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Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,717 ratings  ·  258 reviews
"The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C." - H. R. McMaster (from the Conclusion)

Dereliction Of Duty is a stunning new analysis of how and why the United States became involved in an all-out and disastrous war in Southeast Asia. Fully and convincingly
Paperback, 446 pages
Published May 8th 1998 by Harper Perennial (first published May 21st 1997)
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Start your review of Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: war, vietnamese, history
The Presidential Psycho-drama of Fear

War originates from psychosis. If not in individuals then certainly in groups. Particularly in groups of men in which each individual attempts to establish his will as dominant. Each fears failure and loss of affection, and yet the will to dominate causes failure and loss of affection, thus increasing fear. This is McMaster's story about the prosecution of the Vietnam War from start to finish by the American government. It is a compelling story, made more so
UPDATE 03/23/18

The Failure of H.R. McMaster

UPDATE 03/22/18

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster To Leave White House

Maybe he'll write another book.

"Twenty years ago, McMaster authored a cautionary tale. Today, he risks becoming one.” – Carlos Lozada, Washington Post
[ --- The risk has passed. He is one. --- ]

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.) set a record that may never be broken. On January 20, President Trump appointed him to the position of National Security Adviser;
Scott Holstad
This is a very detailed and somewhat shocking book telling of how America sunk itself into the Vietnam war fiasco, and it's truly a sorrow to read. I never knew Johnson, McNamara, the Bundy brothers and Taylor were such lying assholes, as well as Rusk, McNaughton and the other civilians in charge of planning the war. They lied to the Joint Chiefs, to Congress, to the American people and to the world (sounds like Bush, doesn't it?) in order to downplay the role America was taking in Vietnam, all ...more
Andrew Carr
May 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
In Dereliction of Duty H.R. McMaster provides a devastating portrait of an administration which stumbled evermore into a war it had no interest in and no understanding of.

McMaster’s central concern is to show the decision making processes that pre-determined a US loss in Vietnam. He begins with John F. Kennedy’s administration showing how its personnel (such as Secretary for Defence Robert McNamara), its structures (ad hoc, personal and without formal committees) and its key ideas (via the
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely devastating book on the conduct that lead us into the Vietnam War. It pulls absolutely no punches with anyone nor does it shy from blaming all parties across the board. Worthy of reading if you’re at all a fan of history.
Mar 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, american-history

In spite of its expansive sounding title, this book has a fairly narrow focus. It begins approximately in the Kennedy administration and goes on to spend most of its time in 1964-65, where it ends. It also stays mostly in Washington. There is little discussion (aside from coups and the Gulf of Tonkin) of things happening on the ground in Vietnam. If you are completely new to the Vietnam War this shouldn't be your first book on it.

McMaster argues that LBJ was powerfully, primarily concerned with
Jul 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
It you like histories of the bureaucratic minutiae and system failures that lead to bad advice badly given, institutional paralysis in the face of collapsing strategy and a determined refusual to accept reality (which I do) you will love this book.

McMaster is a serving career Army officer with a PhD. in history. He has the analytical tools to do justice to the story of how the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed the nation in during the Vietnam war.

It's been a few years since I read "Dereliction of
Barry Sierer
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
McMaster has done a commendable piece of work detailing the machinations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sec Def Robert McNamara, and LBJ. LBJ attempted a constant balancing act by trying keep the Joint Chief’s from publicly opposing military operations in Vietnam by pretending to take parts of their advice and promising “more later” in terms of less restrictions on future military operations, while simultaneously ordering carefully limited operations that were largely ineffective to “dissuade” ...more
May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
'Graduated pressure, 'kill more Viet Cong', the Great Society, and losing a war--DERELICTION OF DUTY reveals how the U.S. found itself lying to the American people, Congress, and its allies in Vietnam. Although the book focuses only on the period up to the end of 1965, it is fairly easy to see where the lies would end up, even if the Americans would hang in there until 1973.

McMaster looks at how the U.S. progressed from the Kennedy years to the troubled decisions made by Lyndon Johnson and
Mark Fallon
Mar 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A searing indictment of Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the White House staff and the Joint Chiefs for their actions and inaction during the lead up to the Vietnam War. Written by an active duty Army officer (then a Major, now a General), this book is based on meticulous research of meeting minutes and previously classified memos.

