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

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

by H. R. McMaster


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060929084
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/08/1998
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 73,647
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

H. R. McMaster is National Security Adviser and a 1984 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and taught numerous command and staff positions in armored and cavalry units. He has served as Director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, and Deputy Commanding General, Futures, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, in addition to previous postings as Commanding General, Ft. Benning Maneuver Center of Excellence, and Director of the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Shafafiyat at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. During the Gulf War, he commanded Eagle Troop, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, in combat against Iraq’s Republican Guard.

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Chapter One

The New Frontiersmen and the Old Guard October 1962

"Allowing for reasonable exceptions and a wide latitude of variation, the typical New Frontiersman is about 46 years old, highly energetic, distinctly articulate and refreshingly idealistic. In short, he has much in common with the man the American people have chosen as their President."
—M. B. Schnapper, 19611

The disaster of the Vietnam War would dominate America's memory of a decade that began with great promise. In the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Dwight Eisenhower's vice president, Richard Nixon. Despite a narrow margin of victory, the new president exuded confidence. His clarion call, "Let us begin anew," evoked the prospect of a new era of prosperity and opportunity.Although he was only five years younger than Nixon, Kennedy at forty-three seemed youthful and vigorous compared to his opponent and the "old timers" of Eisenhower's administration. A witty, attractive man, Kennedy was a World War II hero and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who had gained considerable political experience as a congressman and senator. His rhetoric exhorted America's youth to "pay any price" and "bear any burden" to extend the virtues of their country to the rest of the world.The idealism that Kennedy seemed to personify would be lost in a place that, in 1960, was of little interest or significance to Americans.

A campaign issue that Kennedy had taken up with some vigor was that of the need for reform in national defense strategy and the management of the Department of Defense. Truman administration Defense Secretary Robert Lovettadvised Kennedy that reform in the Pentagon would be "painful" but was "long overdue." He told him that his defense secretary should be "an analytical statistician who can . . . tear out the overlap, the empire building."Lovett urged the president-elect to consider the forty-four-year-old president of the Ford Motor Company, Robert Strange McNamara, for the job.

When World War II began, Robert McNamara was serving on the business faculty at Harvard University, teaching the application of statistical analysis to management problems. Initially disqualified from military service because of his inability to pass an eye examination, he became a consultant to the War Department to develop statistical controls within the Army Air Corps supply system. After spending the first year of the war teaching at the Army Air Forces Statistical Control Officers School, McNamara requested an assignment to the Eighth Air Force in England. McNamara arrived in England in February 1943 and, after three weeks, sought a commission as a captain. The professor-turned-military-officer became part of a traveling statistical control group that analyzed maintenance, logistics, and operational problems in England, India, China, and the Pacific. McNamara often met resistance from military officers who discounted his new methods. A lieutenant colonel in 1945, he left the Army an ardent believer in the need for statistical management and control over military organizations.

After World War II, McNamara, with several of his Army Air Corps statistician colleagues, joined Ford. They were known collectively as the Whiz Kids, a term later associated with the young analysts McNamara brought with him to the Pentagon. At Ford, McNamara preferred the academic milieu of Ann Arbor to the corporate culture of suburban Detroit. His drive, ambition, and analytical talents led to his appointment, in November 1960, as the first company president who was not a member of the Ford family. One month later R. Sargent Shriver, John F. Kennedy's brother-in-law, visited McNamara on behalf of the president-elect. Although he intended to remain at Ford, McNamara agreed to fly to meet Kennedy.

Among the qualities that Kennedy admired was self-assurance. During his second meeting with Kennedy, McNamara surprised the president-elect and his brother Robert with his assertiveness. He handed Jack Kennedy a contract stipulating that he be given free rein over appointments in the Department of Defense and not be expected to engage in purely social events. Kennedy read the document and passed it, unsigned, to his brother. McNamara seemed the man for the job. The Kennedy brothers swept McNamara out the front door of the brick Georgetown house and introduced the secretary of defense-designate to the bevy of reporters waiting outside in the freezing cold.

