Buzzanco: “Hawks as Doves: Military Dissent in Vietnam and Iraq

“Hawks as Doves: Military Dissent in Vietnam and Iraq”

Colonel John B. McKinney Lecture
University of Tennessee, 21 September 2006
Robert Buzzanco, University of Houston

“I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own. That they design and want. That they fight and work for. [Not one] crammed down their throats by Americans.”

Those are not the words of Abbie Hoffman, George McGovern, Martin Luther King, an SDS activist or a random “hippie” in the 1960s, but of David Monroe Shoup, a Marine General and Commandant of the Corps between 1960 and 1963.1 Shoup’s words speak to a crucial yet underrepresented, if not ignored, element in studying modern wars, the dissent of unmistakable and respected military leaders while conflicts are in progress. In the two most recent big wars, Vietnam and Iraq, significant numbers of military leaders–experienced, distinguished, and prominent–have broken ranks and publicly criticized American leaders and the policies they have pursued. From the outset of these conflicts onward, various officers have warned against intervention, advocated different courses of action, challenged official optimism, called for political leaders to be held accountable for likely failures, or called for withdrawal.

Consequently, when these conflicts turned badly–in the later 1960s in Vietnam and almost immediately after the war in Iraq was launched in 2003–their views were already in the public record and have to be reckoned with now as we try to make sense of disasters in both Southeast
Asia and the Middle East. Vietnam: Roots of Involvement, Roots of Dissent U.S. military officials, who had some direct knowledge of Southeast Asia and would be
responsible for any warfare in that area, offered candid and usually negative appraisals of
possible interventions into Vietnam as soon as American policymakers began considering their
role in that part of the world after World War II. During and right after the war, American
officers attached to the Office of Strategic Services [OSS] worked with Ho Chi Minh and the
Viet Minh and took away positive impressions, with Major Allison Thomas of the OSS lobbying
for more contacts with Ho and sympathizing with his nationalist ambitions, while General Philip
Gallagher, the U.S. advisor to Chinese occupation forces in northern Vietnam, wished that the
Viet Minh “could be given their independence.”2 General George Marshall, who served as both
Secretary of State and Defense, lamented that the Indochina war “will remain a grievously costly
enterprise, weakening France economically and all the West generally in its relations with
Oriental peoples.”3 In July 1949 the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in policy paper JCS 1992/4, produced
their most striking summation of the perils of interference in Indochina. The “widening political
consciousness and the rise of militant nationalism among the subject people,” they understood,
“cannot be reversed.” To attempt to do so, the JCS presciently argued, would be “an anti
historical act likely in the long run to create more problems than it solves and cause more damage
than benefit.” The Army’s Plans and Operations division added, likewise pessimistically, that
the Viet Minh would drive the French out of Indochina on the basis of popular support alone, not
Chinese assistance. Ho enjoyed the support of 80 percent of the Vietnamese people, Army
planners reported, yet 80 percent of his followers were not Communists. Such indigenous
appeal, as well as limited PRC support, virtually assured Viet Minh success.4
Despite such warnings, the Truman administration began to increasingly support the
French suppression of Vietnamese nationalism, especially after 1950. But, still, the military
balked, with the Joint Strategic Plans Committee seeing no reason for the United States to
consider committing its forces to a “series of inconclusive peripheral actions which would drain
our military strength and weaken . . . our global position.” Army Chief of Staff J. Lawton
Collins was more blunt. “France will be driven out of Indochina,” he prophesied, and was
“wasting men and equipment trying to remain there.”5 By late 1951, Collins, who would have an
important role in Vietnam policymaking and was the military’s ranking critic until mid-decade,
was challenging the idea that the “loss” of Indochina would lead to a domino-like reaction of
Communist success in Asia, a foundation of U.S. foreign policy. When JCS Chair Omar Bradley
