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Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam Paperback – September 1, 2009
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That is not a happy conclusion to take away from this book, but it is an inescapable one. There are few heroes in this book. John F. Kennedy may have been one (his assassination precluded any final judgments). George Ball was consistently steadfast in his opposition to the war in Vietnam. There were others, including Mike Mansfield. But otherwise the senior political leadership in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations was woefully short of the leadership standards one would expect from one of the world's leading powers. And in this narrative the biggest knucklehead of all was McGeorge Bundy, the Harvard intellectual whom JFK chose as his national security advisor, and who remained as the principal national security adviser to President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 as LBJ "Americanized" the war in Vietnam that he inherited from JFK.
That's a harsh judgment and an even sadder comment. Especially since the author says Bundy made "regular" visits in his final years to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, no doubt contemplating the families who were mourning their lost ones. Those must have been poignant moments for the Harvard Brahmin, because one has to assume that Bundy knew he engineered one of America's greatest foreign policy fiascos - costing the lives of more than 58,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. So he apparently had genuine regret over his role in that war, and at the least we have to respect him for that.Read more ›
This book fails as both a history of the US escalation in the Vietnam war and as a history of Bundy's role in those events. It fails in the latter because it is an incredibly shallow account. It fails at the former because its focus on Bundy causes a lot to be left out. The author collaborated with Bundy on an unfinished account of this period and the reader would expect that to have produced innumerable insight. Wrong. The vast majority of this book is what one would expect of a mediocre historian with limited access to Bundy's papers and then having an interview with Bundy lasting an hour or two.
There are reviews such as Richard C. Holbrooke's in the NY Times "Book Review" that find the book interesting for Bundy's "tortured" search for self-understanding ("Bundy emerges as the most interesting figure in the Vietnam tragedy -- less for his unfortunate part in prosecuting the war than for his agonized search 30 years later to understand himself."), but then characterize that search as unsuccessful. I would recommend the Holbrooke review as giving a better sense of Bundy than this book.
There are bizarre gaps and non-sequiturs. For example, the "Weekend Cable" that initiated the effort to remove Diem was send while Bundy and other senior advisers were out-of-town for the weekend.Read more ›
Author Gordon Goldstein has cobbled together a book not by Bundy but about him, as he indicates, and it is revealing. "Lessons in Disaster" is a two-part narrative, the first commenting on the Kennedy years and the latter, Lyndon Johnson. The second part is far more intriguing. JFK had shied away from using ground troops or air strikes but within a year or so after his assassination, things had changed dramatically for the worse. Bundy, in arguing for more military involvement in Vietnam, helped to create the quagmire. Yet, in reading Goldstein's book I was struck by how minor a player McGeorge Bundy seemed to be in all of this. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was certainly more in the forceful forefront of policy decisions and one gets the impression that this Harvard dean....Bundy....was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His inadequacies were only exacerbated by his own intimidation by President Johnson. He should never have been in the White House and he left too late. A nice continuing career in academia would have suited him better.
Goldstein, without saying so, gives us a reminder that although Korea should have been a model for future military involvement, Iraq has been the third disaster in modern times.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I love to read and have a whole range of topics I am interested in. About a year ago I donated an entire library of books to an Indian reservation and to a person who restocks... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Very interesting, made me blue color working class veteran of the Viet Nam era see just how the other side lives.Published 6 months ago by Bill
I am too angry to finish reading the book. I am angry about the intellectual elitism of the Harvard/Yale/East Coast graduates who believe that they know what is "best" for... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Cline
Well written book. Made me feel like I was in the Oval office.
I heard the Obama administration read this book in 08. Read more
A great overview of the decision process of two presidents by an insider. A quick read with enough detail to bring the era back into focus.Published 7 months ago by David Gillooly
Had Kennedy lived, we would have avoided the Vietnam war. This is a truly life and death book to read and understand in order to avoid yet more foolish mistakes in the middle east.Published 7 months ago by D. John Nickel