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

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

by Andrew PrestonAndrew Preston


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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.

Bundy created the position of National Security Adviser as we know it today, with momentous consequences that continue to shape American foreign policy. Both today's presidential supremacy in foreign policy and the contemporary national security bureaucracy find their origins in Bundy's powers as the first National Security Adviser and in the ways in which he and his staff brought about American intervention in Vietnam. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were not enthusiastic about waging a difficult war in pursuit of murky aims, but the NSC's bureaucratic dexterity and persuasive influence in the Oval Office skewed the debate in favor of the conflict.

In challenging the prevailing view of Bundy as a loyal but quietly doubting warrior, Preston also revises our understanding of what it meant--and means--to be a hawk or a dove. The War Council is an illuminating and compelling story with two inseparable themes: the acquisition and consolidation of power; and how that power is exercised.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674046320
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 04/10/2010
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

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

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

What People are Saying About This

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.
Kai Bird, co-author of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

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.

Fredrik Logevall, author of Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam

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.

Gary R. Hess, author of Presidential Decisions for War

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.
Jeremi Suri, author of Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente

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