expressed his doubts that “we could get our public to go along with the idea of our going into
Indochina in a military way,” Collins agreed and concluded that “we must face the probability
that Indochina will be lost.” In the meantime the Joint Strategic Plans Committee [JSPC] warned
that even limited involvement in Vietnam “could only lead to a dilemma similar to that in Korea,
which is insoluble by military action.”6 Still, Harry S. Truman and his successor, Dwight
Eisenhower, continued to pour funding into French Indochina–$785 million in 1953 alone. And
Collins continued his warnings, pointing out that a campaign in Indochina would be worse than
Korea. Any U.S. forces could expect a “major and protracted war . . . . Militarily and politically
we would be in up to our necks.” But he also understood that he spoke “from a military point of
view” and that the JCS’s judgment was not decisive, and “if our political leaders want to put
troops in there we will of course do it.”7
Collins was of course an experienced and intelligent official, so was conceding the
obvious in acknowledging the primacy of politics in decisionmaking, and this is a point that
cannot be under-emphasized. Already in the 1950s one could observe the dialectic of military
reluctance and civilian enthusiasm for war in Indochina. Collins and others, taking into account
“a military point of view,” understood that Vietnam was not vital to American interests, was not
an area conducive to military success, was engaged in a revolution-cum-civil war brought on by
centuries of outside aggression and colonialism, and was likely to be hostile to a U.S. presence.
The Viet Minh, as the JCS recognized, held the military initiative and had successfully identified
itself with the struggle for “freedom from the colonial yoke and with the improvement of the
general welfare of the people.”8 Civilian policymakers, however, had larger visions, seeing
Vietnam as an important piece in the larger reconstruction of capitalism and Japanese economic
health in Asia.9 Consequently, the United States would fight in Vietnam for well over a decade
at odds with itself–with military leaders always aware of the serious barriers to success, while
civilian political leaders would escalate the war due to larger concerns about global politics and
Looking back, the early 1950s presented the best opportunity for the United States to
avoid what would become such a great tragedy in Vietnam. Rarely does a nation engage in
armed conflict with its military leadership so wary of intervention, but that is precisely what
happened in Indochina. In 1954 and 1955, when the Eisenhower administration took over the
French role in Vietnam, Generals Collins, Matthew Ridgway, James Gavin and others forcefully
pointed out the perils of war there. In the early months of 1954, as the Viet Minh laid siege to a
French outpost at Dien Bien Phu, the White House began contemplating intervention, but
Ridgway led the battle against American involvement. He pointed out that the Army would have
to commit at least seven divisions to fight in Vietnam, even with air and naval support or the use
of atomic weapons. Bolstered by the report of a technical survey team, he added that Vietnam
lacked adequate port and bridge facilities, that monsoons would limit military operations, and
that the local communications system was too primitive to support an American presence there.
Even if engineers could build up ports and airfields to handle the influx of U.S. troops, standard
Army units were “too ponderous” for combat in Vietnam, a land “particularly adapted to the
guerrilla-type war” at which the Viet Minh had been so successful. The Army chief stressed,
moreover, that China, not Ho Chi Minh, represented the more viable threat to U.S. interests in
Asia. Accordingly, a combat commitment in Vietnam would amount to a “dangerous strategic
diversion” of limited U.S. military power to a “non-decisive theater to the attainment of non
decisive local objectives.” Ridgway reported such findings to the president in a late May briefing
and he believed that “to a man of [Eisenhower’s] military experience its implications were
immediately clear.”10
The JCS agreed with Ridgway, warning that intervention at Dien Bien Phu would not be
a “`one-shot’ affair,” but rather a “continuing logistic supply requirement” for America’s Far East
forces and it would ultimately involve U.S. troops in direct military operations, create increasing
demands for reinforcement, risk American casualties, and possibly provoke Chinese intervention.
