home | history

Deriliction of Duty
"... the lies that led to Vietnam"

by H.R. McMaster, HarperCollins Publishers

This book was first published in 1997, and it received attention again in 2017 after the author became President Trump's National Security Advisor.

A vet describes the book:

Outstanding book. I served in Vietnam and thought I knew a lot about the politics of the war. After reading this book I now have a much better understanding. No blood and guts or description of the battles. Just the politics.

McMaster writes:

The Americanization of the Vietnam War between 1963 and 1965 was the product of an unusual interaction of personalities and circumstances. The escalation of the U.S. military intervention grew out of a complicated chain of events and a complex web of decisions that slowly transformed the conflict in Vietnam into an American war.

McMaster is not explicit in his opinion whether the Johnson administration should have employed more firepower for the sake of victory or instead not fought at all. He describes France's President deGaulle calling for the neutralization of Indochina (including Vietnam) after August 1963 and warning that the US was "repeating the mistake that the French had earlier."

McMaster describes the Johnson administration misleading the public for the sake of the presidential election in 1964. (He also describes Johnson trying to advance himself politically by lying about his World War II combat service.) Johnson was telling Americans and the Saigon Regime that Asian boys were going to fight the war in Vietnam, not American boys. McMaster describes the conflicting opinion among people around President Johnson and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including airforce commander Curtis LeMay, who was arguing for a vigorous application of US firepower by his bombers, to prevent the need to put regular troops on the ground in Vietnam.

One reader who commented on Amazon.com thought that the dereliction of duty that McMaster was describing was the Johnson administration's failure to intensify the war. He wrote that "the failure of the Vietnam War and the dead of 50,000 U.S. soldiers should be placed only on LBJ and McNamara." He added:

The war was lost in Washington before it even began in Vietnam. LBJ shared the same distrust and despise of the military with his closest adviser, Robert S. McNamara. How can a military campaign be won if a leader does not trust his military experts? How can a war be won if a president does not listen to the recommendations of his military experts and instead follow the strategy set by his civilian advisers who have little or no military experience?

Reading the details supplied by McMaster one might get the impression that the United States was running the regime in Saigon rather than merely helping an ally. The Saigon regime was not popular among the Vietnamese. It was made up largely of people who had supported the French rulers and its colonialist military — and people who adhered to the same faith as the French, namely Roman Catholicism. I don't wish to bad-mouth the French or Catholicism. My point is that instead of liberating people as we did successfully during World War II, we failed in Vietnam trying to impose our will on a nationality — with good intensions, of course. US strategists (Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk and others) were looking beyond the realities of Vietnam to the grandiose issue of communists conquering the world (the "domino theory." We know how that turned out — despite the successes of Vietnamese communists against the French and against the Johnson, Nixon and Ford administrations.

How many of us accept the fact that Vietnam — the whole country led by the Viet Minh (communists) — declared its independence from the French in 1945, with enthusiastic support from good portion of its population. And the French promised the Viet Minh at Geneva that they would support elections to unite the southern and northern halves of the country and withdraw from the southern half of the country by 1956. The Diem regim in Saigon (backed by the U.S.) didn't allow those elections. The Viet Minh (in the northern half of the country had more of a right in South supporting people who supported it than did the Americans in the South helping to kill those people. Johnson's big lie was that the war was simply of matter the North's aggression against the South. I'm glad we didn't apply more fire power and poison on the Vietnamese than we did and glad the war didn't expand beyond what it did during the Nixon administration. After reading McMaster's book I can't say with any degree of certainty that he would agree me.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.