisor to Donald Trump. So it reveals some of the thinking of this important advisor. We should not expect that H.R. McMasters will be derelict.
So who was derelict? LBJ and McNamara most importantly, because they cared about winning the 1964 election and passing the Great Society legislation, way more than what was the right thing to do in Vietnam, way more than the lives of those who would die. They lied and manipulated to get their way. All of the JCS were derelict for not standing up to LBJ and McNamara, allowing themselves to be manipulated. But I don’t think we should be too hard on the JCS, because they are required to follow the orders of the president and SecDef.
Chapter One is about the early days of the Kennedy administration and the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Eisenhower and Congress had established formal structures for Defense decision making, with the JCS advising the president. JFK gutted that apparatus, using a few close friends for advice and using the JCS to support decisions that were already established. Eisenhower had set in motion the preparations for the Bay of Pigs invasion. JFK let it proceed but denied it the kind of support it needed for success. Then he blamed the JCS for failure. Kennedy and McNamara strengthened the role of the SecDef at the expense of the JCS. Kennedy established Maxwell Taylor as his Military Representative, a new postion. JFK fired or “kicked upstairs” the service chiefs, putting in his own men.
Chapter Two is about the Cuban Missile Crisis, then shifts to Vietnam. The JCS wanted a more muscular military response to the Soviets. McNamara advocated a naval “quarantine” and a secret deal to remove nukes from Turkey in exchange for the removal of nukes from Cuba. McNamara convinced the president, and the strategy worked out pretty well, emboldening McNamara to be more assertive over the JCS. There is a quick review of Vietnam history from 1940 to 1963. The French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam was partitioned, elections were to be held but never happened. Ho Chi Minh consolidated power in the north and started directing revolt in the south. The U.S. supported Diem, a Roman Catholic who did not treat the Buddhist majority well. In 1963 the U.S. started sending uncertain feelers for a coup. The coup finally occurred on Nov 1, 1963.
Chapter Three includes the Nov 1, 2914 coup that killed Diem, and the assassination of JFK on Nov 22, 1963. JFK did not communicate clearly to Ambassador Henry Lodge, and Lodge thought there was a green light from Washington for the coup. JFK was upset when he learned of Diem’s death.
Chapter Four covers the initial months of the Johnson administration. LBJ had big plans for the Great Society legislation and wanted to limit military spending so that the country could afford the Great Society. LBJ also didn’t want to lose Vietnam to the communists. Maxwell Taylor continued to strengthen his power as chairman of the JCS. McNamara was happy to deceive the public with an optimistic assessment of Vietnam, allowing the U.S. to limit spending on Vietnam, leaving funds for domestic spending. McNamara championed a strategy of gradually increasing military force. The JCS advocated a sudden and vigorous military response to achieve victory. Special Forces were used to raid North Vietnam.
Chapter Five explores the tension between the Joint Chiefs and the President and SedDef in the spring of 1964. LBJ appointed Lemay to serve an additional year as the AF chief, reasoning that as long as (but only as long as) he was in uniform he would not publicly oppose LBJ’s Vietnam policy. The Pentagon conducted a war game, SIGMA 1-64, to test the strategy of graduated pressure. The war game accurately predicted the future events – the introduction of large U.S. ground forces into the war, the lack of support from Congress and the American people, and the underestimation of Hanoi’s resolve. (This study crushes a prominent claim of the book A Bright and Shining Lie, which claims that the U.S. did not understand Hanoi’s resolve. The Pentagon understood it.) McNamara made sure that LBJ never saw this report.
Chapter Six covers the summer of 1964, with the same themes. LBJ viewed everything in terms of its effect on the election. Maxwell Taylor maneuvered to give himself more influence and authority. He became Ambassador to SVN in July, securing a memo from LBJ giving him authority over military operations. Taylor got LBJ to appoint Earl Wheeler to Chairman of the JCS – the third consecutive Army general to hold the position. Wheeler had no combat bona fides and was compliant towards McNamara, LBJ, and Taylor. There was a big conference in Honolulu, and Taylor shut out the views of the JCS. LBJ asked the JCS for recommendations, but constrained their response to limited actions. The Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred during this period. On one night, NVN patrol boats attacked a US Navy destroyer. A couple of days later there was confusion, and a NVN attack was thought to have occurred, but almost certainly did not. When LBJ was first notified of the second attack, he ordered the Navy to respond with a strike on the NVN navy base, thinking that would help is election campaign. One Navy pilot was killed and another taken prisoner – the first POW of the war. The incident resulted in a Congressional resolution giving the president authority to respond. Campaign surrogate speakers were told to emphasize that things are going well in Vietnam now but to hold open the possibility of escalation later. LBJ wanted some freedom to escalate after the election, so everyone basically lied about how well things were going in the summer and fall. The book is getting pretty repetitious here.