Thus the “real question” attending the debate over Dien Bien Phu was whether the United States
would “commence active participation by [American] forces in the Indochina war.” But other
concerns, such as rearming the Federal Republic of Germany, were of principal interest to service
officials, and the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu was doomed, so nonintervention in Vietnam
was a reasonably easy recommendation for the brass.11
Throughout the first months of 1954 the military had coordinated a strong campaign
against intervention. Though concerned with the ramifications of Communist success in
Vietnam, most officers understood that the political and military environment in both America
and Indochina militated against U.S. prospects in Southeast Asia. General Thomas Trapnell, past
commander of the American advisory group in Saigon, typified the American military dilemma
regarding Vietnam. Though an advocate of holding the line against the Viet Minh, Trapnell
recognized that Ho was the most respected leader in Vietnam and that Indochinese communism
had attracted intellectuals, peasants and urban workers alike. Ho and Giap, moreover, directed
an experienced force with about 300,000 troops, including one artillery and six infantry
divisions, engineers, and numerous support units. The Viet Minh, Trapnell added, had developed
effective regional militia, possessed a “tremendous capability” for mobility and endurance, and
was skilled in political and psychological indoctrination. Believing that time–and U.S. and
French public opinion–was on their side, Vietnamese Communists were conducting “a clever
war of attrition.” Though Trapnell believed that the United States should resist the Left in Asia,
he insisted that a “military solution to the war in Indochina is not possible.” 12
The Army’s assistant chief for planning, General James Gavin, corroborated that
assessment in a hundred-page report on Vietnam commissioned by Ridgway. Waging war in
Indochina, Gavin found, would require transferring vast amounts of resources from other
programs in more important parts of the world. The Army would also have to extend its terms of
service for active personnel, activate Reservists, and increase draft calls. In addition, the services
would also need to reopen military bases and increase material production for Indochina, which
ran contrary to New Look budget policy. Worse, Gavin estimated that American troops would
suffer about 28,000 casualties monthly. And of course, he reminded his superiors, the Viet Minh
remained a formidable military force.13
Even into mid-1954, Eisenhower and Dulles still sought multilateral action to stem the
Communist advance in Vietnam and had not yet dismissed a combat role there. The JCS again
moved to scotch any plans for intervention, limited or otherwise. Any involvement, the chiefs
explained, “would continue and expand considerably even though initial efforts were indecisive.”
In time, the United States would have to commit additional naval and air units, “and extensive
ground forces to prevent the loss of Indochina.” South Korean involvement would, “in effect,
constitute U.S. intervention,” by proxy, which was a steep price to pay to save a country “devoid”
of vital resources and in an area that was “not a decisive theater” in Asia. Defense Secretary
Charles Wilson, presumably putting forth the JCS’s views, argued that the most desirable course
of action in Vietnam was to “get completely out of the area. The chances of saving any part of
Southeast Asia were . . . nothing.” Gavin was more succinct as he echoed General Omar
Bradley’s analysis of Korea in asserting that an American military commitment to Vietnam
“involves the risk of embroiling the U.S. in [the] wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong
Such views held sway. U.S. forces did not intervene in Indochina, although neither did
the United States dissociate itself from Vietnamese affairs. Despite such overwhelming
reluctance, the White House moved ahead with its plans for Vietnam, essentially inventing a
country below the seventeenth parallel, the Republic of Vietnam [RVN], putting a regime in
place led by the U.S. client Ngo Dinh Diem, and pumping billions of dollars into the fictive
nation to enable it to survive. Still, military officials sounded the alarms about such a
commitment. Service officials were quick to point out that there was a crisis of political
legitimacy in the south. Diem and his family ran the RVN as a personal fiefdom, and had little
tolerance for even the trappings of democracy. Even prior to the Geneva armistice which
partitioned Vietnam and called for unifying elections in 1956, the JCS conceded that any
settlement of the French-Vietnamese conflict “based upon free elections would be attended by
the almost certain loss of [Indochina] to Communist control.” Diem, as JCS intelligence officials
reported, had “no intention of tolerating an election he cannot win.”15
Colonel Edward Geary Lansdale, head of an intelligence mission to Saigon in 1954-1955
