“THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST,” BY DAVID HALBERSTAM

Hands down, The best book I have ever read about the policies that got us deeper and deeper involved in Vietnam! Throughout, it brought me to tears when I thought of the ignorance, lies, incompetence, dismissal of facts, and egos in the American government and military that cost the lives of fifty-six thousand American soldiers and quite possibly a million or more lives of civilians living in Vietnam.

In 1961 the new administration of President Kennedy was supposed to represent a new and glorious period in America. The handsome and young president, the Harvard and Yale educated eastern elite that made up his staff and who surrounded him. All brilliant, the best and brightest, who in reality knew very little about running a government as big as the US government and controlling the military. In fact, instead of shedding and putting to rest the ugly period of McCarthyism and his hunt for Communists, they embraced it. They were dead set on eradicating Communism in any country where such ugly principles were taking hold. 

First, there was Cuba and the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and eventually the sending of thirty-five hundred advisors to Vietnam to help the faltering government of South Vietnam against the communist insurgents in their own country, and the North Vietnamese sponsors of the insurgence and the crossing of their troops into the south. The Kennedy administration didn’t learn anything from the Korean War, and the ugly lessons of the French in trying to hold on to Vietnam for over eight years. By the time President Kennedy had second doubts about Vietnam, he was assassinated. In one word, the author of this amazing book, sums up President Kennedy and his administration as “timid.” They did not want to be seen as soft on Communist, how very sad.

In comes President Johnson, and the complete takeover by the military in Vietnam, under the guidance of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, whose chief fame up to this point was his connection to the Kennedys and one week as President of the Ford Motor Company. He was a numbers man, and knew nothing about running a war, nor did he bother to understand the culture of the Vietnamese people and the ineptitude of the South Vietnamese government. Along with him and a presidential staff that was afraid to tell President Johnson any news about the war that would upset him, like the countless reports and studies by the intelligence departments and the CIA about the war in Vietnam being a lost cause, and that we should not bomb or send any ground troops.

Instead, they showed the President the military assessments of fighting a war in Vietnam and how we could easily push back the communists. Johnson, unwilling to go down as a President who lost a war, simply went along with all the suggestions of General Westmoreland and the military brass and in a few years we had over 560 thousand troops in Vietnam, and bombed the country and the Communists into so called oblivion, but like the Phoenix in Greek mythology they always seem to rise back up and continue to fight.

The Johnson administration was quite adept at lying, rewriting reports by the intelligence departments that told a different story, and blaming the negative reports about the war on false reporting by the press. The Pentagon papers would reveal the level of corruption, misinformation, and the lack of understanding on the part of the military about the people of Vietnam and their culture.

President Johnson, his staff and advisors, were knowingly complicit in the deaths of countless people, more concerned about their egos and reputation than about the country and citizens they swore to protect… Disregarding the morality that supposedly made America so great. If there is a hell, they all deserve a special place next to Lucifer.

And finally, there is President Nixon and Kissinger and, need I say more. Mr. Halberstam only deals with their immorality and evilness in the last few pages of the book that was published in 1972. The author deals mainly with the sixties and the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Like I said earlier, by far the best book on the policies involving Vietnam that I have ever read. It is a very long and detailed analysis of the war, and it it pulls at the strings of one’s heart when you think of the tragic consequences of a war we should never have been involved in.

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4 thoughts on ““THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST,” BY DAVID HALBERSTAM

  1. Great review, Joe! I’ll move it up on my TBR list. As a naive young man I volunteered to go there, but the Army, in its wisdom, sent me to Germany and Louisiana. 🥴 It wasn’t until 1998 when I learned the whole truth, which you accurately reported from the book. At that point I gained something more substantial against LBJ than his barbaric practice of lifting his beagles by the ears (the bastard). A fantastic course at the National War College took my political virginity. I’m glad you reviewed this book. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dan: I’m very glad that the army send you to Germany and Louisiana. This was one of the most difficult books for me to get through. I don’t know how many times I simply had to stop reading this book because what I was reading got me so sick. I was constantly having flashbacks to my younger days when a number of my older friends went to Vietnam, some who never returned, and the ones that did, never seemed the same. To think how many lives were lost, how many of our soldiers were crippled and disabled for life, and all the time LBJ and his administration dismissing reports that there was very little chance we could win the war… Dismissing reports that we did not understand the culture of the people; while advisors and aides in his administration did not bother to read the history of the country… Not wanting to upset the President. A lack of morality and empathy that is truly disturbing. I strongly recommend this book, but it is not the book you want to read if you are feeling down, and since you already know the history behind the war and served in the military it might bring back some unpleasant memories; even though thankfully you never made it to Vietnam. Thanks, Joe.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the warning, Joe. But books like this one need to be written. There are too many people in our society who need a reality check. How does it go? ‘Life’s a bitch, and then you die.’ Can’t wait to read it!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. In all honesty Dan, I did not expect anything different from you. From reading your posts, it is quite apparent that you are a person of great integrity with high moral standards, and from reading that beautiful book a man of great love and caring. It’s great to have you as a friend. Joe

    Like

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