Chapter Seven includes quite a bit about William Bundy, younger brother of McGeorge Bundy. William Bundy advocated graduated pressure on NVN, with a bombing campaign to start on Jan 1, 1965. Once Maxwell Taylor got established in SVN as the ambassador, he saw the need for a more vigorous military response, but he had little success getting support for this from LBJ and McNamara. Throughout the book to this point, a major theme is the inter-service rivalries, the inability of the Joint Chiefs to agree, and the ability of McNamara and Maxwell Taylor to use the rivalries to neutralize any effectiveness the Chiefs might have had in influencing decisions. Air Force General LeMay and Marine General Greene often teamed up to advocate vigorous military action. Army General Johnson opposed the most vigorous actions and feared that escalation could cause China to intervene or increased violence from the Viet Cong. General Johnson was skeptical of the ability of air power to interdict the supply routes or to coerce NVN. General Greene wanted the Marines to secure all of the coastal areas of SVN.
Chapter Eight starts with a Pentagon simulation, Sigma II. Its results were similar the earlier Sigma I simulation. Graduated pressure, implemented through controlled bombing of NVN, did little to hinder the military capability of the communists and did nothing to weaken their resolve to win. It resulted in escalation, with the introduction of U.S. ground combat units into SVN and erosion of support from the American public. But graduated pressure fit with the domestic political objectives of Johnson, McNamara, and the rest, so LBJ continued to follow it. McNamara continued to look back to the success of graduated pressure in the Cuban Missile Crisis. [I interject that it was easy to isolate Cuba because it is an island close to the U.S. NVN had land routes and short sea routes to send munitions to SVN.]
Up to this point, McMasters does not seem to take sides. He has shown that JFK and McNamara and their civilian associates, and Maxwell Taylor were dishonest and valued winning the election over everything else. The options were to vigorously strike the enemy in NVN and Laos, graduated pressure, or negotiated withdrawal (giving up.) McMasters clearly sees graduated pressure as the worst choice, but hasn’t really taken a stand between vigorous strikes and withdrawal. History shows that graduated pressure did not work and cost the U.S. dearly, so any author would have to oppose that strategy in retrospect.
Chapter Nine starts after the election. “McNaughton and William Bundy rationalized that committing the U.S. to a war in Vietnam and losing would be preferable to withdrawing from what they believed was an impossible situation.” Location 3706. (Gasp!) Johnson was determined to pass the Great Society legislation at any cost. He won the election in a landslide and picked up seats in the House and Senate. LBJ spent most of the month at the ranch to avoid dealing with the war and to work on the Great Society. The JCS continued to favor a sudden and vigorous application of force on NVN but the civilian leadership slow-rolled them and stuck to slow escalation.
Chapter Ten – A Fork in the Road - goes from December 1964 to February 1965. Taylor tried to straighten out the SVN government with tough talk, but they saw it as colonial interference and dissolved the national council. The Viet Cong were having a lot of success and McGeorge Bundy and McNamara thought that the U.S. needed to escalate its efforts to prevent a collapse of SVN. But the administration had been constantly telling the American people and the world that things were going quite well in Vietnam, so justification was need for the escalation. The Navy was sent north to try to provoke something, but it was a wimpy effort. Unrelated to that, the VC attacked Pleiku (a place where I landed many times) on February 6, killing and wounding some Americans. LBJ ordered air strikes on barracks in southern NVN the next day.
