"The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C." —H. R. McMaster (from the Conclusion)
Dereliction Of Duty is a stunning analysis of how and why the United States became involved in an all-out and disastrous war in Southeast Asia. Fully and convincingly researched, based on transcripts and personal accounts of crucial meetings, confrontations and decisions, it is the only book that fully re-creates what happened and why. McMaster pinpoints the policies and decisions that got the United States into the morass and reveals who made these decisions and the motives behind them, disproving the published theories of other historians and excuses of the participants.
A page-turning narrative, Dereliction Of Duty focuses on a fascinating cast of characters: President Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor, McGeorge Bundy and other top aides who deliberately deceived the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. Congress and the American public.
McMaster’s only book, Dereliction of Duty is an explosive and authoritative new look at the controversy concerning the United States involvement in Vietnam.
Challenging the passive-voice argument that the U.S. was trapped by ideology or circumstance in its war in Vietnam, McMaster, a serving officer and Gulf War combat veteran, casts a harsh but penetrating light on a crucial aspect of that conflict. He presents the war as a consequence of specific decisions made by specific men. Lyndon Johnson's fixation on short-term domestic political goals, he says, limited his capacity to deal with a complex, remote international problem. Johnson compounded this shortcoming by insisting on consensus among his advisors--particularly within the military he distrusted. Robert McNamara, according to McMaster, believed he could satisfy the president's demands with a strategy of "graduated pressure" that offered minimal risk, cost and visibility. Meanwhile, despite fundamental reservations with McNamara's strategy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed to articulate objections and to develop alternatives, thus abdicating their professional and civic responsibilities. Instead, loyal to their particular services, committed to the principle of civilian control and seeking to make the best of a bad situation, the Joint Chiefs, McMaster says, acquiesced in a pattern of subterfuge and deception that shaped the war and its outcome before it even began. McMaster's seminal analysis demonstrates in particular that an officer's moral courage is as important as his willingness to face physical risk. The generals and admirals who kept silent as America descended into the Vietnam quagmire had many times been in harm's way. Yet when subjected to a final test, they were unable and unwilling to make the choice demanded of service-academy cadets: the harder right over the easier wrong, whatever the personal cost.