and a supporter of the Diem junta, found that the Viet Minh, following Mao’s axiom that
guerrillas needed grassroots support like fish needed water, had “exemplary relations” with the
villagers. By contrast, southern soldiers had become “adept at cowing a population into feeding
them [and] providing them with girls.” An Army study corroborated such views, noting that Ho
and Giap could count on about 340,000 soldiers, with about one-fourth of those active below the
partition line.16 By late 1954, it was clear to the JCS that Vietnam’s internal political situation
was “chaotic” and that Diem’s government could not even guarantee the loyalty of its military
forces. Without native support and sacrifice, the chiefs warned, “no amount of external pressure
and assistance can long delay complete Communist victory in South Vietnam.” The military’s
analysis of Vietnamese politics thus pointed out that government stability was a prerequisite to
military credibility. It also made clear–despite later, specious claims that the DRVN “invaded”
the south–that the Second Indochina War had deep indigenous roots indeed.17
General J. Lawton Collins, sent to Vietnam as Eisenhower’s special representative in
December 1954, also understood that internal turmoil, not outside aggression, was destroying
southern Vietnam. Appalled by Diem’s authoritarian ways and failure to challenge the various
sects involved in southern political and economic affairs, Collins recognized as well that the Viet
Minh “have and will retain the capability to overrun Free Vietnam if they wish.” He even
suggested that U.S. withdrawal, although the “least desirable” option, “may be the only sound
solution.”18 Diem, however, rescued his position in April 1955 by beating back the sects’
challenge to his leadership, at which point Eisenhower and Dulles decided to stick with him over
the long haul.19 By October 1955, when Diem became president in an election that would have
embarrassed a Chicago alderman, the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) was officially established and
the United States was heading toward war in Vietnam.20
Despite Diem’s successes, the military remained critical of plans to establish a training
mission in Indochina. During the siege at Dien Bien Phu, Ridgway scored plans for such a
program because American trainers would be in the “invidious position” of bearing responsibility
for inevitable failures over which they had no control. He also established preconditions–never
met by the French or southern Vietnamese–for the development of any training mission,
including full independence for the states of Indochina, American control over indigenous forces,
and political stability in southern Vietnam. Without such measures, the JCS cautioned, it was
“hopeless to expect a U.S. military mission to achieve success.”21 Communist troops were
“laying the groundwork for a strong, armed dissident movement” in the south, Gavin and General
Paul Adams concluded, and it would be dangerous to put American trainers in the middle of an
imminent “civil war,” which might well provoke greater intervention by the Soviets and the
Still the White House did establish a training force, the Military Assistance Advisory
Group, or MAAG, headed by the hawkish General Samuel Williams. But even he presented a
bleak view of the situation in Vietnam in mid-1956. While he agreed that the southern
Vietnamese would have to be responsible for their own security, Williams worried that the the
Viet Minh outnumbered the VNA [the southern Vietnamese National Army] by a two-to-one
ratio and lamented that “large-scale Asiatic support would not appear to be forthcoming.” In the
event of hostilities, Williams estimated that VNA forces north of Da Nang would
“unquestionably be badly mauled” but that if Diem reinforced that area the Communists would
simply bypass it. Moreover, the usually-sanguine MAAG leader also provided a laundry list of
VNA disadvantages in any war against the Viet Minh: Ho and Giap could not be expected to
attack without thorough planning and infiltration along protected routes; enemy morale would be
bolstered by claims that Diem was a “puppet” of “Western colonialists”; the ARVN [the Army
of the RVN] command would be unable to communicate with field units; and the rainy season
would thwart established plans to attack northward via Laos. In effect, then, the VNA’s lack of
skill and experience put it at an even greater disadvantage than its numerical inferiority. At least
two U.S. divisions would be needed to contain the Viet Minh, Williams assumed, but the
development of a much larger and stronger indigenous ground force remained the key to
successful warfare in Vietnam.23 Even with American forces, the MAAG was wary of war in
Vietnam due to political conditions there, understanding that “extreme nationalism and anti
Western feeling can not be far below the surface.” Maintaining a large number of U.S. forces
was thus “a potential source of offense to Vietnamese sensibilities.” Accordingly, the U.S.
