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"The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C." - H. R. McMaster (from the Conclusion) Dereliction Of Duty is a stunning new analysis of how and why the United States became involved in an all-out and disastrous war in Southeast Asia. Fully and convincingly res "The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C." - H. R. McMaster (from the Conclusion) Dereliction Of Duty is a stunning new analysis of how and why the United States became involved in an all-out and disastrous war in Southeast Asia. Fully and convincingly researched, based on recently released transcripts and personal accounts of crucial meetings, confrontations and decisions, it is the only book that fully re-creates what happened and why. It also pinpoints the policies and decisions that got the United States into the morass and reveals who made these decisions and the motives behind them, disproving the published theories of other historians and excuses of the participants. Dereliction Of Duty covers the story in strong narrative fashion, focusing on a fascinating cast of characters: President Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor, McGeorge Bundy and other top aides who deliberately deceived the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. Congress and the American public. Sure to generate controversy, Dereliction Of Duty is an explosive and authoritative new look at the controversy concerning the United States involvement in Vietnam.


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"The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C." - H. R. McMaster (from the Conclusion) Dereliction Of Duty is a stunning new analysis of how and why the United States became involved in an all-out and disastrous war in Southeast Asia. Fully and convincingly res "The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C." - H. R. McMaster (from the Conclusion) Dereliction Of Duty is a stunning new analysis of how and why the United States became involved in an all-out and disastrous war in Southeast Asia. Fully and convincingly researched, based on recently released transcripts and personal accounts of crucial meetings, confrontations and decisions, it is the only book that fully re-creates what happened and why. It also pinpoints the policies and decisions that got the United States into the morass and reveals who made these decisions and the motives behind them, disproving the published theories of other historians and excuses of the participants. Dereliction Of Duty covers the story in strong narrative fashion, focusing on a fascinating cast of characters: President Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor, McGeorge Bundy and other top aides who deliberately deceived the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. Congress and the American public. Sure to generate controversy, Dereliction Of Duty is an explosive and authoritative new look at the controversy concerning the United States involvement in Vietnam.

30 review for Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam

  1. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    The Presidential Psycho-drama of Fear War originates from psychosis. If not in individuals then certainly in groups. Particularly in groups of men in which each individual attempts to establish his will as dominant. Each fears failure and loss of affection, and yet the will to dominate causes failure and loss of affection, thus increasing fear. This is McMaster's story about the prosecution of the Vietnam War from start to finish by the American government. It is a compelling story, made more so The Presidential Psycho-drama of Fear War originates from psychosis. If not in individuals then certainly in groups. Particularly in groups of men in which each individual attempts to establish his will as dominant. Each fears failure and loss of affection, and yet the will to dominate causes failure and loss of affection, thus increasing fear. This is McMaster's story about the prosecution of the Vietnam War from start to finish by the American government. It is a compelling story, made more so by the fact it was written by a career officer on active duty. McMaster does have an axe to grind, but it is one that is sharp to begin with. His thesis is that the exclusion of the military leadership from decision-making by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, led to incoherent and contradictory actions that were compounded as the war progressed. In short his argument is that "The intellectual foundation for deepening American involvement in Vietnam had been laid without the participation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff." That this thesis is historically important is self-evident. But McMaster also conveys another message, perhaps inadvertently, which is relevant for more than historical reasons, namely that deceit and duplicity have been embedded in the Executive Branch of the government of the United States long before Donald Trump made them so apparent through his political inexperience. McMaster shows, as have others, that lying to the press and the public about Vietnam was routine for every administration from Eisenhower through Nixon. However this propagandistic lying was the tip of an iceberg of duplicity. All the key players - the President, his staff, successive ambassadorial and military leadership teams in Vietnam, the Secretary of Defence, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and virtually every executive agency involved in the war severally and collectively lied to each other consistently as a matter of policy. This deeply ingrained duplicity is documented repeatedly in McMasters' research of minutes, messages and statements made by the senior members of each department. This is more than merely disfuntion. Persistence suggests something systematic, a self-defeating but self-inflicted group-inability to perceive or act on reality. Largely there are institutionalised motivations for this continuing inability to cope with the existential situation. The self-interested departmental rivalries among the military and intellectual arrogance by the civilians running the Department of Defence for example seem endemic. And not just during the Vietnam era. Certainly the dissonance between domestic political and international military objectives continued to be problematic during US involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. However, what McMaster demonstrates without ever making the point explicit is that the systematic deceit by the administration is not something of narrow historical relevance to the war in Vietnam, or even to the wider issue of the organisational effectiveness of the executive branch. The central problem arises from attempting to successfully wage any sort of limited but extended warfare in a democratic society. Essentially: it can't be done successfully. It is a psychotic symptom to act as if this were not the case. American democracy is established on the idea of separation of powers. In itself this concept promotes tension and duplicity, particularly between the President and members of Congress who, as has been shown recently, have no necessary commonality of interests. The next election looms over all decisions. This separation of powers is also a political fact within the executive branch in which personal ambitions, professional experiences, and abiding animosities and friendships dominate policy-making. It is not just Trump who has had problems with staff rivalries, embarrassing leaks and dissident agents. Only Trump's inexperience allows these to become as public as they have done. In such an environment deceit becomes a necessity for the creation of almost any policy from war, to welfare, to justice. Perhaps this is true for all forms of government. But the motivating factor which seems to be unique to democracy is fear by the man at the top. A common trait that seems to run from Kennedy, through Johnson and Nixon to Trump is fear, fear of failure, of rejection, of being found to be inadequate, in a real sense of loss of love. Presidents, it seems, are very insecure people. They appear ready to turn psychotic at any moment. This fear is, I think, an inherent part of democratic politics, which are never stable and which don't provide an effective means for the Executive to reduce them. He can't imprison or execute his foes; he can't form a reliable alliance with legislative politicians; he can't be explicit about his goals lest he be held politically to account; he can't even get rid of his own people without the risk of them spilling the beans on his real actions and motivations. One of the democratic leader's, and his minions', few options therefore is to lie. Lying, even when it is unnecessary and irrational becomes the norm. This is the bleak message I take from McMaster. He may be right. Let's see how much truth-telling he engages in as Trump's National Security Advisor.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Howard

