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

In This Review

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

By H. R. McMaster
HarperCollins, 1997
464 pp. $27.50
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This angry book, by a former instructor at West Point, focuses on the escalation of the war in Vietnam from 1963 to 1965 and manages to indict just about everybody who was involved with that "bitch of a war." Lyndon Johnson's preoccupation with domestic concerns, Robert McNamara's arrogance and contempt for military experience, and the unwillingness of the "five silent men" on the Joint Chiefs of Staff to make clear to Congress and the American people the force levels that would be needed in Vietnam form the principal elements in the author's indictment. Though he insists that the deception of Congress and the public was at the root of the disaster, it seems likely that self-deception played a much greater role than he recognizes. "If only they had known the truth" is a more convincing lament than "if only they had told the truth."