The tragedy is summed up in the final sentence: "The failings were many and reinforcing: arrogance, weakness, lying in pursuit of self-interest, and above all, the
Mar 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's funny. Everytime I read another book of the Vietnam Era Episode it always rotates around the usual suspects LBJ...McNamara..The Joint Chiefs of Staff....and I'm going to quote verbatim from the on the last page..."The failing were many and reinforcing: arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self interest, above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people" .Then it becomes unfunny. There's a sense of sadness that permeates this reading . The book was written by H.R. ...more
May 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Clearly a well-researched and detailed book. In fact, so detailed that it was difficult to read. While I appreciated McMaster's thorough command of the subject and sometimes to-the-minute information, I found it very difficult to ever build momentum or get into the book.
General McMaster conducted meticulous research with this historical accounting of the Johnson Administration and began with of course the Kennedy Administration with the occasional link into the Eisenhower years. The lingering effect of LBJ to Vietnam is that many times options were available for withdrawal – never discussed at any sort of credible length the “yes men team” above the JCS in advisors held little opposition to what LBJ wanted accomplished in South Vietnam, Secretary McNamara was ...more
May 10, 2017 marked it as noway-josé

From wiki: Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam is a book written by McMaster that explores the military's role in the policies of the Vietnam War. The book was written as part of his Ph.D. dissertation at UNC. It harshly criticized high-ranking officers of that era, arguing that they inadequately challenged Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson on their Vietnam strategy. The book examines
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up a copy of H.R. McMaster's 1997 book "Dereliction of Duty" after he was named as President Trump's second National Security Advisor. While the book was written twenty years ago, I hoped the book would provide some insights into how General McMaster looks at the role of a presidential advisor and that relationship with a President during time of war. McMaster was critical of LBJ's military and security advisors in their dealing President Johnson and in their advice during the Vietnam ...more
Joe Clark
Apr 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: current-events
The book is exhaustive but it is also tedious and repetitive. In my recollection of the events from '63 through '69, everything moved very quickly and it looked like Johnson set out to take our country to war. No doubt, the problem was that I didn't pay much attention until I was drafted in '66. I think HR McMaster does a good job of showing that we stumbled into war over a period of years. But I think that the book lacks empathy. It is all too easy for a young military man to condemn the ...more
Steven Peterson
Apr 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a useful volume. I am not sure that I learned too many things that I did not already know. But for readers who were not around at the time of books such as "The Best and the Brightest" (an ironic title that is often misused in its original context to describe hiring really great and effective people), this is quite helpful in describing the flawed American strategy in Vietnam in the early 1960s.

There are several themes: (a) the inability of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to effectively
Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Review to come (I hope). Best book I've ever read on Vietnam.
Mar 30, 2017 rated it liked it
It's a dissertation turned into a required reading course book. Informative.
Oct 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a policy study of US decision making in Vietnam focused on 1963-1965, by an author who was the second National Security Advisor in the current US Administration. The book has considerable merit, although I am unsure the extent to which it breaks new ground.

My overwhelming reaction after reading the book was to wonder how anyone in the current administration would have thought that McMaster would be a “good fit” as a National Security Advisor in the Trump Administration. To be specific,
Oct 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, military
With a title like that you already have an idea of what is inside. What makes this enticing is the background of the author. H R McMaster? was the commanding officer of the armored battalion that fought at the Battle of 73 Easting, one of the few stand up battles of the first Gulf War. And when you decisively win an armored battle at the odds of 30:120 against only losing one vehicle and one soldier died, you become known as a hero.

McMaster looks at the 10 men who were on the Joint Chiefs during
Nov 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
"Dereliction of Duty" by HR McMaster dwells on inter-service politics and flaws in the civil-military relationship that typified by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Vietnam War. McMaster is not shy about placing the blame on the generals for their failure to stand up to President Lyndon Johnson and his flawed strategy for prosecuting the war. They should have resigned instead of implementing the wrong strategy.

If a general disagrees with his president on a policy, he should resign or be
Donald Grant
Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it
A book that will make you angry.....