    UPDATE 03/23/18 HEADLINE: The Failure of H.R. McMaster UPDATE 03/22/18 HEADLINE: National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster To Leave White House Maybe he'll write another book. ------------ "Twenty years ago, McMaster authored a cautionary tale. Today, he risks becoming one.” – Carlos Lozada, Washington Post [ --- The risk has passed. He is one. --- ] Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.) set a record that may never be broken. On January 20, President Trump appointed him to the position of National Security Adviser; UPDATE 03/23/18 HEADLINE: The Failure of H.R. McMaster UPDATE 03/22/18 HEADLINE: National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster To Leave White House Maybe he'll write another book. ------------ "Twenty years ago, McMaster authored a cautionary tale. Today, he risks becoming one.” – Carlos Lozada, Washington Post [ --- The risk has passed. He is one. --- ] Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.) set a record that may never be broken. On January 20, President Trump appointed him to the position of National Security Adviser; on February 13, Flynn, under a cloud of suspicion, resigned from the position. His tenure was by far the shortest ever served by a National Security Adviser. A week later, the President appointed Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as Flynn’s replacement. But according to reports, he may be suffering from buyer’s remorse. He continues to say that Flynn was a good guy and should never have been forced to resign and, privately, that McMaster is a pain…. That could be a good sign, a very good sign, if it means that the general is telling the president things that he doesn’t want to hear, but nevertheless needs to hear. All too often advisers are hesitant to disagree with presidents or even give them bad news. McMaster, on the other hand, has a reputation of being a tough-talking, straight-shooting military officer, who has never hesitated to say what he thought even if it meant criticizing the military establishment and running the risk of being passed over for promotion. And that brings us to Dereliction of Duty. A decorated hero of the first Iraqi war, McMaster was a young major studying for a Ph.D. in American history at the University of North Carolina, when he decided to write his dissertation on the Vietnam War. He wrote: “I wondered how and why Vietnam had become an American war – a war in which men fought and died without a clear idea of how their actions and sacrifices were contributing to an end of the conflict.” The dissertation became the basis for his book which was published in 1997. The book’s subtitle tells us who he blames for America’s failed policies in Vietnam: “Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam.” In short, he blames everyone involved. McMaster concluded that: “The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or on the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C., even before Americans assumed sole responsibility for the fighting in 1965 and before they realized the country was at war; indeed even before the first American units were deployed.” He goes on to say that it was the result of “arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self-interest, and, above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people.” Much of his harshest criticism is aimed at the military advisers. He faults them for knowing that the policies advocated by Johnson and McNamara were fatally flawed and would never lead to victory in the conflict, but due to several reasons, the principal one being turf battles between the different branches, the JCS failed to openly state their concerns to the President and his Secretary of Defense. I first read the book soon after its publication and I don’t remember that it made a big splash. After all, two decades had passed since the war ended. However, as soon as it was announced that McMaster had been selected to replace Flynn, the general had a best-seller on his hands. And it was then that I decided to take a second look at the book. The research is painstaking; there are many pages of endnotes; and a long list of people who were interviewed for the book. It is a great dissection of how both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations stumbled into a fight that neither wanted. However, what keeps it from being a 5-star book for me is that McMaster doesn’t discuss the question of whether or not the war, under any circumstances, was winnable. He seems to assume that there was a military solution to the war, but he doesn’t elaborate. Yes, there was a clear dereliction of duty, but even if that had not been the case, would the war have had a different outcome? In my second reading I was struck by the fact that the Vietnamese are hardly mentioned. After all, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese did have some influence on the outcome, didn’t they? I would hope that McMaster in his advisory role to the president is not repeating the mistakes that LBJ’s military advisers did, but I would also hope that he, a student of American history, is giving due consideration to the pitfalls experienced by nations, outsiders that they are, that attempt to use their military might to impose their ideals on a people who are staunchly resistant to those ideals. “There is a story that the Confederate Civil War general George Pickett was once asked 'to what he attributed the failure of the Confederacy in the late war.’ ‘Well,’ Pickett replied, ‘I kinda think the Yankees had a little something to do with it.’” – Ronald H. Spector, author of After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Scott Holstad

    This is a very detailed and somewhat shocking book telling of how America sunk itself into the Vietnam war fiasco, and it's truly a sorrow to read. I never knew Johnson, McNamara, the Bundy brothers and Taylor were such lying assholes, as well as Rusk, McNaughton and the other civilians in charge of planning the war. They lied to the Joint Chiefs, to Congress, to the American people and to the world (sounds like Bush, doesn't it?) in order to downplay the role America was taking in Vietnam, all This is a very detailed and somewhat shocking book telling of how America sunk itself into the Vietnam war fiasco, and it's truly a sorrow to read. I never knew Johnson, McNamara, the Bundy brothers and Taylor were such lying assholes, as well as Rusk, McNaughton and the other civilians in charge of planning the war. They lied to the Joint Chiefs, to Congress, to the American people and to the world (sounds like Bush, doesn't it?) in order to downplay the role America was taking in Vietnam, all for varying agendas that sometimes met and more often didn't. The book starts with 1961 and Kennedy but quickly moves on to Johnson, who wanted his Great Society domestic program passed so badly that he literally flat out lied -- continuously -- to the Congress and America about his efforts to sink us into Vietnam -- without any goals or exit strategies, I might say. One thing the author, McMaster, hammered home really shocked me. We never thought we could win, never expected to win, and wanted to escape Vietnam just "bloodied." Excuse me, but WTF??? Why delve into a war if you have no intention of winning? Idiots! From page 184: "McNaughton, Forrestal, and William Bundy concluded that it would be preferable to fail in Vietnam after trying some level of military action than to withdraw without first committing the United States military to direct action against North Vietnam. They thought that the principal objective of military activities was to protect U.S. credibility.... Indeed, the loss of South Vietnam after the direct intervention of U.S. armed forces 'would leave behind a better odor' than an immediate withdrawal and would demonstrate that the United States was a 'good doctor willing to keep promises, be tough, take risks, get bloodied, and hurt the enemy badly.'" On page 237: "For McNaughton the objective of protecting American credibility had displaced the more concrete aim of preserving a free and independent South Vietnam. Even as Rolling Thunder began and Marines landed at Danang, McNaughton continued to plan for failure. He concluded that to avoid humiliation the United States must be prepared to undertake a 'massive' effort on the ground in Southeast Asia involving the deployment of 175,000 ground troops. Even if the Communists won, McNaughton believed that the United States would have protected its international image." Isn't that just batshit crazy? Johnson and McNamara didn't listen to the Joint Chiefs, who wanted to ramp things up immediately and hit North Vietnam hard, because they were afraid if we went after Hanoi, China and/or the Soviets would come to their aid and it would become another Korean War. As America begins to send troops to South Vietnam to start conducting offensive operations for the first time while refusing to mobilize the reserves, General Harold Johnson, the JCS in charge of the Army, "was to preside over the disintegration of the Army; a disintegration that began with the president's decision against mobilization. Harold Johnson's inaction haunted him for the rest of his life." McMaster really throws Johnson and McNamara under the bus, but apparently for good reason. He paints the JCS as little more than stooges kept out of the loop of actual military planning. It's not until the book's epilogue does he place some blame on the JCS, writing "the 'five silent men' on the Joint Chiefs made possible the way the United States went to war in Vietnam." His ultimate conclusion can be found on page 332: "Over time the maintenance of U.S. credibility quietly supplanted the stated policy objective of a free and independent South Vietnam. The principal civilian planners had determined that to guarantee American credibility, it was not necessary to win in Vietnam. That conclusion, combined with the belief that the use of force was merely another form of diplomatic communication, directed the military effort in the South at achieving stalemate rather than victory. Those charged with planning the war believed that it would be possible to preserve American credibility even if the United States armed forces withdrew from the South, after a show of force against the North and in the South in which American forces were 'bloodied.' After the United States became committed to war, however, and more American soldiers, airmen, and Marines had died in the conflict, it would become impossible simply to disengage and declare America's credibility intact, a fact that should have been foreseen." The only reason why I'm giving this book four stars instead of five is that it stops at July 1965. I would have liked to read more about what went on after inserting troops for offensive operations, how things escalated, what Johnson, McNamara and the rest did in educating America on what was happening (or not), etc. In other words, I think the author cut the book short and that was disappointing. Otherwise, it was a fascinating, while sobering, read and should be required reading of all active politicians to ensure we never repeat the stupid mistakes made during the '60s regarding Vietnam.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Carr

