THE CERTAIN TRUMPET by Douglas Kinnard


Maxwell Taylor and the American Experience in Vietnam
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 A perceptive appraisal of General Maxwell Davenport Taylor (1901-87), whose public career affords the author (himself a former general) an opportunity to track high-level American decision- making and its consequences in Vietnam during the 1960's. Kinnard served under Taylor when Taylor was Army chief of staff; the author was also granted a dozen interviews and access to his subject's personal papers while researching the overview at hand. Although Kinnard provides enough background information to put Taylor in clear perspective, he does not pretend to provide a conventional biography. Instead, he uses the varied roles the soldier-statesman played in his later years to probe how Washington goes about creating and carrying out geopolitical policy. Having been denied the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs owing to his quarrels with Eisenhower's defense strategies, Taylor retired from the Army and wrote The Uncertain Trumpet, a cold-war tract that stressed the US military's need for flexible response (as opposed to massive retaliation) capabilities. The book provided a welcome blueprint for the Kennedy Administration, and the newly inaugurated President recruited its author as a personal advisor. Believing he needed a win following early setbacks in Cuba and Berlin, JFK initiated the troop buildups that led to a greater American involvement in Indochina's conflicts shortly after his death. LBJ appointed Taylor ambassador to the Saigon regime, and he stayed on as a senior White House counselor when his one-year tour ended. As to the measure of responsibility borne by the steadfastly (albeit thoughtfully) hawkish Taylor for the Vietnam tragedy, Kinnard concludes that his role was central, if not decisive. More an influential soldier than a virtuoso statesman in the author's view, Taylor emerges here as an honest broker whose checkered record of judgments can be faulted largely on what it failed to accomplish. A valuable and illuminating addition to the literature on a wrenching two-front war. (Seventeen photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1991
ISBN: 0-08-040581-9
Page count: 272pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1991