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Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell "Bud" Zumwalt, Jr. Hardcover – October 9, 2012
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Fairly or not, few of the top military brass emerged from the Vietnam era with their reputations enhanced. Perhaps the most notable exception was the late Elmo Bud Zumwalt. Berman, professor emeritus at the University of California–Davis, is an unabashed admirer of Zumwalt, and this detailed, complimentary but fair biography shows his subject worthy of that esteem. Zumwalt commanded all U.S. naval forces in Vietnam from 1970 to 1974. Although he harbored serious doubts about the feasibility of military victory in the war, he showed remarkably innovative skills, especially in shifting responsibility to South Vietnamese naval forces as part of the Vietnamization policy. He also earned the admiration of both superiors and subordinates for his constant concern for the welfare of ordinary seamen. Then, as chief of naval operations, Zumwalt carried out dramatic reforms that helped the U.S. meet new Soviet challenges as well as confront embedded racism in the navy. This is a fine tribute to a man of high achievement and character. --Jay Freeman
“A splendid biography of an extraordinary leader who commanded U.S. naval forces in Vietnam and as Chief of Naval Operations dragged the Navy into the twentieth century. The chapter on Zumwalt’s war against the paranoiac secrecy of the Nixon White House is a gem of historical research and analysis.” (George C. Herring, author of America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975)
“An engaging and highly readable portrait of one of the Navy’s truly transformative figures and arguably the most innovative and controversial CNOs of the Cold War era.” (Ronald H. Spector, Professor of History and International Affairs, The George Washington University)
“Zumwalt was a visionary whose charismatic brand of leadership was grounded in an unflinching dedication coupled with a belief that barriers to equality and progress have no place in America. This volume is rich with moving details from countless individuals who were inspired by his integrity and courage.” (Thurgood Marshall Jr.)
” Zumwalt was an iconic figure for generations of sailors who served under his command or who were motivated by his example. His dedication to his country and the US Navy was a model for those who want to serve.” (Adm. Mike Mullen, 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)
“ZUMWALT may be Larry Berman’s best book on Vietnam. Exhaustively researched, beautifully written, here is the war through the prism of one of America’s greatest officers. I loved it and learned from it. Read it.” (Marvin Kalb, Edward R. Murrow Professor Emeritus at Harvard and co-author of Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama.)
“Bud Zumwalt was a fearless leader. He was also a fascinating, thoughtful and brilliant sailor. I learned a lot about leadership from him over the years - so will you when you read ZUMWALT.” (Donna E. Shalala)
“This is a fine tribute to a man of high achievement and character.” (Booklist)
You can’t understand today’s Navy without acknowledging Zumwalt’s role in modernizing its technology and renewing its soul. He believed in a Navy worthy of our nation...those who chose to serve in it were deserving of respect and dignity. Zumwalt is the story of a true American hero. (President Bill Clinton)
Top customer reviews
I think the author falls a bit short in coverage of the opposition to Zumwalt and his policies. For a full appreciation of the resistance and the post-Zumwalt reaction/rollback, maybe you had to be there. I was. Memory: Master Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, when asked what his boss (ADM Isaac Kidd) thought about beards - "He hates `em with a passion." Memory: sister of CAPT Robin Quigley (Director of the Waves) discoursing at a dinner party about how her whole family despised Zumwalt and had rejoiced at his defeat for the Senate. Memory: a captain, chief of staff at a naval base, addressing a group of maybe 50 master and senior chiefs a couple months before Zumwalt's exit; he declared that he disliked beards and hoped to see them banned when Zumwalt left. Then, intermingled among various other criticisms of Zumwalt's policies, three times: "Now, I support Admiral Zumwalt." Memory, about a year after Zumwalt's departure: one of my petty officers came in half an hour late and explained - he had left home in civvies, intending to change to dungarees on the ship. He had stopped by the dispensary to refill a family prescription. New policy. Uniform of the day only. He had had to return home and start over.
I find it surprising and a bit puzzling that the author seems to have made no use of the weekly Navy Times and its coverage of such matters, and that he makes no mention of Hanson Baldwin's early 1974 hatchet job (in the Saturday Evening Post and Reader's Digest) on Zumwalt and his policies. He also seems unaware of RAFT - the Racial Awareness Facilitator Training program ordered by Zumwalt in late 1973 - and of how Zumwalt finally integrated the Steward rating: by eliminating it, by merging it with the largely-white Commissaryman (cook) rating.
Subsequent chapters covering within-government bickering (Rickover, Kissinger, Nixon, and others) were of less interest (to me), although I recognize that others will surely find them fascinating.
A still-unsolved mystery is whatever took place between Zumwalt and ADM Moorer in the months just before Zumwalt took over. Moorer legalized beards just before the change. Did Zumwalt ask him to do so? Did Zumwalt foresee the furor that beards, in particular, would arouse; did he perhaps want to preserve a bit of deniability? In Z-gram 57 he refers to "my predecessor's guidance" concerning facial hair.
The author concludes with a lengthy "Research Note" detailing his difficulties in obtaining materials from the Naval History and Heritage Command. This does not surprise me. I sense that the Navy would prefer to erase Zumwalt's reform efforts from its institutional memory while still honoring the man himself, making Zumwalt just another name in a list of flawless CNOs. The author made use of a few of the U.S. Naval Institute's oral histories. A full perusal of these would be likely to produce many instances and examples of recalcitrance and obstructionism. But these histories cannot be accessed on the internet, or searched. They can only be ordered in transcript at $75 - and that's $75 each. ($45 in DVD.) There are well over 200 of them. Thereby full access is priced out of the range of the merely curious. Only once in a while does the curtain lift.
I found it significant that even in the new century the lingering opposition was still potent enough to (almost) force the renaming of the Zumwalt-class destroyers.
I think the stormy relationship described with Tom Moorer is overblown. Zumwalt guided the Navy through a difficult time during and following an unpopular Vietnam War. He had the courage to fight for what he believed in. The book, I think, accurately and honestly reflects the story of an inspired leader both in his naval career and as an important figure in retirement.
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