presence should be limited to “absolute needs” while “discretion and circumspect behavior is a
must.” Despite his apparent satisfaction with the situation, even Williams hoped to “resist
pressure to increase American personnel” in Vietnam, in part by employing foreign nationals
instead of U.S. representatives where possible.24
And so it went. By the mid-1950s, the pattern was clear. Military officials would either
defend involvement in Vietnam but recognize the serious obstacles to an effective deployment
there or, more likely, recommend against intervention altogether. Even when officials like
General Williams tried to prevent a sanguine view of the war, military officials in Washington
tended to be doubters and critics. Naval Commander Arleigh Burke, a hawk in the 1960s,
believed that neither Eisenhower nor anybody else “had any intention of committing troops to
either South Vietnam or Laos.”25 General Lyman Lemnitzer, the Army chief and later JCS chair,
observed that the military always expected to limit its role in Vietnam to military assistance and
advisory groups because military leaders such as Eisenhower and MacArthur insisted “that we
should not get engaged in a land battle on the continent of Asia.”26 J. Lawton Collins agreed,
adding that he did not “know of a single senior commander that [sic] was in favor of fighting on
the land mass of Asia.”27 And General Lewis Fields, a Marine representative on the Joint Staff
from 1958 to 1960, noted that the JCS “didn’t think the United States should get involved in that
conflict. It’s a morass, it’s a swamp.” Vietnam, Fields lamented, “just grabs you up and takes so
much effort–to accomplish what?”28
Despite such sentiments, American leaders turned Vietnam into a symbol of the Cold
War and progressively increased the U.S. stake there. Although military leaders in Saigon and
Washington presented an ambivalent view of their prospects in Indochina, American aid
continued to flow to a country that was led by the authoritarian Ngo family and that had an ill
prepared army without a credible mission. Although American leaders saw problems with the
RVN, 78 percent of U.S. aid to Diem from 1956 to 1960 went into the military budget, while
only 2 percent was allocated to health, housing, and welfare programs.29
Though claiming to want to avoid American intervention in Indochina, U.S. leaders, by
feeding Diem’s and Nhu’s addiction to power, guns, and money, made it inevitable. As the Ngos
received more resources from the United States they became even more arbitrary and
authoritarian and, in turn, unpopular. Ultimately, American “advisors” would enter Vietnam to
prop them up. Despite reports from Saigon that stressed the confusion and contradiction inherent
in the American policy in Vietnam, military and political leaders never advocated the type of
“agonizing reappraisal” that might have led to a different policy. U.S. military officials
consistently recognized the enemy’s strength as an indigenous force in the south, the fatal
weaknesses of Diem and the ARVN, and the questionable priority of Indochina in national
security considerations, yet they continued to accentuate whatever positive characteristics they
could detect or invent in the RVN. By late 1960, John Kennedy of Massachusetts was awaiting
inauguration as president, and the American role in Vietnam was about to expand markedly.
Occupying an Essentially Hostile Foreign Country
What had begun as a limited effort to rebuild Asian capitalism and to appease the French
in the aftermath of World War II had become a major endeavor to prevent Ho Chi Minh and his
nationalist-communist followers from achieving democratic leadership of Vietnam by the later
1950s and early 1960s. The Eisenhower and then Kennedy administrations sent billions of
dollars, thousands and advisors, and advanced weaponry to southern Vietnam to try to preserve
the “nation” they’d invented below the seventeenth parallel, but, by the mid-1960s, to little avail.