If you served in Vietnam, served during the Vietnam era, had a relative who was killed or served, knew someone who was killed or served, or care anything about the senseless war that defined the sixties, then this book will make you angry.

McMaster goes into painstaking detail about the politics and incompetence that not only kept us in Vietnam, but in how the war escalated to the point that it did. Since this is a review of the book and not the war, I will, as
Brian Burton
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is my second time reading this book (first time was almost exactly 10 years ago in 2007) and I was less impressed with it this time around. It's still a great history of the decision-making of both the JFK and LBJ administrations that led the U.S. into Vietnam. McMaster is very clear about how the national security decision-making process failed to force the President and his top advisers to grapple with the fundamental questions of what the U.S. sought to achieve in Vietnam and whether ...more
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book less out of interest in Vietnam and more out of interest in how McMaster might approach his position as National Security Advisor. I found the book to be an enthralling introduction to both subjects (although certainly not the lightest read of my summer). McMaster argues poignantly that a dysfunctional national security apparatus, combined with both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' willingness to completely subordinate foreign policy to domestic policy doomed ...more
Jan 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: vietnam
Dereliction of Duty is an interesting examination of the key players and decision-making processes that led to America’s involvement in Vietnam and guided the parameters of the conflict during the Johnson administration. McMaster paints a picture of a shifting collection of priorities to which war aims were nearly always secondary:

How will it play in the press?

Can it improve our re-election chances?

Can we straddle the divide between seeming soft on communism and being
perceived as warmongers?

Sep 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
A good solid look at the disconnect between the civil and military leadership of the US Government and its escalating involvement in Viet Nam from JFK to LBJ in 1965. McMaster's scrutiny of the Joint Chiefs and their advice on commitment to South Viet Nam (as well as various entities at State, USAID, and the Director of Central Intelligence) and how the military experts were either ignored or shut down by an exclusive clique of like-minded people with access to the President is a great piece of ...more
Carl Mayo
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
A chore to read.

Lots of good information, but WAY too long and wordy. This book could easily have been edited down to half its size and covered the same information.

The other issue is that every letter, memo, speech, and phone call involving LBJ and the Joint Chiefs is directly mentioned in the text -- which is fine if you're doing a master's thesis on executive deliberations in wartime -- but for a layman just wanting to learn about the subject, not so much. It felt like I was stumbling over
Feb 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is an incredible analysis of how and why the United States became involved in the disastrous war in Southeast Asia. This book pinpoints the policies and motives that Johnson, McNamara and other top brass created while lying to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the American public and the U.S. Congress as to why we needed more soldiers to fight a war we weren't winning despite the number of deaths that showed that.

It gives insight to Johnson's thinking on to keep his public image credible to
Ben Smith
I was determined to finish this book by the current National Security Advisor McMaster before he resigned or otherwise left the current administration. I recently decided I needed to hurry up.

It provides a good level of insight into how McMaster's views the role of congress, leaks and the loyalty to the Constitution not the person.

On General Johnson resigning under misleading and outright dishonest statements by President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara

"What should my role have been ?
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Major General Herbert Raymond McMaster is a career officer in the U.S. Army. As of this writing (September 2013) he is commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Ft. Benning, Georgia. General McMaster gained some notoriety in 1997 when his doctoral dissertation was published as 'Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to ...more
“If the Chiefs had successfully pressed with the president their position that the United States needed to act forcefully to defeat the North, they might have forced a difficult choice between war and withdrawal from South Vietnam. Through their own actions as well as through the manipulation of Taylor and McNamara, the Chiefs missed their opportunity to influence the formulation of a strategic concept for Vietnam, and thereafter always found themselves in the difficult position of questioning a policy that the president had already approved. The intellectual foundation for deepening American involvement in Vietnam had been laid without the participation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 5” 1 likes
“In “Flag Plot,” the naval operations room, Anderson became irritated with McNamara’s specific instructions on how to run the blockade. The admiral told McNamara that the Navy had been conducting blockades since the days of John Paul Jones and suggested that the defense secretary return to his office and let the Navy run the operation. McNamara rose from his chair and retorted that the operation was “not a blockade but a means of communication between Kennedy and Khrushchev,” 0 likes
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