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.