    In Dereliction of Duty H.R. McMaster provides a devastating portrait of an administration which stumbled evermore into a war it had no interest in and no understanding of. McMaster’s central concern is to show the decision making processes that pre-determined a US loss in Vietnam. He begins with John F. Kennedy’s administration showing how its personnel (such as Secretary for Defence Robert McNamara), its structures (ad hoc, personal and without formal committees) and its key ideas (via the exper In Dereliction of Duty H.R. McMaster provides a devastating portrait of an administration which stumbled evermore into a war it had no interest in and no understanding of. McMaster’s central concern is to show the decision making processes that pre-determined a US loss in Vietnam. He begins with John F. Kennedy’s administration showing how its personnel (such as Secretary for Defence Robert McNamara), its structures (ad hoc, personal and without formal committees) and its key ideas (via the experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis) were dysfunctional and yet adopted by Lyndon B. Johnson. On top of this, McMaster adds one more biting critique: That LBJ never wanted to go ‘all the way’, but rather saw Vietnam as a distraction and impediment to his re-election and domestic policy agenda. In McMaster’s view, Johnson was weak and insecure and only concerned with his popularity. This led him to sideline the key office supposed to advise him on military affairs: The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). McMaster’s anger at Johnson and McNamara is well justified. McNamara for instance treated the use of force as an act of communication but, as far as the author shows, seems to have paid almost no attention to thinking about how the enemy would understand his ‘messages’. When extensive US military war games suggested the ‘gradual pressure’ strategy and selected bombing campaigns would not cause the North Vietnamese to halt their actions, McNamara simply ignores the advice. The ultimate failure of process in McMaster’s view is that the civilian’s ignored the professional military advice which could have saved them from their folly. Yet, as clear as it is that the civilians failed (and indeed lost the war), it’s not clear that the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) advice was better, or just different. This is a distinction McMaster never seriously addresses, and it undermines the book. For the first 1/3rd of the book, McMaster’s handling of the JCS reminded me of the role of a chorus in a Greek tragedy. They are brought on stage to critique and condemn the hapless ‘suits’, but are not part of the action itself. McMaster intends for us to think McNamara’s view of warfare as a form of communication must be flawed by regularly comparing it to the JCS’s belief that warfare is about the destruction of the ‘enemy’s will and capability’. But as strategists such as Sun Tzu and Clausewitz have shown, defeating the enemy is rarely the primary concern of the conflict. Indeed McMaster makes the same point indirectly at the end when he critiques LBJ and General Westmoreland’s emphasis on simply ‘killing Viet Cong’. As the story progresses, the author turns his criticism towards the military, but only on the grounds of their actions (such as failing to stand up to the President), not whether their advice had merit. When that advice is —by the author’s own acknowledgement— both heavily biased by their service identities and not based on a clear understanding of the war, one has to wonder its value. When combined with figures such as Curtis LeMay whose answer to every problem was the same “overwhelming airpower” (if not nukes), the reader can be forgiven for wondering whether such advice was rightfully sidelined. Analysis by McMaster of the content of their disagreements could have helped clarify the respective merits. Most notably, while the JCS wanted rapid escalation, the administration feared this would bring China and Russia into the conflict. It would have been extremely useful to see McMaster engage the scholarly literature and assess who had the better understanding of the wider context of the conflict. No definitive answer can be given for such a counter-factual, but surely historians have insights into how Beijing and Moscow were thinking during this period and whether they would have engaged in Vietnam in the way China had in Korea a decade earlier. Maybe this is asking too much. The book is a very impressive piece of scholarship for its ability to piece together the evidence to show who said what to who, who had read which memo, who had responded in time and how the overall thinking of the administration evolved. But McMaster seeks to argue that not only was the process dysfunctional, but the strategy was as well. And while bad strategy often leads to bad strategy, the quality of the latter can’t really be understood without the wider context. As such, the book’s unwillingness to analyse the JCS’ ideas, relatively mild treatment of Kennedy (who left 16’000 military ‘advisors’ in Vietnam), lack of detail about the nature of the North Vietnamese, and role of regional players such as China becomes problematic. While ultimately this is a flawed book, I think the author’s title is not putting it too strongly. There was indeed a dereliction of duty by the President, his Secretary of Defence and wider administration. While I think the book is too light on the military, the failure of both process and strategy ultimately rest with the President. If I had been in the office of George W. Bush in October 2001, or Obama’s in November 2008, this is the book I would have recommended that they read. While the military can be just as wrong as anyone else on matters of strategy, I have come to agree with Hew Strachan (and thus McMaster) that we have sidelined the military’s perspective far too much in our recent conflicts. They are neither seen nor heard in our debates about war and peace. We therefore run the risk of repeating LBJ’s folly.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Loren