Kennedy worried most over the appointment of a secretary of state. Reluctant to alienate any of his key Democratic constituencies, he settled on everyone's second choice, Dean Rusk. Rusk, a former Rhodes scholar from Georgia, was a professor of government and dean of faculty at Mills College in California, when, in 1940, he was ordered into active military service as an Army captain. He served initially in Washington as an intelligence analyst. With the advent of American involvement in World War II, Rusk left the capital for the headquarters of the China, Burma, and India theater of operations. The quality of the cables that the young staff officer sent to the War Department caught the eye of Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. General Marshall summoned Rusk to Washington, where he joined Col. George A. Lincoln's Strategy and Policy Group to help develop long-range politico-military contingency plans. In 1946 Rusk joined the State Department and, in 1950, became Secretary of State Dean Acheson's assistant for Far Eastern affairs. In 1952 he left the State Department to head the Rockefeller Foundation. During his years of government service, Rusk built a solid reputation for loyalty and trustworthiness within the Democratic establishment. The unprepossessing, introspective Rusk provided a conspicuous contrast to the confident, assertive McNamara. Lovett and Acheson had recommended Rusk enthusiastically, and, after a brief interview, Kennedy decided to appoint him.

Kennedy had considered McGeorge Bundy for secretary of state, but concluded that he was too young. In 1953, Bundy, at thirty-four, was appointed dean of Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. His formative years were spent in the best schools of the Northeast—Groton, Yale, Harvard—and in association with some of the most influential people in the twentieth-century United States. He assisted Henry Stimson (William Howard Taft's secretary of war, Herbert Hoover's secretary of state, and Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of war) in the preparation of his memoirs. He also helped Dean Acheson prepare a collection of his personal papers for publication. Bundy was known for an abruptness and imperious demeanor with those he considered his intellectual inferiors, but he could also be effusive and engaging in a social setting. Kennedy chose him as special assistant for national security affairs (usually called national security adviser).

Kennedy placed a premium on academic qualifications and superior intellect. McNamara, Rusk, and Bundy all shared distinguished academic backgrounds. Moreover Kennedy wanted men who shared his broad interests and could engage in wide-ranging, informal discussions. Perhaps the most important determining factor of each man's relative influence would be his ability to establish a close personal rapport with the president. Rusk, who preferred established procedures and protocol, had difficulty adjusting to the president's freewheeling style. Socially he remained distant from the president and was the only senior official Kennedy did not address by his first name. McNamara and Bundy would prove more adept at securing the president's confidence and affection.

The president's personal style influenced the way he structured the White House staff to handle national security decision making. Having no experience as an executive, Kennedy was unaccustomed to operating at the head of a large staff organization. He regarded Eisenhower's National Security Council (NSC) structure as cumbersome and unnecessary. Immediately after taking office, he eliminated the substructure of the NSC by abolishing its two major committees: the Planning Board and the Operations Coordinating Board (OCB). Kennedy resolved not to use the NSC except for the pro forma consultation required by the National Security Act of 1947. In place of the formal Eisenhower system, Kennedy relied on an ad hoc, collegial style of decision making in national security and foreign affairs. He formed task forces to analyze particular problems and met irregularly with an "inner club" of his most trusted advisers to discuss problems informally and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of potential courses of action.

What People are Saying About This

Paul Fussell

Paul Fussell, author of The Great War and Modern Memory
A stunning book: eloquent and highly effective. The word noble would not be going too far.

Peter Arnett

A book to boggle your mind with new revelations of ineptness, duplicity, and arrogance amongst the senior-most officials of the United States....McMaster pastes all the puzzle pieces together to reveal a plot Shakespearean in its proportions ...McMaster's scholarship and presentation is exemplary in Dereliction of Duty...The author's arguments are coherent and convincing and important to the historical record.

Ronald Spector

What gives Dereliction of Duty its special value is...McMaster's comprehensive, balanced and relentless exploration of the specific role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff...a devastating indictment of Johnson and his principal civilian and military advisers.

