- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 1, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805090878
- ISBN-13: 978-0805090871
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 67 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #592,364 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam Paperback – September 1, 2009
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As national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy was the prototypical best and brightest Vietnam War policymaker in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Bundy was, according to foreign policy scholar Goldstein, an out-and-out war hawk who again and again demonstrated a willingness, if not an eagerness, to deploy military means in Vietnam. Goldstein worked with Bundy in the year before his death, in 1996, on an uncompleted memoir and retrospective analysis of America's path to war. While drawing on that work in this warts-and-all examination of Bundy's advisory role, this book is something different, containing Goldstein's own conclusions. He painstakingly recounts his subject's role as national security adviser and ponders the complexities of the elusive inner Bundy: for example, the buoyant good humor in the 1960s that seemed unbowed by the weight of difficult strategic decisions. Among the surprising revelations: late in life Bundy came to regret his hawkish ways, although he maintained to the end that the presidents, not their advisers, were primarily responsible for the outcome of the war. Vietnam, he said, was overall, a war we should not have fought. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
An important addition to the literature of the Vietnam War, this analysis examines the man who was the president’s national security advisor from 1961 to 1966. For three decades afterward, Goldstein relates, McGeorge Bundy declined to write a memoir about his role in the decisions that plunged America into that war, but he changed his mind when Robert McNamara published his mea culpa In Retrospect (1995). Unfortunately, Bundy died before the project made much progress; posthumously, Goldstein pulled together a manuscript, but, he reports, Bundy’s widow quashed its publication and decreed its deposition in the archives of the JFK library. Therefore, this work does not derive from Bundy’s memoir; it is Goldstein’s negatively critical consideration of Bundy’s role on Vietnam. Flavored with anecdotes of Goldstein’s interactions with Bundy as his research assistant, the narrative conveys Bundy’s hawkish recommendations to JFK and LBJ, expresses Goldstein’s belief that the former would not have escalated the war as Johnson did, and hints that Bundy before his death might have been preparing a recantation on Vietnam. A vital volume for Vietnam War collections. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Bundy appears, as Robert McNamara has for some time now, as one of the smartest men in the nation--a nation that was, at that time, the most powerful one the world had ever seen. But Bundy's hubris, and the nation's hubris, left them unable to see the limits of American power, and of their own intelligence, hence Vietnam.
Other reviewers have covered much ground and I will not be repetitive, so let me put a new slant on why you must read Gordon Goldstein's seminal work.
There is probably very little disagreement that over the last three generations, President Kennedy's (JFK) cabinet and White House officers were probably collectively the most gifted group charged with the responsibility for running a government. This provides the origin of the phrase, the best and the brightest, a term coined by David Halberstam in his award winning book on the Kennedy government.
This would not be true if we add in FDR's government, because during the Great Depression, the best and the brightest ran to work for government from fear of starvation in the private sector. Men like Abe Fortas, Adolph Berle, and Harry Hopkins whose minds were without equal were part of government then, and chose to remain in government for years.
The government formed by JFK was principally composed of members of the Eastern Establishment, many of whom were educated at Harvard. They were younger than most of their counterparts in earlier administrations and were also full of hubris that they could do anything. Life would teach them that relative youth, extraordinary brainpower, and arrogance do not make for world class decision making.
The author takes you through the entire scope of the Viet Nam war from the French reentering Indochina (later to be renamed Viet Nam) after the Japanese defeat through the end of our own involvement. If you lived through America's experience in Viet Nam in the 1960's and 70's, than you will realize very quickly that this is a painful book to read. The mistakes that were made that costs so many thousands of lives by our leaders who were very arrogant inflicts torture on the reader. Yet, we have to read; we have to understand, and we are compelled to finish the book because we must make it better for the next generation. (See eerie parallels to current wars below.)
There are essentially six lessons that we take away from this book. They are:
1) Counselors Advise but Presidents Decide
2) Never Trust the Bureaucracy to Get It Right
3) Politics Is the Enemy of Strategy
4) Conviction Without Rigor Is a Strategy for Disaster
5) Never Deploy Military means in Pursuit of Indeterminate Ends
6) Intervention Is a Presidential Choice, Not an Inevitability
The author Gordon Goldstein is a perfect choice to have written this book. He is a true scholar, his choice of words, his ability to think and analyze, to sift through thousands of pages of material and then correctly synthesize it into coherent beautifully written cogent sentences truly impressed this reader. There is a clarity of thought here, that is very rarely evident in other works of this nature.
But then again McGeorge Bundy among the smartest men to ever serve in government knew this when he picked Goldstein to work on projects with him. One of these projects was a re-examination of the Viet Nam debacle. Bundy died very shortly after undertaking the project and Goldstein carried on alone with support of key players associated with Bundy.
Ultimately the support of these players including academic participants like the Yale University Press was withdrawn. Goldstein then took the information he had worked with, and revamped it into a wholly different book and that is what you are reading. It is crucial for you to know this background to understand that the author has no axe to grind. This is not a hawk versus dove situation. Goldstein is not politically motivated. He has simply given us his intellectual take of what happened with as little bias as a writer is capable of.
I loved the book. It's what a call a 1 in a 100. I read a hundred books for the one that will standout, the so called keeper, and this is one of them. Reading simply does not get any better than this. You get to know the absolutely arrogant McGeorge Bundy and his equal Robert McNamara, between them there is no room for opposing thoughts.
Between the two of them they managed to kill off the flower of an American generation leaving 58,000 Americans dead, and another 500,000 wounded physically and mentally, and $150 billion wasted. They also permanently created a breech between the American people and their distrust of government. This breech was further enhanced by JFK's death and the cover up, and Watergate.
We are not even mentioning the Cuban Missile Crisis, where Bundy and McNamera came within minutes of destroying civilization as we know it because of miscalculations of what was happening on the ground in Cuba (missiles already active, and tactical nuclear weapons ready to fire if an invasion took place) and a misreading of Russian intentions. In many ways there is something to be said to have people in government who know what they are doing. Thank you for reading this review.
Richard C. Stoyeck
EERIE PARALLELS to CURRENT WARS!
When we look at Iraq / Afghanistan there are comparisons that lead one objectively to the conclusion, does anyone in power learn anything from history, or do they pay lip service to it? Think about the following issues.
* JFK was young, brilliant, and completely inexperienced. The military takes advantage of such commander in chiefs by snowing him knowing that until he gains some experience, he can be had. President Obama is young, inexperienced, and has never served in the military, and thus the generals try the same methods used successfully for generations.
* In Viet Nam, an issue pervasive to our entire period of involvement there was the lack of a stable, honest government with the support of the people. There were times when the leaders were changing almost monthly. Now does anyone think we have a stable, honest government in Afghanistan? It's the same deal.
* In Viet Nam we learned that unless the people who make up the country are willing to fight for the freedom of their own country, no number of American troops can make up that lack of the people's commitment. In Afghanistan we have Americanize the war as we did in Viet Nam. We have had ten years of involvement and we have been unable to create and train an Afghan army or police force that can stand on its own. Instead we send American troops at a cost of one million dollars per American soldier per year. A 100,000 American soldiers cost $100 billion per year, that's the number
* In Viet Nam there was no EXIT STRATEGY. In Afghanistan there is no exit strategy. Hello, anybody home?