    An absolutely devastating book on the conduct that lead us into the Vietnam War. It pulls absolutely no punches with anyone nor does it shy from blaming all parties across the board. Worthy of reading if you’re at all a fan of history.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    In spite of its expansive sounding title, this book has a fairly narrow focus. It begins approximately in the Kennedy administration and goes on to spend most of its time in 1964-65, where it ends. It also stays mostly in Washington. There is little discussion (aside from coups and the Gulf of Tonkin) of things happening on the ground in Vietnam. If you are completely new to the Vietnam War this shouldn't be your first book on it. McMaster argues that LBJ was powerfully, primarily concerned with In spite of its expansive sounding title, this book has a fairly narrow focus. It begins approximately in the Kennedy administration and goes on to spend most of its time in 1964-65, where it ends. It also stays mostly in Washington. There is little discussion (aside from coups and the Gulf of Tonkin) of things happening on the ground in Vietnam. If you are completely new to the Vietnam War this shouldn't be your first book on it. McMaster argues that LBJ was powerfully, primarily concerned with his domestic policy agenda, wasn't terribly interested in foreign affairs and didn't understand military power or military policy. Every decision he made about Vietnam in these years was related either to getting elected in 1964, or keeping on the good side of everyone he needed in order to get his Great Society passed. The overarching goals and strategies for the U.S. presence in southeast Asia were rarely discussed; instead, policymakers focused on tactics. Johnson knew what answers he wanted to hear from his military and civilian advisers on Vietnam, and for the most part they complied by telling him what he wanted to hear. Dissenting viewpoints were screened out, usually before they got to the president; Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was the primary gatekeeper. Johnson picked as his heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff men who would agree with him and wouldn't roil the waters, and these heads too would censor the opinions of the other JCS members before Johnson could hear them. Information inside the administration was very tightly controlled, and it usually didn't escape outside to journalists or the public, unless someone went off the reservation. LBJ lied in his public pronouncements about what was happening in Vietnam, and McNamara and others lied when they went before Congress to testify. Judging by the blurbs, this book is extremely popular among the right wing (Rush Limbaugh even blurbed it).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    It you like histories of the bureaucratic minutiae and system failures that lead to bad advice badly given, institutional paralysis in the face of collapsing strategy and a determined refusual to accept reality (which I do) you will love this book. McMaster is a serving career Army officer with a PhD. in history. He has the analytical tools to do justice to the story of how the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed the nation in during the Vietnam war. It's been a few years since I read "Dereliction of Dut It you like histories of the bureaucratic minutiae and system failures that lead to bad advice badly given, institutional paralysis in the face of collapsing strategy and a determined refusual to accept reality (which I do) you will love this book. McMaster is a serving career Army officer with a PhD. in history. He has the analytical tools to do justice to the story of how the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed the nation in during the Vietnam war. It's been a few years since I read "Dereliction of Duty" but it is quite a book. McMaster re-fought the bureaucratic wars of 1965 and 1966 memo by memo--his main villain was Robert McNamara but he found plenty of blame to lay at the feet of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who (as I recall) McMaster accused of shirking their constitutional duty to advise the President and to to so truthfully. The generals wanted a huge force and an open ended schedule to "win" the war with Vietnam and McNamara simply didn't present it to Johnson. The JCS thought if they went along with McNamara's gradualism they would ultimately get the half-million men they wanted. He makes the point that the JCS knew better than anyone how the U.S. couldn't win in the field but simply allowed the Secretary of Defense to stop them from discussing it with Johnson. And in a real "ripped from the headlines" update McMaster has been appointed head of the National Security Council. Given the abrupt and ignominious departure of his predecessor he probably has a bit more room to disagree with the currency president than other appointees have.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Barry Medlin

    Wow! A fascinating and well-researched book that goes behind the scenes into a place many people know nothing about. The lying and deceiving seems to never go away from Washington D.C.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Barry Sierer

    McMaster has done a commendable piece of work detailing the machinations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sec Def Robert McNamara, and LBJ. LBJ attempted a constant balancing act by trying keep the Joint Chief’s from publicly opposing military operations in Vietnam by pretending to take parts of their advice and promising “more later” in terms of less restrictions on future military operations, while simultaneously ordering carefully limited operations that were largely ineffective to “dissuade” Ha McMaster has done a commendable piece of work detailing the machinations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sec Def Robert McNamara, and LBJ. LBJ attempted a constant balancing act by trying keep the Joint Chief’s from publicly opposing military operations in Vietnam by pretending to take parts of their advice and promising “more later” in terms of less restrictions on future military operations, while simultaneously ordering carefully limited operations that were largely ineffective to “dissuade” Hanoi from supporting the Vietcong insurgency in the south without drawing too much public attention. While this mentality may help manage political problems it had no sensible application to military operations. Other reviewers have described the Chiefs as “five silent men” who let these policies continue, which indeed was the end result. However the book also covers the struggles of the Chief’s to give realistic military advice to LBJ (Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis Lemay and Marine Commandant Wallace Greene come to mind) while trying not to get kicked out of the policy loop altogether (which was what happened to Vice President Hubert Humphrey). Altogether, this is a sharp, and still relevant work.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    'Graduated pressure, 'kill more Viet Cong', the Great Society, and losing a war--DERELICTION OF DUTY reveals how the U.S. found itself lying to the American people, Congress, and its allies in Vietnam. Although the book focuses only on the period up to the end of 1965, it is fairly easy to see where the lies would end up, even if the Americans would hang in there until 1973. McMaster looks at how the U.S. progressed from the Kennedy years to the troubled decisions made by Lyndon Johnson and Rober 'Graduated pressure, 'kill more Viet Cong', the Great Society, and losing a war--DERELICTION OF DUTY reveals how the U.S. found itself lying to the American people, Congress, and its allies in Vietnam. Although the book focuses only on the period up to the end of 1965, it is fairly easy to see where the lies would end up, even if the Americans would hang in there until 1973. McMaster looks at how the U.S. progressed from the Kennedy years to the troubled decisions made by Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara in an effort to insure Johnson's election in 1964. Although 'graduated pressure' seemed to be a 'safe' way to go, it laid the foundations for discord with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ironically, even after a landslide election, Johnson's plans for the domestic Great Society projects drastically influenced what he was willing to do in Vietnam. McMaster thoroughly discusses the relationship between the JCS and the White House, their exclusion from many of the decisions made. Unfortunately, the JCS contributed to their exclusion by their 'parochialism' in which each service tried to get as much for themselves as possible. It didn't help that the two chairmen, Taylor and Wheeler, were more than willing to back up the President instead of speaking out. This was particularly noticeable when Johnson virtually insisted upon the loyalty of the JCS, and demanded that the U.S. 'kill more Viet Cong'. I was struck by that phrase since it reminded me of Halsey's rant to 'kill Japs, kill more Japs' in WWII. But Halsey wasn't the president, Johnson was. As a result by the end of 1965, advisors and bombing were not enough. The ground war began in earnest although even then the White House would not admit the numbers involved. This is an eye-opening book about years that I remember so well. It should be read in horror, and with a caution to all of us about how easy it is for those in power to lie, and how we all pay the price.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mark Fallon

    A searing indictment of Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the White House staff and the Joint Chiefs for their actions and inaction during the lead up to the Vietnam War. Written by an active duty Army officer (then a Major, now a General), this book is based on meticulous research of meeting minutes and previously classified memos. The tragedy is summed up in the final sentence: "The failings were many and reinforcing: arrogance, weakness, lying in pursuit of self-interest, and above all, the ab A searing indictment of Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the White House staff and the Joint Chiefs for their actions and inaction during the lead up to the Vietnam War. Written by an active duty Army officer (then a Major, now a General), this book is based on meticulous research of meeting minutes and previously classified memos. The tragedy is summed up in the final sentence: "The failings were many and reinforcing: arrogance, weakness, lying in pursuit of self-interest, and above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people." Should be mandatory reading at every service academy, ROTC program and White House orientation program.

