An intriguing analysis that challenges the view that Cold War anticommunism was primarily responsible for American military...


"DERELICTION OF DUTY: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam"

An intriguing analysis that challenges the view that Cold War anticommunism was primarily responsible for American military intervention in Vietnam. In his first book, McMaster, a US Army major and Persian Gulf war veteran, and a historian who has taught at West Point, zeroes in on the actions of Lyndon Johnson and his top advisers from the time LBJ became president in November 1963 to the July 1965 decision to escalate the war drastically. The author makes a convincing case that domestic political considerations were behind the development of the failed strategy of graduated military pressure. The actions of Johnson, his top civilian advisers, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) were, moreover, characterized by ""arrogance, weakness [and] lying in the pursuit of self interest."" President Johnson heads McMaster's culpability list, which also includes Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, JCS head and US ambassador to South Vietnam Gen. Maxwell Taylor, Taylor's JCS successor, Gen. Earle Wheeler, and top advisers William and McGeorge Bundy. McMaster's touchstone is the unchallenged fact that Johnson wanted to fight the war on poverty, not the war in Vietnam. McMaster interprets virtually all of LBJ's actions as chief executive in that light. From November 1963 to November 1964 Johnson's overarching goal was to win the presidential election. After that, his main concern was enacting his Great Society programs. The fact that Johnson made Vietnam policy based on domestic-policy implications, McMaster believes, was a recipe for disaster in Vietnam. David Halberstam promulgated similar arguments in The Best and the Brightest (1972). McMaster, using newly released transcripts and other primary source material, pays more attention to the JCS's role. Unsparing in his analysis of the chiefs, McMaster takes them severely to task for their ""failure"" to provide LBJ with ""their best advice."" A relentless, stinging indictment of the usual Johnson administration Vietnam War suspects.

Pub Date: May 21, 1997


Page Count: 464

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997