Donald Kagan

An outstanding example of historical research, interpretation, scholarship, and fair—minded analysis.
—(Donald Kagan, Bass Professor of History, Classics and Western Civilization, Yale University, and author of On the Origins of War)

Stanley Karnow

Carefully researched and vividly narrated, H.R. McMaster's book adds a new and disturbing dimension to an understanding of the decisions that propelled us into the Vietnam War. It should be read by anyone interested in the origins of one of the great tragedies in American history.
—(Stanley Karnow, Pulitzer Prize—winning author of Vietnam: A History)

Harold G. Moore

Superbly researched, play—by—play, riveting inside story of the genesis of the American War in Vietnam. Assorted firepower explodes on every page.
—(Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore, U.S. Army (Retired), coauthor of the New York Times best seller We Were Soldiers Once…And Young)


Before the live chat, H. R. McMaster agreed to answer some of our questions:

Q:  Tell us about attending the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. How well do your studies and army obligations mix? (Major McMaster was still attending the college at the time of this interview.)

A:  The Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth is a one-year course that officers attend usually during their 11th to 13th year in service. I found that the researching and writing that I have done on the Vietnam War is relevant to much of what we study and discuss here, particularly in the areas of policy, strategy, and civil-military relations.

Q:  Who do you consider the most dynamic figure in the history of the American Military?

A:  Tough question. Of course I admire many of the more prominent figures in American Military history: George Washington, Anthony Wayne, Winfield Scott, U.S. Grant, Stonewall Jackson, George Marshall, and George Patton. I also have deep respect for the character and accomplishments of many others who have not attracted as much attention from historians and scholars, particularly Ernest Harmon and P. Wood who commanded armored divisions in W.W.II, Creighton Adams who demonstrated both physical and moral courage through three wars, and Matthew Ridgway, who commanded an airborne division in W.W.II, the Eighth Army and Far Eastern command in the Korean War, and finished his career as Chief of Staff of the Army during the Eisenhower Administration. Marshall was the epitome of military professionalism and Ridgway is truly an unsung hero in the annals of American history. Ridgway was truly a dynamic leader and the most dramatic example of his character and talents came in Korea at the end of 1950 when he rebuilt the fighting spirit of the American combat units after Chinese intervention in the war. Ridgway was always honest, candid, and forthright. In 1954 he opposed American intervention in Vietnam during the communist siege of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu and predicted with uncanny accuracy the long term costs and consequences of fighting a land war in Southeast Asia; costs and consequences that would only become apparent to all Americans two decades later.

Q:  Where would you go for an inexpensive vacation while on leave?

A:  When visiting the Trotter family (wife Katie's family) we like to take our three daughters to the beach or Disneyland or to drive to San Diego to visit Sea World. When on the East Coast, we often visit my aunt's home in Ocean City, New Jersey, or a small cottage that my mom has near Quakerstown, Pennsylvania.

Q:  What is your favorite outdoor activity? How often do you engage in this activity, and where do you go to do it?

A:  Anyone who has small children knows that most of your outdoor activity time is dictated by the activities in which your children are involved. Although I used to play rugby, I enjoy coaching my daughters' Little League soccer teams. I do not know much about the sport, but because I am right now coaching three- and four-year-olds, the principal challenge is to keep them interested and get them to kick the ball in the right direction. I enjoy running and playing softball as well.

Q:  The most satisfying moment that you can recall during your research for Dereliction of Duty?

A:  The entire five years of researching and writing was fascinating and exciting. I knew from the outset that I was onto a vitally important story, a story that I simply had to share with the American people. Among the most memorable moments was gaining access to the Marine Corps Commandant's papers at the Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, D.C. It is a particularly rich collection and I am indebted to the Center and General Wallace Greene for allowing me to work there. In general, one draws satisfaction from finding evidence that continues to confirm and support earlier discoveries. The recently-released tapes of telephone conversations at the LBJ Library fall into that category.