  12. 5 out of 5

    laurel [the suspected bibliophile]

    DNF at something like 20% in. The audiobook was horrific. The author narrated, and it felt overly aggressive in places where it shouldn't? Add to the fact that each sentence had a great gaping pause every two words, and I was done. Even speeding it to 1.75x wasn't enough to fix it or keep me interested. I was so looking forward to this one too. Maybe I'll read the physical book. Someday. DNF at something like 20% in. The audiobook was horrific. The author narrated, and it felt overly aggressive in places where it shouldn't? Add to the fact that each sentence had a great gaping pause every two words, and I was done. Even speeding it to 1.75x wasn't enough to fix it or keep me interested. I was so looking forward to this one too. Maybe I'll read the physical book. Someday.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Added this to my reading list when Gen. H.R. McMaster was picked by President Trump to replace Gen. Michael Flynn, who was fired amid a scandal involving his relationship with Russia's ambassador. Actually, McMaster was Trump's second choice, after Adm. Robert Harwood, who turned down the job, reportedly calling it a "shit sandwich" after he found out he wouldn't be able to hire his own staff. McMaster recently appeared before the press to try to explain Trump's meeting with Russian officials in Added this to my reading list when Gen. H.R. McMaster was picked by President Trump to replace Gen. Michael Flynn, who was fired amid a scandal involving his relationship with Russia's ambassador. Actually, McMaster was Trump's second choice, after Adm. Robert Harwood, who turned down the job, reportedly calling it a "shit sandwich" after he found out he wouldn't be able to hire his own staff. McMaster recently appeared before the press to try to explain Trump's meeting with Russian officials in the White House the day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been investigating Russian ties to the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the U.S. elections. Before the press conference, McMaster was quoted as saying, "This is the last place on earth I wanted to be." He also spoke to the press off-camera to try to deflect questions about Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is allegedly under investigation for trying to set up a back channel with Russian officials. Yeah, I can't wait to read McMaster's next book either. I bet he thought it would be about fighting ISIS. Anyway, before lending his stature to the Trump administration, McMaster was perhaps best known for writing "Dereliction of Duty" about the Vietnam War and Johnson's relationship with his military and civilian advisors. Johnson is depicted as insecure and duplicitous. His civilian advisors (most notably Robert McNamara) are portrayed as arrogant and short-sighted. His military advisors (the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Max Taylor, Gen. Earle Wheeler, etc.) come across as disorganized and passive. Nutshell: There was no overriding strategy for the war. Johnson and his civilian advisors saw the goal of the bombings and combat in Vietnam as means to send a message to the enemy and attempts to elicit some kind of treaty that would let America leave without losing face. The military advisors saw the goal as winning the war and securing the freedom for the South Vietnamese people. They wanted more military leeway than Johnson was willing to agree to because his first goal was to win the presidential election and, once that was accomplished, to secure passage of his Great Society legislation. To do this he led his military advisors on, telling them he was eventually going to give them what they needed in Vietnam. They, in turn, partially out of loyalty to the commander-in-chief and partially because they were fighting each other for what they could get for their individual service branches, were never able to present a unified front and stand up to the president. The tone of this book was critical but fair. It's not a flattering portrayal of Johnson but nor is it a flattering portrayal of the military brass. Loyalty to their leader and their service branches are admirable and understandable qualities, McMaster points out, but they'd forgotten that they took an oath to protect and preserve the American constitution. A person who would undertake to write this book would have to have a fair amount of integrity. Anyone who delves into history must have an interest in preventing it from repeating itself. For these reasons, I'm curious to see how McMaster handles his current role. As a side note, I think this book assumes a certain amount of knowledge about the Vietnam War. If you want to learn more about the South Vietnamese government and why it wasn't able to gain the trust of the people, leading to protests by Buddhists monks, etc., this is not the book for that. Nor will you find anything about the actual troops on the ground. There are also a lot of books delving into the character of President Johnson. Robert A. Caro has written half a dozen. McMaster repeatedly touches on Johnson's need for consensus and his anathema toward criticism and negative public feedback. "Master of the Senate" does a good job of explaining why those traits made Johnson the most powerful senator. Unfortunately, it's also what led to his downfall.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Joe Clark

    The book is exhaustive but it is also tedious and repetitive. In my recollection of the events from '63 through '69, everything moved very quickly and it looked like Johnson set out to take our country to war. No doubt, the problem was that I didn't pay much attention until I was drafted in '66. I think HR McMaster does a good job of showing that we stumbled into war over a period of years. But I think that the book lacks empathy. It is all too easy for a young military man to condemn the politi The book is exhaustive but it is also tedious and repetitive. In my recollection of the events from '63 through '69, everything moved very quickly and it looked like Johnson set out to take our country to war. No doubt, the problem was that I didn't pay much attention until I was drafted in '66. I think HR McMaster does a good job of showing that we stumbled into war over a period of years. But I think that the book lacks empathy. It is all too easy for a young military man to condemn the politicians for not doing a better job. It is easy to say that Johnson had a choice that needed to be made and he tried to ignore it hoping it would go away. It was either guns or butter. It isn't possible to do both. But it is not easy to choose which which one you want to hold onto. Of course, Johnson essentially made his choice by not neglect. He didn't pull out of Vietnam. He focused on his domestic agenda. but by not choosing to pull out of Vietnam, he allowed us to drift into a war. And by drifting in, instead of marching in with well defined goals and firm purpose, he created a monstrosity that nearly destroyed this country. This book gives me a new perspective on Johnson and Westmoreland but it doesn't explain one fact that has rankled me for over 50 years. The US Senate passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution by a vote of 98 to zip with two abstentions. There wasn't one statesman in the group who had the fortitude to vote against it. It is the job of the Senate to protect us when the President goes a little crazy and our military leaders crumble. I believe that this book fails to make that point.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ronnie

    It's funny. Everytime I read another book of the Vietnam Era Episode it always rotates around the usual suspects LBJ...McNamara..The Joint Chiefs of Staff....and I'm going to quote verbatim from the on the last page..."The failing were many and reinforcing: arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self interest, above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people" .Then it becomes unfunny. There's a sense of sadness that permeates this reading . The book was written by H.R. Mc It's funny. Everytime I read another book of the Vietnam Era Episode it always rotates around the usual suspects LBJ...McNamara..The Joint Chiefs of Staff....and I'm going to quote verbatim from the on the last page..."The failing were many and reinforcing: arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self interest, above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people" .Then it becomes unfunny. There's a sense of sadness that permeates this reading . The book was written by H.R. McMaster. Who replaced Flynn in the WH. It is scary book because the scenario that are covered goes up to the time when the US became fully involved in Vietnam....the Americanization of the Viet Nam War. All those dead soldiers...wounded one...both sides of the ledger...When you read these people talking about loss of blood in warfare as if it was mere pittance or like squishing bugs on a floor.....you have a better appreciation when McGeorge Bundy gets slapped in the face with the aftermath of Plieku casualties. Heres a guy who had a dry view of war effects until seeing face first and seeing what he has caused.......As a Veteran....I believe that this book is required reading for anyone to try to better grasp the troubling aspect of getting into wars....RJH