Chapter 11 – The Foot in the Door: February – March 1965, and Chapter 12 – A Quicksand of Lies: March – April 1965. The administration came to believe that SVN would, in the end, fall to the Communists but that it was important to support SVN for a while and delay the outcome, that this would be better for U.S. prestige, respect, and credibility than an immediate withdrawal. VP Humphrey told LBJ what he thought and was barred from all future discussions on Vietnam. Taylor opposed using Army and Marine combat units. There was haggling over using one, two, or three Marine battalions and where to put them. A battalion was sent to defend Danang. The JCS quarreled over air power and ground combat units and which to use first. John McConnell replaced Curtis Lemay as AF Chief of Staff. The Viet Cong controlled more and more of the country and there was danger that the Saigon government would fail, but LBJ kept lying that they were doing well. LBJ would give pep talks to the military leaders, telling them to kill more VC, and then keep in place the restrictions that kept them from killing more VC. A few of the civilian and military leaders noticed that the U.S. had not defined its objective in Vietnam. Beat NVN into submission to the point they would stop aiding the VC and order the VC to cease and desist? Prop up the SVN government for a while and then find a reason to pull out? Negotiate some kind of settlement? LBJ wouldn’t really discuss the topic or commit to any objective. Chapter 12 ends with a pretty good summary of the book. The JCS had estimates of the number of troops needed to win in Vietnam – 700,000, but did not give those estimates to their civilian superiors. Johnson maneuvered the JCS to give him the advice he wanted to hear, not the advice they knew he needed. A slow escalation, with minimal air strikes on NVN and small troop deployments proceeded, with LBJ refusing to acknowledge to himself or to the American people where it was going.
Chapter 13 – The Coach and His Team: April – June 1963. Chapter 14 – War without Direction: April – June 1965. Chapter 15 – Five Silent Men: July 1965. LBJ gave the JCS a pep talk about how they are the team and he is the coach and they are supposed to do what he says. Nobody knew what the objective of the war was, or if they had an opinion, there were different and conflicting opinions. Destroy NVN’s ability to wage war and compel them to call off the rebellion in SVN? Hang on a little longer, propping up the SVN government? Show the world that we are a dependable ally, then figure out a way to exit SVN with honor? There was a lot of haggling about how many more battalions and air squadrons should be sent to Vietnam. Maxwell Taylor, the ambassador, opposed any combat units, thinking (correctly it turns out) that U.S. combat units would cause the ARVN to cede the fighting to the Americans, and Americanize that war. There was haggling about Rolling Thunder, the air war against NVN. Johnson and McNamara wanted to control the air war from Washington and limit strikes to minor installations that wouldn’t provoke NVN, the U.S.S.R, and China too much. The JCS wanted to send more sorties against move important targets. The peace movement was cranking up in the U.S. and abroad, and LBJ thought that sending more troops to SVN would cause less opposition from the peace movement than air strikes against NVN. By July, LBJ approved about 200,000 total American troops in SVN. In May there was a seven-day halt to Rolling Thunder to see if NVN would respond favorably diplomatically (they didn’t) and to placate the peace movement.
3 Stars By Gut Reaction Reviews on 2017-09-10
A book that will make you angry...
If you served in Vietnam, served during the Vietnam era, had a relative who was killed or served, knew someone who was killed or served, or care anything about the senseless war that defined the sixties, then this book will make you angry.
McMaster goes into painstaking detail about the politics and incompetence that not only kept us in Vietnam, but in how the war escalated to the point that it did. Since this is a review of the book and not the war, I will, as hard as it is, keep my comments focused on the book. I will say that this was a difficult book to read as I kept getting angry about how the whole thing was handled. I was in the military from 1966 to 1969 and, as many of us did, knew this was a war we should have never been in.
My problem with the book is that although McMaster does an excellent job of providing insight into who was making decisions, the political climate of the time, and the lack of military expertise being listened to, the book is very repetitive. He explains an event, then gives a different view of the same event, but feels the need to repeat much of what he has already said.
After slogging through the minutiae and finally reaching the epilogue, I was expecting some new insight about what I had just read. Instead, it was a recap of the book, and one could almost read it alone and get the message McMaster intended.
This is an important book. It proves that we do not learn from the past, and just how much our government is capable of doing to keep the American public in the dark. For me one of the saddest quotes is from Admiral David Lamar McDonald, “Maybe we military men are all weak. Maybe we should have stood up and pounded the table….. I was part of it and sort of ashamed of myself too. At times I wonder, ‘why did I go along with this kind of stuff?'”
Yes, why did you? Okay I said I was not going to lose focus.
This one gets three stars. It could have been better written but it is a must read.
5 Stars By james mccaffrey on 2017-03-17
I just turned 70, having lived to tell the ...
I just turned 70, having lived to tell the tale, as so many of my friends did not as a result of Robert McNamara's war. When it was all going on many had the impression that he was totally out of touch with what was happening. Between his hubris and LBJ's desire for power they minimized the role of the joint chiefs of staff, thus the military, and essentially threw the war into William Westmoreland's incapable hands, and well over a million people were murdered, including over 50,000 of my contemporaries. Am I still bitter and angry, YES. I still have friends that are not mentally sound as a result of the decisions those two idiots concocted.