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Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dereliction of Duty is a truly outstanding work. Thoroughly researched and documented. As a former infantry officer who served from 1966 to 1969 (and still a hawk)I believe Johnson and McNamara should have gone to prison for their actions, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff court martialed. They were not fit to serve. Sadly, the same poor leadership exists today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
So shocking you will wonder how the Vietnam war ever really started. You will then see how secretly it was planned by LBJ, McNamara, and the rest of the incompetants, including the cowardly Joint Chiefs of Staff who had no backbone to stand up and fight against what was innately wrong from the start. This is the sixth book I have read on Vietnam and what a shocker....Do not take for truth what any White House politician says..ALWAYS question their motivations for what they do and say, and then VOTE your conscience when the time comes, and hopefully our world will never experience another LBJ or McNamara again.
MJT More than 1 year ago
The More Things Change... I think H.R. McMaster's book is very well researched, informative and a real eye opener! I say eye opener because I believe he has done a very good job at revealing how doomed our intervention in Vietnam was because President Johnson's priority clearly focused on his "domestic" program and McNamara seeking to stifle any military advice regarding Vietnam that would derail that effort. Unfortunately, the military leaders of the time, specifically, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chose to remain silent and "go along, to get along." President Johnson literally lied to the Congress and the American people about Vietnam, McNamara knew this and helped cover the truth and the military "Chiefs" kept quiet...the real victims were those who faithfully served in Vietnam and the over 58,000 who died for a mis-guided effort from the very Top! As I read this book, I couldn't help but think of the old say' in, "the more things change, the more they stay the same" as I contrast the lies and deceit of the bureaucrats of the Johnson-era with the bogus activities occurring today... in 2018! After all, we have a phoney special consul (Robert Mueller) seeking to link our current President, Donald Trump, to "Russian Collusion,” a highly politicized FBI spending taxpayer money undermining our own President and a deeply divided country...this book reminds me that the lies and deceit of politics which existed during the Johnson years and Vietnam, still are sadly very much a part of our political system today!! However, don't let the negativity I mention deter you from reading this book because it is a perspective all American's should be exposed to!!!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a Vietnam vet, I should have read this book long before now. It confirmed what I suspected during my time in country and later in the military. The book explains why the first gulf war was conducted in the manner it was, and serves as a warning to us concerning todays contingency operations. If american lives are involved, fight to win and win quickly.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
There were important reasons McNamara and company ignored the Joint Chiefs... The Air force was bombing the hell out of north vietam and the ho chi minh trail to no avail. This went on for 3 years. The Joint Chiefs refused to believe the common sense that the U.S. was not going to defeat an extremely dedicated guerrila enemy (in their homeland) in a war of attrition. Mcnamara knew this and ultimately got fired for being a pessimist. Johnson and McNamara were trying to appease the military command in vietnam the best they could while basically protecting the southern government while trying to reach a diplomatic solution with the stubborn norhern government. Easier said than done... The demands by the joint chiefs could have easily expanded the war further into Indochina involving both Communist China and the U.S.S.R. Anyone that understands the Vietnam war should understand that on a international level it was political conflict more than a military one, therefore it needed a political solution. Don't Believe me... just look at Iraq. How are we gonna win that war militarily??... Maybe the joint chiefs will know.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Vietnam Veteran, of the many books written on the subject, there have been only a handfull that MUST be read to understand Vietnam. This book is one of them. LBJ and his gang should have ended up in the dock at the Hague being tried for war crimes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Extremely academic and logical prosecution of those who are to be held responsible for the failure of the Vietnam War. Well researched and thoroughly laid out, the book's premise must be considered by any future author or historian covering virtually any aspect of the Vietnam War.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a must read for anyone interested in LBJ, his terms in office, McNamara and our nation's manipulation into a situation which could have been avoided in Vietnam. Hindsight is 20/20 but it looks like we still haven't learned.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This stellar work almost brings one to tears of frustration as they discover the apathy and cowardice with which LBJ, his advisors, and to a lesser extent the Joint Chiefs, approached the conflict in Vietnam. The callousness Johnson and McNamara displayed as they sent American troops to die in a war they had no intention of prosecuting to the fullest made me sick with rage. Furthermore, the collective refusal of the Joint Chiefs to put intraservice rivalries aside and condemn a strategy which they knew could only lead to failure was a betrayal of the soliders under their command. 'Dereliction of Duty' shows why politicians should be prevented from meddling in military strategy, and reminds us that we must take great care with foreign policy decisions that could get American boys killed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Save your money. This book is not well written and has a right wing agenda.