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

ISBN: 0060929081

ISBN13: 9780060929084

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

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Book Overview

"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 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 transcripts and personal accounts of...

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

Incisive & Devastating

This is the most incisively devastating book I have ever read on military history. When I finished reading it, I felt like I had taken a punch in the abdomen. Words like "riviting", "masterpiece" and "moving" tend to be wasted on most books, but not this one. This is a model in historical writing. The book begins with the Kennedy administration and covers it in two chapters; most of the detail begins with Johnson's accession in Nov. 1963. As told here, nothing Kennedy did made America's entry into the Vietnam war inevitable, but JFK certainly did a lot to move us in that direction. Kennedy's administration is described as being complicit in the assassination of Diem, ending any semblance of political stability for good. Ironically, Kennedy is pictured as being nonchalant about the brutal murder of the South Vietnamese leader just a few weeks before his own assassination. The remaining 293 pages take the reader through a detailed examination of what must have been every meeting that either Johnson and his advisors or the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) had between Nov. 1963 and July 1965. He describes a process by which Johnson strictly prevented the most senior officers of the armed forces from participation in substantive discussions. Time after time they were presented with a final policy they had no hand in forming. Secretary of Defense McNamara takes the heaviest fire, for while Johnson was both deceiver and deceived, McNamara was fully aware of differing views by members of the JCS and deliberately suppressed them, in some cases falsifying memos by presenting one copy to subordinates and then removing pages before giving it to Johnson, and the pages remaining would have McNamara's pre-formed policy. Johnson is described as terrified that public discussion of his Vietnam policy would undermine his "Great Society" programs, always insisting that there was no change in policy from Kennedy even as U.S. involvement was dramatically escalated. Johnson also skillfully manipulated the JCS, taking advantage of inter-service rivalries, playing senior generals against one another. If only he had been as skillful in foreign policy.

A "must-read" (especially for politicians and generals!)

Although the Vietnam Conflict stretched over a quarter-century in duration, this book is a snapshot look at the pivotal decisions made in Washington DC that changed American involvement in Vietnam from an advisory effort to large-scale intervention. McMaster's research fully exposes the true depth of conceit and duplicity on the part of men like Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, and even Maxwell Taylor and it challenges very effectively a number of the prominent misconceptions about the "inevitability" of an open-ended intervention (some of those myths continue to resurface in the reviews on this website). McMaster writes: "The movement toward war seems in retrospect to have been inexorable largely because LBJ succeeded in minimizing the participation of Congress in his decisions that escalated American military involvement in Vietnam. McNamara, reflecting on the decisions of the spring and early summer of 1965, recalled that `we were sinking into the quicksand.' It was, however, a quicksand of his and the president's making--a quicksand of lies. The support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would prove crucial to LBJ's and McNamara's efforts to conceal the changed nature of American involvement in Vietnam." (page 243). As I consider how American military forces have been committed to action since Vietnam (and particularly in the last ten years), I doubt if we have learned our lesson.Thomas Jefferson once wrote that "falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions." This book is an outstanding case study of why character DOES matter in our national leadership. Immediately after you finish this book, pick up "We Were Soldiers Once and Young" by Lt Gen Harold G. Moore (ret.) & Joseph Galloway and see the direct, on-the-battlefield consequences, of an arrogant and reckless decision-making process.

A very important work...

Very well written. Extremely well researched and documented. Should be required reading for all military service personnel and their families - as well as for all high school students in the US.Our military service personnel deserved a lot better than they got from our government then - and they still do.

The Civilians' War

History is more than the dry repetition of dates and statistics; it must show how the players understood their world. H.R. McMaster demonstrates in " Dereliction of Duty" the instincts of a detective coupled with a writing style that is clear and concise. He spares neither the military or their civilian masters in his analysis of the blundering and scheming that eventually culminated in the deaths of over a million people and the horrible scarring of millions more. This is not a story anyone who loves this country and its military will find easy to read but it is a book which demands careful study. Vietnam in many ways was a civilian's war. Led and directed in the US by amateurs, it inflicted pain and suffering on a civilian population who cared nothing for the high-minded concepts of the elites running the war. One can only grow increasingly angry with the intelligent fools who conducted experiments with people's lives, who thought to send messages with bombs, who so little understood warfare that they thought dedicated revolutionaries reacted like college professors or corporate executives. H. R. McMaster scores hit after hit on the bewildered American leaders; one wonders why he doesn't explore their unwillingness to learn from the successful British response to the Malayasian insurgency. The book will not be well received by those who like their Kennedys saintly and their Johnsons unsoiled. Both presidents wanted to control the military, to reduce its independence, and make it completely subservient to politics. Both presidents succeeded. They encouraged lying; they rewarded lap dogs. They ruined the Army for a generation and instilled in the American people a distrust of their Government. As my grandfather used to say when I had fouled up some task on the farm in a particularly bad manner, it took a real smart fellow to do that. In the case of Vietnam, it took America's "Best and Brightest."
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