  16. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Clearly a well-researched and detailed book. In fact, so detailed that it was difficult to read. While I appreciated McMaster's thorough command of the subject and sometimes to-the-minute information, I found it very difficult to ever build momentum or get into the book. Clearly a well-researched and detailed book. In fact, so detailed that it was difficult to read. While I appreciated McMaster's thorough command of the subject and sometimes to-the-minute information, I found it very difficult to ever build momentum or get into the book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Gerry

    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 t 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.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    From wiki: Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam is a book written by McMaster that explores the military's role in the policies of the Vietnam War. The book was written as part of his Ph.D. dissertation at UNC. It harshly criticized high-ranking officers of that era, arguing that they inadequately challenged Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson on their Vietnam strategy. The book examines McNam From wiki: Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam is a book written by McMaster that explores the military's role in the policies of the Vietnam War. The book was written as part of his Ph.D. dissertation at UNC. It harshly criticized high-ranking officers of that era, arguing that they inadequately challenged Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson on their Vietnam strategy. The book examines McNamara and Johnson's staff alongside the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high-ranking military officers, and their failure to provide a successful plan of action either to pacify a Viet Cong insurgency or to decisively defeat the North Vietnamese army. McMaster also details why military actions intended to indicate "resolve" or to "communicate" ultimately failed when trying to accomplish sparsely detailed, confusing, and conflicting military objectives. The book was widely read in Pentagon circles and included in military reading lists. Given that the rumour-mill on The Hill is that McMasters may be the next casualty, I mark this cat-claw as 'pending'.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    ​I picked up a copy of H.R. McMaster's 1997 book "Dereliction of Duty" after he was named as President Trump's second National Security Advisor. While the book was written twenty years ago, I hoped the book would provide some insights into how General McMaster looks at the role of a presidential advisor and that relationship with a President during time of war. McMaster was critical of LBJ's military and security advisors in their dealing President Johnson and in their advice during the Vietnam ​I picked up a copy of H.R. McMaster's 1997 book "Dereliction of Duty" after he was named as President Trump's second National Security Advisor. While the book was written twenty years ago, I hoped the book would provide some insights into how General McMaster looks at the role of a presidential advisor and that relationship with a President during time of war. McMaster was critical of LBJ's military and security advisors in their dealing President Johnson and in their advice during the Vietnam War. President Johnson's advisors proved unwilling or unable to provide clear, honest advice. According to McMaster, they lied to the President, to the Nation, and possibly even to themselves. Apparently more interested in holding onto their jobs, their power, and their prestige, they failed to challenge the president, to set goals and objectives in the war, and told the President pretty much what he wanted to hear. Fast forward twenty years, and now General McMaster is in the same position as some of the people he was critical of during the Vietnam War. I now wonder if he's taken the lessons of his book to heart, and will be willing and able to provide sound military and security advice to President Trump. I'm leaning to the belief that he will. However, McMaster was sent out to meet with the media and speak the party line after President Trump apparently revealed intelligence about ISIS when meeting with the Russians, possibly endangering foreign intelligence sources and relationships. On the other hand, there have been stories of Trump and McMaster having yelling matches behind closed doors, certainly making it sound like the General is doing his best to provide honest and sound advice to the President, even if it runs contrary to the President's beliefs and ideology.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Review to come (I hope). Best book I've ever read on Vietnam. Review to come (I hope). Best book I've ever read on Vietnam.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Yoshmagosh

    It's a dissertation turned into a required reading course book. Informative. It's a dissertation turned into a required reading course book. Informative.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is a policy study of US decision making in Vietnam focused on 1963-1965, by an author who was the second National Security Advisor in the current US Administration. The book has considerable merit, although I am unsure the extent to which it breaks new ground. My overwhelming reaction after reading the book was to wonder how anyone in the current administration would have thought that McMaster would be a “good fit” as a National Security Advisor in the Trump Administration. To be specific, This is a policy study of US decision making in Vietnam focused on 1963-1965, by an author who was the second National Security Advisor in the current US Administration. The book has considerable merit, although I am unsure the extent to which it breaks new ground. My overwhelming reaction after reading the book was to wonder how anyone in the current administration would have thought that McMaster would be a “good fit” as a National Security Advisor in the Trump Administration. To be specific, the book argues for a policy review process that balances the various parties contributing to a decision such that national interests are pursued and national values respected while the realities “on the ground” are also taken into account in developing options and making choices. The balancing of national interests and politics, subject to the constraints of facing reality, has not been a distinctive feature of how the current administration has going about its national security decision making. We all know that Vietnam did not work out well for the US and that its influence loomed large on subsequent US military and security policy up through the Gulf Wars and beyond. A more difficult question concerns just which lessons were drawn from the war. Nobody questions the inherent tensions in civilian control of the military in a post-industrial democracy. At the same time, it is also clear that the world has gotten much more complex, if that is even possible, and that the best courses of action (even leaving politics aside) are unclear in advance. If political demands are not met as well, then leadership will be impotent and there will be little chance of pursuing national interests successfully in military conflicts. Fine - we know these problems. What to do about them? How were they mismanaged in the run up to the escalation in Vietnam? McMaster is clear that the required policy outcome must be the one that most successfully pursues US national interests. To do that, any policy must be feasible in terms of the military and political realities of a situation. That means that both political and military actors must contribute to decisions and that reality cannot be sacrificed to the short term political demands of a crisis. McMaster argues that this is precisely what happened in the run up to Vietnam and that, even with the best of intentions, a policy process developed that told Johnson what he wanted to hear, excluded opposing knowledgeable voices like the Joint Chiefs who were not going to say what the President wanted to hear. Everyone else was either not told or else lied to, in order to maintain the consensus that the President wanted so that he could pursue needs in Vietnam while also being successful in the War on Poverty. There is a temptation to look for villains here but that does not seem productive. There was much “dereliction of duty” but there were also lots of derelicts involved here. For example, one of the major story lines in the book is the isolation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which was the body mandated by statute with providing military advice to the President. Yes, they were marginalized and manipulated. At the same time, however, McMaster is clear that there was a consistent problem with the Joint Chiefs of Staff reaching consensus on anything, such that they had no opinion to offer as a body until it was too late to change the trajectory of US involvement. ... and nobody involved in this decision process seemed to care much about what the strategy for Vietnam was - or should have been. Questions about what the strategy was - or just questions about how a given level of troops was supposed to influence the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong just did not get asked except in passing. Basic assumptions were not challenged. While splitting differences and working “across the aisle” seemed to be successful in Congressional politics (at least then), it was assumed that it would also work as an approach in dealing with the Soviets, C?hinese, and North Vietnamese - as if they all learned their trades in law school rather than in a century of war and insurrection. Even the simple logic of controlled gradual escalation seems to have been applied unthinkingly from business settings by McNamara and his people. It is unclear that such an approach really worked for the large global firms (follow Ford’s progress through the 1960s and beyond). This approach was also used to game out nuclear confrontations (“thinking the unthinkable”). How did that work out? Nobody thinks that way any more and Communism went out of business, thankfully, before it was put to the test. While I thought this book was valuable and that McMaster did a good job, there are limits. How does one design a policy process that overcomes significant failings among the key actors. If nobody is asking about strategy, what is there to do? If nobody challenges the assumptions of the President’s inner circle, which avoids rather than encourages debate, what is there to do? If everyone buys into the need to subordinate national interests to upcoming elections and political reputations, then what is there to do? These same issues are relevant today and LBJ comes off as much closer in spirit and actions to the current administration than I am comfortable with. No policy process is going to generate a defensible and successful outcome if the key actors are unwilling and unable to go along. I am not sure what there was to do about Vietnam, even in retrospect, and it is unclear that General McMaster had a good idea about that either. ...and that is unfortunate.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Louis

