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Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the…

Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam

by Gordon M. Goldstein

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An infuriating book because I so hate how decisions were made about Americanizing the Vietnam War when they did not need to have been made IF McGeorge Bundy had been a better national security advisor, IF Lyndon Johnson had not cared only about his election, IF George Ball and others had been listened to, IF assumptions such as the domino theory had been discussed, analyzed, and considered fraudulent, IF war games' results had been paid attention to, and, most of all, IF Kennedy had not been assassinated, then and only then could so many lives have not been wasted. And all for what???? The parallels to what is happening today in Afghanistan and in the Obama administration are striking. ( )
  flashflood42 | Oct 14, 2009 |
LESSONS IN DISASTER by Gordon Goldstein is about how Kennedy and Johnson decided to go to war in Vietnam. The book is good but he does not put enough emphasis on how Eisenhower started the war. What I mean is that he prevented the resolution of the previous war and made a commitment almost certain to lead to the next one.

The Geneva Conference of 1954 negotiated a settlement of the colonial war that France militarily lost. Up to then Vietnam was universally considered a single country. The settlement established two temporary administrations for two years - explicitly not a division into two countries. Eisenhower and Kennedy both agreed that the war should not be settled on that basis and Eisenhower committed the US to support for a new regime in the south contrary to the settlement. At the end of the two years the situation was that Vietnam was one country with a civil war between two contending governments.

By preventing the end of the last war Eisenhower started the next. He was trying to get his war goals without sending in troops. His puppet regime did his fighting for him.

Goldstein does say that the division was temporary (page 50). But when on page 25 he writes of "The accounts of all of the other central protagonists in the Vietnam drama - from the beginning of U.S. military engagement [1961] ..." he leaves out the most central of all: Eisenhower started the war by proxy with the troops of his government in "South Vietnam". ( )
1 vote johnclaydon | Jun 7, 2009 |
Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam by Gordon M. Goldstein (Times Books, 2008) is the ultimate result of what was to be a collaborative retrospective analysis of the Vietnam era begun in 1995-96, prior to Bundy's death. That book was never published, but Goldstein drew on the project to create Lessons in Disaster, which he describes as "an original work that is informed by my experience with Bundy but which draws conclusions that are my own" (p. 23). His goal with this book, Goldstein writes, was to "distill what I believe are the pivotal lessons of Bundy's performance as national security adviser with respect to the vital question of American strategy in Vietnam" (p. 23-24).

The attempt succeeds admirably. This, like Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest and McNamara's In Retrospect, is a remarkably disturbing and candid look at the decision-making processes that led the United States into the Vietnam conflict and kept us there. Goldstein takes us through Bundy's actions and decisions during the critical years of the early Sixties when he served as national security adviser to JFK and then LBJ, but he also manages to carry Bundy's thoughts forward until the years near the end of his life when he began to reexamine those decisions and the impact they had, with the benefit of hindsight. Goldstein concludes "With respect to the question of Vietnam, undoubtedly his most consequential encounter with history, Bundy in retrospect had embraced a quality he had lacked when in high office three decades earlier. He had finally learned humility" (p. 227).

Goldstein's examination of Bundy's relationships with Kennedy and Johnson, plus the other advisers in both administrations (particularly during the difficult transition following Kennedy's assassination), was detailed and captivating. And the lessons he has drawn from Bundy's experiences are important ones both for their historical interest and as cautionary tales for the present and future. As I read this, I couldn't help but wonder which officials from the current administration will be writing or inspiring books like this in the coming decades. Some things never change.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2008/12/book-review-lessons-in-disaster.html ( )
  JBD1 | Dec 15, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805079718, Hardcover)

A revelatory look at the decisions that led to the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, drawing on the insights and reassessments of one of the war’s architects

"I had a part in a great failure. I made mistakes of perception, recommendation and execution. If I have learned anything I should share it."

These are not words that Americans ever expected to hear from McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. But in the last years of his life, Bundy—the only principal architect of Vietnam strategy to have maintained his public silence—decided to revisit the decisions that had led to war and to look anew at the role he played. He enlisted the collaboration of the political scientist Gordon M. Goldstein, and together they explored what happened and what might have been. With Bundy’s death in 1996, that manuscript could not be completed, but Goldstein has built on their collaboration in an original and provocative work of presidential history that distills the essential lessons of America’s involvement in Vietnam.

Drawing on Goldstein’s prodigious research as well as the interviews and analysis he conducted with Bundy, Lessons in Disaster is a historical tour de force on the uses and misuses of American power. And in our own era, in the wake of presidential decisions that propelled the United States into another war under dubious pretexts, these lessons offer instructive guidance that we must heed if we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:26 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Drawing on prodigious research as well as the interviews and analysis he has conducted with former National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, Goldstein offers this revelatory look at the decisions that led to the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

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