Hanoi finally yielded to southern pressure to help form the National Liberation Front and begin
armed struggle in the south, the Diem regime remained corrupt and repressive–both attacking
opposition Buddhists and talking to communist representatives about the possibility of a
negotiated, neutralist settlement, the southern army was passive and the enemy held the initiative,
and the United States moved closer to full-scale intervention. Kennedy, despite posthumous
revisionism attributing “dove” status to him and claiming he would have pulled out of Vietnam,
was a committed warrior who sought victory. In fact Kennedy advisors complained that the
military was insufficiently bellicose. Roger Hilsman charged that armed forces leaders were
tying the president’s hands on Indochina policy. In mid-1962, amid continued turmoil in Laos
and Vietnam, Kennedy and his chiefs considered possible military responses. Although the
president and secretary of state, among others, wanted to deploy U.S. troops to the area–in
Rusk’s case into the DRVN–Hilsman and NSC staff member Michael Forrestal worried “that the
military was going to go soft” in its approach to Indochina. The chiefs, he complained, “beat
their chests until it comes time to do some fighting and then [they] start backing down.” General
Decker, acting JCS chair at the time, had drawn up a list of possible courses of action–including
negotiations, diplomatic approaches to the Soviet Union, or committing SEATO defense forces-
which Hilsman called “the damndest collection of mush and softness I have seen in a long time.”
Because of this weakness, he believed, “of course the President was in no position to do the
military moves he wanted.” Kennedy was thus “boxed in” because the military had put forth only
limited measures for Indochina and Kennedy “hasn’t decided enough to deter the Communists but
he has decided more than enough to get into all sorts of political trouble . . . at home.”30
Just a few years later, there were about 80,000 American troops in Vietnam and, in the
aftermath of the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964, the Air Force began flying reprisal air
strikes, yet the situation in the south remained grave, with the National Liberation Front and Viet
Cong forces retaining the initiative, the ARVN remaining ineffective, and the political situation
still chaotic, with about a dozen governments in the aftermath of the November 1963 coup
against and murder of Diem. By January 1965, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy and
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara feared the worst, and met with the president to tell him
“that both of us are now pretty well convinced that our current policy can lead only to disastrous
defeat.” The United States could no longer “wait and hope for a stable government” while the
VC expanded its control over the south, and so urged Johnson to “use our military power . . . to
force a change of Communist policy.”31 General Maxwell D. Taylor, the ambassador to
Saigon, was, however, “caught by surprise” when the administration began to press for combat
troop deployments to the RVN. “The President was thinking much bigger in this field,” he
recalled, “than the tenor in Washington” had indicated.32 Clearly, then, America’s civilian
leadership favored introducing combat troops into Vietnam in early 1965. At the same time, as
McGeorge Bundy admitted, “we had no recommendations from the military for major ground
deployments.”33 There was in fact no military imperative to intervene. After the VC had bombed
an officers’s billet in Saigon on Christmas eve, the White House had encouraged Taylor to ask for
ground troops, but the Ambassador, the commander of the MACV [Military Assistance
Command, Vietnam] General William Westmoreland, and Taylor’s deputy, U. Alexis Johnson,
quickly moved to scotch such measures.34
In a prescient analysis of U.S. policy, Westmoreland and his staff explained their
resistance to employing combat forces, and recommended that the United States continue on its
flawed path of providing operational support and improving the advisory system. As the MACV
staff saw it, the United States had already spent a great deal of time trying to develop the ARVN,
and “if that effort has not succeeded, there is even less reason to think that U.S. combat forces
would have the desired effect.” The Vietnamese, Westmoreland assumed, would either let
Americans carry the burden of war or actively turn against the U.S. presence in their country.
