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The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC, and Vietnam

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Overview

Was the Vietnam War unavoidable? Historians have long assumed that ideological views and the momentum of events made American intervention inevitable. By examining the role of McGeorge Bundy and the National Security Council, Andrew Preston demonstrates that policymakers escalated the conflict in Vietnam in the face of internal opposition, external pressures, and a continually failing strategy.

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Editorial Reviews

The Economist
It is in exploring how Bundy convinced two presidents of the rightness of his argument that The War Council provides fresh insight. Most histories of the Vietnam war focus either on the combat itself or on the political leadership involved. Mr. Preston looks not at the flashes of gunfire but at the more shadowy world of bureaucratic infighting...[The War Council] shows all too clearly what happens when the White House circle of decision-makers has too small a radius. Clearly, leaders have the right to rely on a loyal few; excessive debate and deadlock are not desirable. But as America is once again learning, people in power need to make sure that the decisive circle includes those who actually know a region.
Daily Telegraph

Buffs of the 1960s and 1970s will relish Andrew Preston's outstanding The War Council, a superbly researched reinterpretation of the origins of the Vietnam War that confirms its author's reputation as the rising star of American History.
— Dominic Sandbrook

Literary Review of Canada

Preston has captured his subject well. His research is impeccable.
— David A. Welch

International History Review

With admirable clarity, Preston sketches Bundy's intellectual heritage...Preston's book is a definitive account of the train wreck into which Bundy and his allies drove the United States in Vietnam.
— Marilyn Young

Political Science Quarterly

This book is well written, neatly incorporates many primary sources, and provides cogent summaries of the positions taken by Bundy and some of his key assistants. The author also provides an excellent synopsis both of Bundy's intellectual development and of the transformation of the NSC during this period.
— John Garofano

Fredrik Logevall
A superb study of one of the key shapers of America's Vietnam policy and of the National Security Council he led. Preston is an enormously talented young historian, and his skills are on display in this powerful and instructive book.
Gary R. Hess
An impressive book that establishes more than any previous work the critical role of the reorganized National Security Council under Kennedy and Johnson. Preston skillfully demonstrates that McGeorge Bundy was key in gaining the national security adviser an influence comparable to that of the secretaries of state and defense.
Jeremi Suri
In a vivid portrait of the intelligent, influential, and insidious McGeorge Bundy, Preston demonstrates that Bundy and his counterparts failed as policymakers because they made choices that reflected their own experiences, not the conditions of the world beyond America's borders. This is a sobering and timely book that everyone interested in foreign policy should read.
Kai Bird
A powerful and graceful account of the influence of McGeorge Bundy's National Security Council in shaping U.S. foreign policy in the Vietnam era. Preston's astute examination of the 'soft hawks' who took us to war underscores the need for us to constantly revise what we know of our history. The War Council is a formidable contribution.
Daily Telegraph - Dominic Sandbrook
Buffs of the 1960s and 1970s will relish Andrew Preston's outstanding The War Council, a superbly researched reinterpretation of the origins of the Vietnam War that confirms its author's reputation as the rising star of American History.
Literary Review of Canada - David A. Welch
Preston has captured his subject well. His research is impeccable.
International History Review - Marilyn Young
With admirable clarity, Preston sketches Bundy's intellectual heritage...Preston's book is a definitive account of the train wreck into which Bundy and his allies drove the United States in Vietnam.
Political Science Quarterly - John Garofano
This book is well written, neatly incorporates many primary sources, and provides cogent summaries of the positions taken by Bundy and some of his key assistants. The author also provides an excellent synopsis both of Bundy's intellectual development and of the transformation of the NSC during this period.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674046320
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/10/2010
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 603,771
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Preston is University Lecturer in History and a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge University.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 The Mentor: Stimson's Influence on Bundy 11

2 A Foreign Office in Microcosm: Creating the National Security Adviser and Re-creating the NSC Staff 36

3 Learning to Fear the Bomb: Kennedy's Crises and the Origins of Détente 54

4 The Hawk: Rostow and the First Attempt at Americanization 75

5 The Soft Hawk: Forrestal and Nonmilitary Escalation 101

6 Bundy the Adviser: The Drift to War 129

7 Bundy the Advocate: The Rush to War 155

8 Bundy Ambivalent: Rolling Thunder, Student Unrest, and the Decision to Commit Troops 191

9 Bundy Resilient: The Bombing Pause and the Continuing Search for a Successful Policy 208

Epilogue: Legacies 236

Notes 251

Bibliography of Primary Sources 303

Index 309

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