In This Review

Presidential Decisions for War: Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf
Presidential Decisions for War: Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf
By Gary R. Hess
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, 262 pp
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All three of these war-making episodes have a large literature. Hess has now brought them together, relying on the original research of other scholars, summarizing the events with skill, and appraising each president's performance with common questions about motive, reasoning, management, regard for constitutional processes, and public leadership. The book's strength is that Hess has done this job well and compactly. His appraisals are thoughtful, not showy. Throughout he reveals the shadow of "Munich" -- the sense of regional aggression presenting tests of global credibility. Among Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and George H.W. Bush, Hess gives Bush the highest marks in setting deliberate goals and managing the government to attain them. Some of the most interesting analysis concerns Truman: Hess is too hard on the president's decision to let U.S. troops cross the 38th parallel in September 1950, but he is otherwise on target in showing why Truman so thoroughly, perhaps deservedly, lost the support of the American people.