Given such circumstances, MACV officers concluded that the involvement of American ground
forces in the RVN “would at best buy time and would lead to ever increasing commitments until,
like the French, we would be occupying an essentially hostile foreign country.”35
Army Chief of Staff Harold K. Johnson was not unduly optimistic either, telling an
audience in Los Angeles that he expected U.S. military involvement in Indochina to last a
minimum of five years, and possibly as long as two decades.36 Johnson, as well as other officers,
would overcome their reservations about sending ground troops to Vietnam only two months
later. Maxwell Taylor, however, continued to virulently oppose such steps. In a series of
memoranda to the president and others throughout the winter months of 1965, the ambassador
detailed the risks of U.S. intervention and the bleak prospects facing American soldiers in
southern Vietnam. Above all, he still insisted that political turmoil in the RVN was the major
obstacle to success, and one which American troops could not remove. In early January, as
General Nguyen Khanh maneuvered to return to power, Taylor called for “hard soul searching” to
decide whether U.S. officials ought to tolerate another coup, or instead reject Khanh altogether
and accept the consequences, “which might entail ultimate withdrawal.”37
To Taylor, the choices were so stark because the United States could ill afford to fight a
ground war in Vietnam. The RVN simply lacked the resources and resolve to engage an
impressive enemy and it was not “reasonable or feasible” to expect U.S. or third-country forces to
assume the burdens of guerrilla war. As another MACV study found, the United States would
need to commit about 34 battalions of infantry with additional logistics support, a total of about
75,000 troops, just to provide security to American personnel and facilities already in Vietnam.
To the Ambassador, this “startling requirement” would inevitably “bring us into greater conflict
with the Vietnamese people and the government.”38 After Khanh had staged another coup on 27
January, Taylor advised against recognizing the new government, telling Bundy that the United
States should prepare to “reduce [its] advisory effort to policy guidance [or] disengage and let the
[RVN] stand alone.”39
The ambassador thus had “one basic conclusion” about Vietnam: the United States “is on
a losing track and must change course or suffer defeat, early or late as one chooses to interpret
the known facts.”40 Secretary of State Dean Rusk also interjected a note of caution into the
proceedings, but offered different advice on future policy. As McGeorge Bundy told the
president in his memorandum of 27 January, the secretary of state, like Westmoreland weeks
earlier, believed “that the consequences of both escalation and withdrawal are so bad that we
simply must find a way of making our present policy work.”41
Unlike Rusk, Taylor continued to see air power as a virtual panacea to America’s
problems. Graduated air strikes against the DRVN, he believed, would signal to Ho the cost of
supporting the insurgency, provide leverage in any negotiations, and improve RVN morale.
While Taylor, and most other military and political officials, did not expect an air campaign to
decisively alter the situation in Vietnam, they did see it as a way of “producing maximum
stresses in Hanoi minds.”42 With the war going so badly, the president had little choice but to
finally accept Taylor’s strategy. Thus, by mid-February, the United States was beginning a full
scale air campaign in Vietnam.
