Political History

During the Vietnam War era, political considerations required leaders to promote militant resistance to any threat of communist expansion while stopping short of igniting a catastrophic war. Similarly, gaining and preserving domestic support required maintaining a tough facade while avoiding responsibility for military casualties. Finding a balanced position between these paradoxical constraints was the essence of setting policy with regard to Vietnam.

Presidents of War
By Michael Beschloss

Accomplished historian and TV news commentator Michael Beschloss investigates the historical evolution of the ability of U.S. Presidents to conduct war. Two full chapters are dedicated to Lyndon B. Johnson, who sent hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to Vietnam without a declaration of war from Congress. The President's relations with his military commanders becomes a topic of inquiry for Beschloss. Ever determined to prevent Vietnam from metamorphosing into a world war, Johnson once rejected a plan proposed by his generals to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to South Vietnam. This was during the Tet Offensive, when the Marine garrison at Khe Sanh was in danger of being overrun.

Accomplished historian and TV news commentator Michael Beschloss investigates the historical evolution of the ability of U.S. Presidents to conduct war. Two full chapters are dedicated to Lyndon B. Johnson, who sent hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to Vietnam without a declaration of war from Congress. The President's relations with his military commanders becomes a topic of inquiry for Beschloss. Ever determined to prevent Vietnam from metamorphosing into a world war, Johnson once rejected a plan proposed by his generals to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to South Vietnam. This was during the Tet Offensive, when the Marine garrison at Khe Sanh was in danger of being overrun.

The Best and the Brightest
By David Halberstam

"The Best and the Brightest" refers to the academics and intellectuals who arrived in Washington in 1961 with newly elected President John F. Kennedy. David Halberstam, who reported from Vietnam for the New York Times from 1962 through 1964, describes how these "whiz kids", through arrogance, conceit or basic self-preservation, led the country into the great human tragedy and foreign policy disaster that was the Vietnam War. The book homes in on the decision making process under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Government officials and military commanders are viewed as players in a great arena in which the game is bureaucratic politics.

"The Best and the Brightest" refers to the academics and intellectuals who arrived in Washington in 1961 with newly elected President John F. Kennedy. David Halberstam, who reported from Vietnam for the New York Times from 1962 through 1964, describes how these "whiz kids", through arrogance, conceit or basic self-preservation, led the country into the great human tragedy and foreign policy disaster that was the Vietnam War. The book homes in on the decision making process under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Government officials and military commanders are viewed as players in a great arena in which the game is bureaucratic politics.

In this thoroughly researched and carefully argued volume, H. R. McMaster blames the Vietnam debacle on the country's top political and military leaders. President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara are criticized for not heeding advice of the nation's military commanders, who are condemned for failing to publicly repudiate their political leaders. Readers may be astonished to learn how little influence the Joint Chiefs of Staff had over great decisions made during the escalation phase of the war and over the practical execution of the bombing campaign in North Vietnam and ground warfare in South Vietnam.

In this thoroughly researched and carefully argued volume, H. R. McMaster blames the Vietnam debacle on the country's top political and military leaders. President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara are criticized for not heeding advice of the nation's military commanders, who are condemned for failing to publicly repudiate their political leaders. Readers may be astonished to learn how little influence the Joint Chiefs of Staff had over great decisions made during the escalation phase of the war and over the practical execution of the bombing campaign in North Vietnam and ground warfare in South Vietnam.

Robert S. McNamara was Secretary of Defense from John F. Kennedy's inauguration through most of the elected term of his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. In this capacity, he was a primary architect of the Vietnam War. "In Retrospect" was published in 1995, 27 years after McNamara departed the office of Secretary of Defense, following his voicing of the opinion that U.S. policy in Vietnam had failed. In his memoir, McNamara attempts to explain the assumptions and errors in thinking that led to the debacle. After avoiding dealing with these issues for so long, why did he change his mind? McNamara explains that he had grown sick witnessing the cynical attitude towards America's leading officials and institutions that had developed as a result of Vietnam, and wanted to prove that honest mistakes were made.

Robert S. McNamara was Secretary of Defense from John F. Kennedy's inauguration through most of the elected term of his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. In this capacity, he was a primary architect of the Vietnam War. "In Retrospect" was published in 1995, 27 years after McNamara departed the office of Secretary of Defense, following his voicing of the opinion that U.S. policy in Vietnam had failed. In his memoir, McNamara attempts to explain the assumptions and errors in thinking that led to the debacle. After avoiding dealing with these issues for so long, why did he change his mind? McNamara explains that he had grown sick witnessing the cynical attitude towards America's leading officials and institutions that had developed as a result of Vietnam, and wanted to prove that honest mistakes were made.

Brian VanDeMark is eminently qualified to write about the Vietnam War, having taught the subject at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis for more than 25 years. He helped research Clark Clifford's memoir and coauthored In Retrospect with Robert McNamara. Road to Disaster focuses squarely on the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, relating the decision-making process during the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis to judgments made regarding Vietnam. VanDeMark demonstrates how these otherwise brilliant men failed to understand and act on facts before them and took actions detrimental to themselves and to the United States.

Brian VanDeMark is eminently qualified to write about the Vietnam War, having taught the subject at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis for more than 25 years. He helped research Clark Clifford's memoir and coauthored In Retrospect with Robert McNamara. Road to Disaster focuses squarely on the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, relating the decision-making process during the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis to judgments made regarding Vietnam. VanDeMark demonstrates how these otherwise brilliant men failed to understand and act on facts before them and took actions detrimental to themselves and to the United States.

Triumph Forsaken challenges "orthodox" interpretations of the earliest stages of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, primarily concerning the fitness for leadership of South Vietnam's first President, Ngo Dinh Diem, the ambitions of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, and the importance to the surrounding region of U.S. support for the regime in Saigon. Based on thorough research using primary sources, Moyar challenges the notion that Ho Chi Minh was a communist only insofar as that would serve a nationalist agenda. With an appreciation for the political and cultural realities of Vietnam, Moyar sees Ngo Dinh Diem as an effective leader and the loss of U.S. support for his "authoritarian" style as a mistake with tragic consequences.

Triumph Forsaken challenges "orthodox" interpretations of the earliest stages of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, primarily concerning the fitness for leadership of South Vietnam's first President, Ngo Dinh Diem, the ambitions of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, and the importance to the surrounding region of U.S. support for the regime in Saigon. Based on thorough research using primary sources, Moyar challenges the notion that Ho Chi Minh was a communist only insofar as that would serve a nationalist agenda. With an appreciation for the political and cultural realities of Vietnam, Moyar sees Ngo Dinh Diem as an effective leader and the loss of U.S. support for his "authoritarian" style as a mistake with tragic consequences.