4 Stars By Nona on 2017-08-26
Find Out How Our National Security Advisor thinks
I just finished H.R. McMasters’s Dereliction of Duty and it’s a terrifying book. Although McMaster puts some blame on the military and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their failure to adequately make their voices heard, according to McMaster, the primary person responsible for our disaster in Vietnam was Lyndon Johnson, and other Washington politicians. If only they had listened to what their advisors should have said, according to McMaster, we could have “won” in Vietnam.
Although McMaster assumes the price of that victory would have been five more years of war and thousands of more lives, McMaster seems to believe that if only the war had been left to the capable hands of the military, without the meddling of the politicians, victory would have been obtainable. He does not mention what that victory would look like, but does refer to an early stated goal of an independent South Vietnam. I wonder how Wisconsinites would feel if Virginia and the South remained independent as a result of massive support of the South by Britain, France and Spain in the 1860s. Somehow, I am not sure that the North would ever feel good about an independent county created by massive foreign intervention during a civil war.
McMaster’s thesis ignores history. McMaster continually refers to the Vietcong as “insurgents,” as if they were somehow foreign invaders from another country. He fails to mention that Vietnam was a united country until the Geneva accords, following Dien Bien Phu temporarily partitioned Vietnam 1954, until elections could be held in 1956. Realizing that those elections would lead to a unified county under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, the West forgot about democracy and the Geneva accords, and tried to prop up an ineffective and unpopular government in the South, as an alternative to the united Vietnam that exists today.
McMaster’s book purports to explain, why we “lost” in Vietnam, but assumes that we could have won, and the fight would have been worthwhile. The peaceful existence of Vietnam today is proof that the war was an unnecessary mistake, even if the war was entered and waged in a misguided fashion.
It is terrifying to me than that McMaster is now the National Security Advisor to our president. His book is pretty good evidence that he believes that there is a military solution to many political problems, and that solution can be obtained by giving the military an objective, usually total victory, and then getting out of the way. Recent history in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq indicates that military "solutions" may lead to more problems than existed prior to intervention.
I hope military people read his book and realize the importance of speaking out against misguided policies. I am afraid military people will read it and think the problem is with the politicians who constrain our military from doing what they do best.
5 Stars By Gerry on 2017-07-03
Meticulous Accounting of the Washington D.C. Politics on the Vietnam War
General McMaster conducted meticulous research with this historical accounting of the Johnson Administration and began with of course the Kennedy Administration with the occasional link into the Eisenhower years. The lingering effect of LBJ to Vietnam is that many times options were available for withdrawal – never discussed at any sort of credible length the “yes men team” above the JCS in advisors held little opposition to what LBJ wanted accomplished in South Vietnam, Secretary McNamara was the architect of this debacle and protector of the President. One thing is for certain within the pages of history – the LBJ years as President and McNamara as Secretary of Defense managed first to divide and conquer the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and then managed to obfuscate and simply outright lie to the Congress and Senate along the way, the American general population was rarely if ever considered. By the time history of the Vietnam War brought about the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution with the later landing of U.S. Marines in 1965 following the 1964 election cycle, it is hard to imagine what President Kennedy would have done; all we really have is what he “did” before his untimely death in Dallas in November of 1963. Robert McNamara certainly left out a lot of detail in his memoir “In Reflection”; so much so it is doubtful that he ever fully meant to come clean with anything in that lousy written attempt to provide information on decisions he made that led to the Vietnam War. Missing from the McNamara book is all the high detail that General McMaster introduces us to here in “Dereliction of Duty.” Add to the fact that Lieutenant General Hal Moore (US Army – Retired) and Mr. Joe Galloway (self embedded reporter to the Battle of Ia Drang) made their own observations of this book openly it is therefore hard to concede that McNamara did anything other than continue to hide and find excuses for the decisions that literally affected hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans and millions more Vietnamese. This should have been the book that McNamara attempted to put to clearer definition for the sake of history and the people of both the United States and Vietnam. General McMaster began this research in 1992 – it became his thesis for his PhD in 1996 and went on to be published in 1997 a mere two years after the first edition of Secretary McNamara’s book “In Reflection.” There are over 100 pages of source materials listed in the back of the book – so much so that it is hard to conceive anything but the truth to which the political agenda forced the situation in Vietnam to be a political war of the personal agenda of Robert McNamara. General McMaster wrote a masterpiece within this work.
