Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam

H. R. McMaster, Author
H. R. McMaster, Author HarperCollins $27.5 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-018795-8
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-06-092908-4
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-694-51851-7
Ebook - 480 pages - 978-0-06-203118-1
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Challenging the passive-voice argument that the U.S. was trapped by ideology or circumstance in its war in Vietnam, McMaster, a serving officer and Gulf War combat veteran, casts a harsh but penetrating light on a crucial aspect of that conflict. He presents the war as a consequence of specific decisions made by specific men. Lyndon Johnson's fixation on short-term domestic political goals, he says, limited his capacity to deal with a complex, remote international problem. Johnson compounded this shortcoming by insisting on consensus among his advisors--particularly within the military he distrusted. Robert McNamara, according to McMaster, believed he could satisfy the president's demands with a strategy of ""graduated pressure"" that offered minimal risk, cost and visibility. Meanwhile, despite fundamental reservations with McNamara's strategy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed to articulate objections and to develop alternatives, thus abdicating their professional and civic responsibilities. Instead, loyal to their particular services, committed to the principle of civilian control and seeking to make the best of a bad situation, the Joint Chiefs, McMaster says, acquiesced in a pattern of subterfuge and deception that shaped the war and its outcome before it even began. McMaster's seminal analysis demonstrates in particular that an officer's moral courage is as important as his willingness to face physical risk. The generals and admirals who kept silent as America descended into the Vietnam quagmire had many times been in harm's way. Yet when subjected to a final test, they were unable and unwilling to make the choice demanded of service-academy cadets: the harder right over the easier wrong, whatever the personal cost. (May)
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