    With a title like that you already have an idea of what is inside. What makes this enticing is the background of the author. H R McMaster? was the commanding officer of the armored battalion that fought at the Battle of 73 Easting, one of the few stand up battles of the first Gulf War. And when you decisively win an armored battle at the odds of 30:120 against only losing one vehicle and one soldier died, you become known as a hero. McMaster looks at the 10 men who were on the Joint Chiefs during With a title like that you already have an idea of what is inside. What makes this enticing is the background of the author. H R McMaster? was the commanding officer of the armored battalion that fought at the Battle of 73 Easting, one of the few stand up battles of the first Gulf War. And when you decisively win an armored battle at the odds of 30:120 against only losing one vehicle and one soldier died, you become known as a hero. McMaster looks at the 10 men who were on the Joint Chiefs during this period. The JCS are not involved in actual operations, only preparing their services for operations, and to advise. So the question is, what was the quality of their advising? McMaster?'s focus is as a military officer, looking at the actions of other military officers and their responsibilities. He takes each member and looks at their words and actions when the JCS met together, and what they said in the presense of the President and his Secretary of Defense. And at key decision points, he demonstrates through cited material (100 pages out of 434 are footnotes!) that each of the members of the JCS knew that their was no strategy for the Vietnam War, that the measure requested by the President and the Secretary of Defense would not achieve any result, and they acquised. Instead of being advisors who explained the potential courses of action given a desired result, they were tacticians, who tried to do what they could with what the resources they were given. And they repeatedly noted that the President did not ever decide what the goal was, so each of them worked for their individual goals. This extended to the times where they went before Congress. They did not give their frank opinion as to what was needed. Instead they saw themselves as spokesmen for the President. Are there lessons here? The question that remains, what is the duty of the advisor? The United States has a tradition of civilian control of the military, something that the military ensures its officers know, understand, and support to their core. And the President is the embodiment of that civilian control. But being under authority does not mean that you cannot disagree. The JCS duty was to voice its disagreement, and to ensure that the consequences of options are understood. Under the Johnson Presidency, this likely would have gotten the General or Admiral who did so removed. There is an anecdote that at one point, General Harold Johnson, Chief of Staff of the Army, had asked his driver to take him to the White House, so he could offer his resignation in protest. But he changed his mind while on the way, reasoning that he would just be replaced. And, the story goes, he spent the rest of his days in regret. This is a military officer offering a critique of a military culture. But the same holds true for business. A prominent example is Enron, where of all the executives who were aware of the illegal energy transactions and security transactions, but three were known to have voiced their opposition. And only Vince Kaminski was in the role of the general with integrity, pulling his entire group away from the activities in question. (the others did not manage groups) The business press made the usual commentary, whistle blowing, while noble, is the wrong thing to do because it will ruin the whistle blower's career. Here McMaster? is claiming that is precisely the right thing to do dispite this fact. It is a high standard.

  24. 5 out of 5

    William

    "Dereliction of Duty" by HR McMaster dwells on inter-service politics and flaws in the civil-military relationship that typified by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Vietnam War. McMaster is not shy about placing the blame on the generals for their failure to stand up to President Lyndon Johnson and his flawed strategy for prosecuting the war. They should have resigned instead of implementing the wrong strategy. If a general disagrees with his president on a policy, he should resign or be fir "Dereliction of Duty" by HR McMaster dwells on inter-service politics and flaws in the civil-military relationship that typified by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Vietnam War. McMaster is not shy about placing the blame on the generals for their failure to stand up to President Lyndon Johnson and his flawed strategy for prosecuting the war. They should have resigned instead of implementing the wrong strategy. If a general disagrees with his president on a policy, he should resign or be fired. McMaster dwells on this implicit burden within the context of a general's loyalty to his service. But the generals and admirals on the JCS chose to stay in office despite disagreement, figuring they would have more influence to shape policy if they stayed at their posts. This didn't work out well as LBJ and his subordinates had no trouble working around the chiefs. In the end, they did not protect their services from civilian abuse. Any one service chief has to have some degree of professional loyalty to the president who picked him. Sorry, that's the politics of appointed office. No one is going to appoint someone who is not trusted enough to implement a policy once the decision has been made. When Maxwell Taylor became Chairman, JCS, he was the president's man at the post. He met alone with the president, which is what he is supposed to do. McMaster points out that the service chiefs were not true commanders at the time of Vietnam. The theater commanders were, and they answered directly to the Secretary of Defense while still reporting to the various service chiefs. Today the chiefs control budget, weapons purchase and training, while the theater commanders to the actual fighting. But the chairman of the JCS is the de facto uniformed commander in chief, whereas during Vietnam he was the president's prime military advisor. Interservice rivalry prevented the JCS from speaking with one voice on Vietnam policy, which contributed to the parochialism over how the war was to be fought. Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force all fought their own wars with limited jointness. Today, they are not allowed to work in their separate ways. In McMaster's ideal world, as soon as the chiefs saw the war strategy being dictated by civilians who did not know what they were doing, they would resign. That just does not happen. Instead, service chiefs are usually dropped by non-renewal of term or just plain fired if they speak out of turn. Upper-echelon commanders are all company men, not mavericks. Their institutional loyalties and their professional obligation to obey the president just doesn't allow for this. The book also stands as an unintended silent indictment of the current administration, which has also seen the White House/JCS relationship undermined by some very savvy bureaucratic infighters. No matter how hard we try to legislate reporting lines and policy procedure to achieve the ideal civil-military relationship, it all comes down to hiring the right people who can work well together. Screw up here and you will get bad policy and execution.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Donald Grant

    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 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.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Brian Burton