President Johnson showed his several faces along the way, ensuring he would be elected in 1964 he kept activity of Vietnam quiet and hidden with the assistance of Robert McNamara. LBJ would lie to the press in the hopes to quell the beginning of growing amounts of protestors, demand the JCS “kill more Viet Cong” in private meetings and only would speak regularly to the JCS during and after the Marine Battalion Landing Teams (BLT) arrived in Danang March of 1965. He managed to ensure that the JCS would give him only answers he wanted to hear and that McNamara wanted to censure. Dr. Bernard Fall was forthcoming in his book “Hell In A Very Small Place” in that LBJ learned the tools of trade by preventing (as a Senator and Majority Leader of the Senate) then President Eisenhower from being able to provide air support for the French during Dien Bien Phu. In 1954 this lesson would serve LBJ well 10 years later with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The lesson would continue well beyond 1964. LBJ would receive a 5-minute standing ovation at the 1964 Democratic Convention, Robert F. Kennedy would receive a 15-minute ovation. It’s fair to say that the 1964 election was an emotional win more so than any other type given the sense of loss the country had felt with the untimely death of JFK; LBJ knew how to play all of this to his winning ways. He was no fool, but he knew nothing of Vietnam and even less of what McNamara had caused at the Pentagon with the belittled JCS.
In the easy to read few pages of the introduction to this book, General McMaster explains what it was like to pin on his Second Lieutenant bars in 1984; that he had hoped to learn from those older Officers the effects of Vietnam as he began his own career. According to General McMaster not much was spoken of in relation to Vietnam; it is fair to say that pockets of military personnel never forgot and attempted as they could to pass down their personal experiences in almost a subdued manner. In 1984, I was a Corporal in the U.S. Marines. Having entered the military in January of 1980, and after arriving to the Fleet in May of that year, it was apparent to me that the Marines were still suffering from a Post-Vietnam Loss on the battlefields. Our equipment was shoddy and the Marines were still operating on a shoe-string budget that kept them “available” but barely “functional.” When President Reagan was elected later that year it would take nearly two years before the Marines and the military overall would begin to see changes and upgrades to equipment. There were plenty of Vietnam Veterans still in the service at the time, many of those young PFC’s and Lance Corporals in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were working their way up the ranks as leaders. I recall the inspiration we all felt in the mid 1980’s when Navy Secretary James Webb was selected – we felt a new energy on the horizon. PFC Robert R. Garwood would bring out the Staff Non-Commissioned Officers angst whenever spoken about; Garwood would return from Vietnam in 1979 amid the controversy that he defected/collaborated/and otherwise assisted the North Vietnamese. For those that recall the return of PFC Garwood, we as young troops at the time in 1980 were quite taken by all the anger that was easily displayed by those above us – Garwood was supposedly captured in 1965 outside of Danang where the Marines had first landed in March of that year. So, my experience with Marines was different from that of General McMaster – this certainly does not take away from the most important position of this book based on the facts. Any person who thought Robert McNamara wrote a “good book” should rediscover in themselves why they would believe this – the only thing that comes to my mind is that these people who gave the McNamara book a “good” rating have no understanding of the political decisions he made and would never confront openly nor honestly – we are of course all entitled to our opinions even still.
Lastly, there were several collateral effects on the American population during this time of the Vietnam War, specifically I am not speaking of the Press nor the protestors. One such collateral effect of the Vietnam war not discussed in this book were the draft dodgers of the era. Draft dodgers were everywhere when I was growing up in London and Sarnia Ontario Canada. While living in London Ontario I recall specifically walking past “hippie houses” while walking to school daily. The mid to late 1960’s through the mid 1970’s in Canada was a sight to see with these Americans who avoided the draft. Prime Minister Trudeau had created a policy of whereby draft dodgers were considered “immigrants”. Numbers vary on the Draft Dodger “immigrant” to Canada – make no mistake the numbers I saw in every city from Sarnia to Windsor to London to Kitchener to Toronto seemed very large to me, and larger than what is reflected today in so called “historical accounts.” An estimate of 40,000 to 50,000 is not unreasonable but I speculate that number could be as high as twice that size. More important, Canadians have been serving in the U.S. Military since the American Civil War – Americans joined the Canadian Forces in WW I and the early years of WW II; Canadians who had forces under the British during the Korean War also served in the American Armed Forces during this first test of the new “Cold War.” In Vietnam one Congressional Medal of Honor was listed as being awarded to a Canadian serving in the U.S. Army. The only point I am stressing here is that where draft dodgers continuously received the attention of the time to the American Press – Canadians serving in the American Armed Forces were rarely if ever written about.