    This is my second time reading this book (first time was almost exactly 10 years ago in 2007) and I was less impressed with it this time around. It's still a great history of the decision-making of both the JFK and LBJ administrations that led the U.S. into Vietnam. McMaster is very clear about how the national security decision-making process failed to force the President and his top advisers to grapple with the fundamental questions of what the U.S. sought to achieve in Vietnam and whether tho This is my second time reading this book (first time was almost exactly 10 years ago in 2007) and I was less impressed with it this time around. It's still a great history of the decision-making of both the JFK and LBJ administrations that led the U.S. into Vietnam. McMaster is very clear about how the national security decision-making process failed to force the President and his top advisers to grapple with the fundamental questions of what the U.S. sought to achieve in Vietnam and whether those objectives could be achieved with military force at an acceptable cost. But, perhaps unfairly, I was frustrated because it is never really clear in the book what McMaster thinks should have been done instead. He refers to the war as a "disaster" but at different points it is unclear whether he believes that because the means were wrong (or simply inadequate) or because the ends themselves were unachievable. While it is admittedly not the main point of McMaster's book, I believe this is an important discussion for readers to have, especially because of McMaster's current role as National Security Advisor to President Trump. One of the issues McMaster highlights repeatedly and critically is the extent to which leading national security officials under LBJ, including National Security Advisor Bundy, Secretary of Defense McNamara, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were dishonest with Congress and the American people about U.S policy in Vietnam in order to protect the President from criticism. Today, McMaster himself is the one writing op-eds and giving public remarks touting the Trump Administration's foreign policy. So, what exactly are the lessons he takes away from his own Vietnam case study? And how are we to know that he is not doing the same things he criticized Bundy, McNamara, et al. for doing?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    I picked up this book less out of interest in Vietnam and more out of interest in how McMaster might approach his position as National Security Advisor. I found the book to be an enthralling introduction to both subjects (although certainly not the lightest read of my summer). McMaster argues poignantly that a dysfunctional national security apparatus, combined with both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' willingness to completely subordinate foreign policy to domestic policy doomed Americ I picked up this book less out of interest in Vietnam and more out of interest in how McMaster might approach his position as National Security Advisor. I found the book to be an enthralling introduction to both subjects (although certainly not the lightest read of my summer). McMaster argues poignantly that a dysfunctional national security apparatus, combined with both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' willingness to completely subordinate foreign policy to domestic policy doomed American efforts in Vietnam to failure. In particular, Johnson's unwillingness to confront the political costs of either withdrawing from Vietnam or asking Congress for the money and force necessary to win the war damned the soldiers already deployed in Vietnam to a slow slog towards an intentional stalemate. The most intriguing figure in the book, given McMaster's recent career, is that of Maxwell Taylor. An innovative general who chafed at the strict adherence of the Eisenhower administration to the 'new look' strategy, Taylor came up with the theory of the 'flexible response' that would become the basis of Kennedy's pivot in foreign policy. Like McMaster, Taylor entered his role in the Kennedy administration with strong convictions about the important role that military officers ought to play in determining national strategy. Over the course of his service to both Kennedy and Johnson, however, Taylor found that he had to go back on many of his principles in order to help accomplish both President's political agendas. One hopes that Taylor's experience will not presage McMaster's service in the Trump administration.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dwight

    Dereliction of Duty is an interesting examination of the key players and decision-making processes that led to America’s involvement in Vietnam and guided the parameters of the conflict during the Johnson administration. McMaster paints a picture of a shifting collection of priorities to which war aims were nearly always secondary: How will it play in the press? Can it improve our re-election chances? Can we straddle the divide between seeming soft on communism and being perceived as warmongers? Are Dereliction of Duty is an interesting examination of the key players and decision-making processes that led to America’s involvement in Vietnam and guided the parameters of the conflict during the Johnson administration. McMaster paints a picture of a shifting collection of priorities to which war aims were nearly always secondary: How will it play in the press? Can it improve our re-election chances? Can we straddle the divide between seeming soft on communism and being perceived as warmongers? Are we sending the right message to our allies, our rivals, our friends, our enemies? How will it impact the administration’s primary goal of passing Great Society legislation? Can we increase the size and scope of the mission for my service branch? What metrics and statistics can we choose to show we are winning? Can we afford it or hide the cost of it? The result was a series of policy compromises that rarely had anything to do with optimizing military performance. The narrative centers on Secretary McNamara and the dominant position he carves out in the Johnson administration. While much of the behind-the-scenes process described is interesting, I did not find myself shocked or dismayed by the ‘lies’ of government officials described any more than by other administrations (Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, Bush, etc.) that have used deception and misdirection in a time of war to control information and shape public opinion.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Scottnshana

    A good solid look at the disconnect between the civil and military leadership of the US Government and its escalating involvement in Viet Nam from JFK to LBJ in 1965. McMaster's scrutiny of the Joint Chiefs and their advice on commitment to South Viet Nam (as well as various entities at State, USAID, and the Director of Central Intelligence) and how the military experts were either ignored or shut down by an exclusive clique of like-minded people with access to the President is a great piece of A good solid look at the disconnect between the civil and military leadership of the US Government and its escalating involvement in Viet Nam from JFK to LBJ in 1965. McMaster's scrutiny of the Joint Chiefs and their advice on commitment to South Viet Nam (as well as various entities at State, USAID, and the Director of Central Intelligence) and how the military experts were either ignored or shut down by an exclusive clique of like-minded people with access to the President is a great piece of history. There are some interesting (and timely) questions evaluated here: Is coercive bombing effective? What are the limits of executive power in initiating military action? What is the ideal balance between military expertise and political acumen in a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs? Why was no one consistently bringing up the French catastrophe in Indochina during the events described? This book is a nice lead-in to James Kittfield's "Prodigal Soldiers" and its analysis of the generation of Flag Officers who survived Viet Nam to rebuild a first-class military for DESERT STORM. It is also essential to any study of the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine and its attempts to keep Viet Nam from occurring again.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    This is a useful volume. I am not sure that I learned too many things that I did not already know. But for readers who were not around at the time of books such as "The Best and the Brightest" (an ironic title that is often misused in its original context to describe hiring really great and effective people), this is quite helpful in describing the flawed American strategy in Vietnam in the early 1960s. There are several themes: (a) the inability of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to effectively provid This is a useful volume. I am not sure that I learned too many things that I did not already know. But for readers who were not around at the time of books such as "The Best and the Brightest" (an ironic title that is often misused in its original context to describe hiring really great and effective people), this is quite helpful in describing the flawed American strategy in Vietnam in the early 1960s. There are several themes: (a) the inability of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to effectively provide military advice to the civilian leaders of government; (b) the odd strategy of Secretary of Defense and his supporters in thinking that slow escalation could "communicate" the American determination to North Vietnam and, in essence, produce a slow "bargaining" process. There was also the flawed belief that if the United States did not persevere in Vietnam, then the dominoes would fall (Laos--already in a civil war; Cambodia, with internal conflict). This book in a compact analysis lays out the resulting problems for American policy in Vietnam. Of course, it is not at all clear that a coherent strategy would have made much difference in the final outcome.

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