There were many casualties of the Vietnam War experience – General McMaster pieced together the political causal and most important component of that war.
4 Stars By Barry Sparks on 2013-09-29
Enlightening and disturbing
In the epilogue of Dereliction of Duty author H.R. McMaster writes, "The Americanization of the Vietnam War between 1963 and 1965 was the product of an unusual interaction of personalities and circumstances. The escalation of the U.S. military intervention grew out of a complicated chain of events and a complex web of decisions that slowly transformed the conflict in Vietnam into an American war."
McMaster thoroughly explains how this all came about. In November 1963, following the assassination of JFK, LBJ inherited the Vietnam situation, JFK's advisors and advisory style that limited real influence to his inner circle and treated others, particularly the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), more like a source of opposition than advisors.
LBJ distrusted advisors and had a low opinion of the top military leaders. There was tension between the JCS and the administration and it grew as the situation in Vietnam deteriorated and the U.S. developed plans to become more involved in the war.
Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense, became LBJ's right-hand man on Vietnam for three main reasons, according to McMaster: the ineffectiveness of the JCS; LBJ's insecurity; and LBJ's obsession with consensus and his unwillingness to listen to diverse views.
McNamara advocated a policy of "graduated pressure," which he believed would convey American resolve and convince the adversary to change behavior. The JCS recommended a more aggressive program. The military saw only two options: get in or get out.
McMaster writes that McNamara "forged consensus behind fundamentally flawed strategic concept that permitted deepening American involvement in the war without consideration of its long-term costs and consequences."
LBJ preferred McNamara's approach because he didn't think it would jeopardize the 1964 election and it bolstered his image as a moderate candidate. He preferred not to have to make any difficult decisions on Vietnam until after the election.
General Maxwell Taylor, head of the JCS, aided LBJ and McNamara in delivering the military advice they wanted to hear. Taylor frequently obstructed JCS members, misrepresented their position to the President and lied to them. The JCS hurt its own cause by being unable to come to a consensus, often because they were trying to protect or advance the cause of their individual military branch.
LBJ was at a fork in the road in January 1965. He either had to increase military power or begin to negotiate a withdrawal. To increase military power, however, LBJ needed an incident to justify the decision. He found it in February when the Viet Cong attacked an airfield and killed eight Americans. At the end of the month, LBJ committed ground troops to Vietnam, an irrevocable commitment to war. He believed he could pursue a policy of graduated pressure without involving the U.S. in a major war. He refused to discuss Vietnam strategy in a forthright manner with his advisors, Congress or the American public. He deceived Congress about the growing military presence.
By June of 1965, Under Secretary of State George Ball proposed that LBJ and the U.S. cut its losses in Vietnam and begin to negotiate a withdrawal. That proposal, however, was suppressed by McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which was the aftermath of an attack that probably never happened, declared that "Congress approves and supports the Commander-in-Chief to take all necessary actions to repel any attack against the United States and to prevent further aggression."
LBJ continued to lie to Congress and the American people because he didn't want Vietnam to take attention and support away from his Great Society legislation. The Great Society constrained explorations of policy options in Vietnam. LBJ's advisors preferred to commit the U.S. to a war and lose it rather than withdraw. Civilian advisors did not evaluate military consequences. They thought they could stop if the policy of graduated pressure failed. The JCS meanwhile preferred an intensive air campaign in North Vietnam to destroy key targets. The JCS wanted a clarification of military objectives, but McNamara refused to relay the request to LBJ. McNamara recommended ground troops as an alternate to bombing North Vietnam. Of course, he continued to drastically understate the number of troops being sent to Vietnam and the extent that the U.S. was involved.
In conclusion, McMaster writes, "McNamara and his assistants in the Department of Defense were arrogant. They thought their intelligence and analytical methods could compensate for their lack of military experience and education. They ignored and disrespected history.
"Failure in Vietnam was the result of a uniquely human failure, a responsibility shared by LBJ, his principal military and civilian advisors. The failures were many and reinforcing: arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self-interest and above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people."
This book is enlightening and disturbing. It's difficult to envision a worse way that the situation in Vietnam could have been handled.
Although this is a very informative book, the author tends to frequently repeat major concepts long after his point has been made. At times, the book also borders on being a textbook. Although it can be a struggle at times to read, Dereliction of Duty should be a must read for anyone interested in the Vietnam war.