The immediate cause of the air war came on 7 February, when the VC mortared an Army
barracks in Pleiku, killing 9 and wounding 109 Americans, and destroying or damaging 22
aircraft. U.S. officials then cited the attack at Pleiku to justify American retaliation, but any
provocation would have satisfied the administration’s desire to expand the war. Indeed,
McGeorge Bundy was in Vietnam at the time and, looking to justify stronger military measures,
saw the incident as the vehicle by which the president could authorize an air campaign against
the north, even sarcastically observing that “Pleikus are like streetcars.”43 Thus, Johnson
authorized Operation ROLLING THUNDER, which in three years would unleash more tonnage
of bombs than all previous air wars combined. A new bombing campaign, as Bundy saw it,
would demonstrate American credibility, for in the RVN he had found a “widespread belief” that
the United States lacked the will and patience to stay in Vietnam. Without a significantly
increased American effort, the national security advisor warned, “defeat appears inevitable.”44
Accordingly Bundy, in a memorandum that McNaughton drafted, urged the president to execute
a program of “sustained reprisal” against the DRVN, with U.S. air and naval attacks to be
justified by and calibrated according to the VC’s activities in the south. As enemy “outrages”
continued in the RVN, the American air strikes against the north would take their toll.45
The president thus authorized reprisal strikes, Operation FLAMING DART, against the
DRVN on 8 and 9 February, and ROLLING THUNDER on 13 February. As Mark Clodfelter
has shown, Johnson’s decisions did not satisfy everyone. While Taylor, McNamara, McGeorge
Bundy, and McNaughton thought that the president had demonstrated American resolve, William
Bundy and Rusk doubted that air strikes would deter Ho.46 The JCS, although satisfied that
Johnson had finally acted, continued to press for intensified air operations against the north.47
Harold K. Johnson continued to decry the emphasis on the air war over the DRVN since the
United States, he believed, still had to focus on defeating the insurgency in the south and did not
have to destroy the north to force a settlement in the RVN.48 Westmoreland, also taking the
Army line, “doubted that the bombing would have any effect on the North Vietnamese,” although
he did hope that it might boost southern morale.49
The bombing, however, did not appreciably change conditions inside southern Vietnam,
so, in March, Johnson deployed the first ground troops, a Marine brigade, to guard the U.S. base
at Da Nang. Westmoreland remained wary, cautioning that it was “most important . . . to avoid
the impression by friends and enemies that [the] U.S. has taken over responsibility for war from
the Vietnamese.”50
American officers had not recommended the use of combat troops before February 1965
and, in Westmoreland’s case, had firmly rejected such proposals earlier. But with civilian
authorities in Washington rushing in that direction, Wheeler, the MACV commander, and others
fell in line, as concerned with the political impact of decisionmaking as with the war in Vietnam
itself. The deployment to Da Nang resulted from civilian pressure, not military factors, and was
in the cards even prior to the events of early 1965. As General DePuy later observed, the
commitment of combat forces was not the “product of a Westmoreland concept for fighting the
war.” The MACV staff, he explained, still expected U.S. troops to advise and assist the ARVN,
not fight the war themselves.51
So did Maxwell Taylor. Although he had to acquiesce in the troop commitment, the
ambassador persisted in warning about a wider war. Expressing his “grave reservations” about
commiting ground forces to Vietnam, the soldier-cum-diplomat warned that “once this policy is
breached, it will be very difficult to hold [the] line” on future troop moves. As soon as RVN
leaders saw that the United States was willing to assume new responsibilities, they would
certainly “seek to unload other ground force tasks upon us,” which would inevitably lead to
increased political tension with the local population and friction with the RVNAF over command
arrangements. Taylor recognized the need to defend U.S. airfields at sites such as Da Nang or
Bien Hoa, but thought that accepting a combat role against the VC was just not feasible. The
“white-faced soldier armed, equipped, and trained as he is” was “not [a] suitable guerrilla fighter
for Asian forests and jungles,” he explained. Pointing to the French failure in the First Indochina
War, Taylor had to “doubt that US forces could do much better.”52 By mid-March,
Westmoreland’s request for more troops to protect an American radio unit in Phu Bai, about 50
miles below the DMZ, reinforced Taylor’s fear that such proposals would continue unabated and
might induce the ARVN to perform even “worse in a mood of relaxation at passing the Viet
Cong burden to the US.”53
In March 1965, however, U.S. officials were concerned with getting more ground forces
into Vietnam amid the continued deterioration there. The initial deployments had not alleviated
the situation in the south and Wheeler, as MACV historians explained, “feared that the VC gains
might have reached the point where, regardless of US action against [the DRVN], the RVN
would fall apart.”54 Other officials had equally forthright reservations. The commitment to Da
Nang had alienated various Marine generals who pointed out to Greene that the Corps “was
overcommitted . . . and unable to meet any kind of challenge in the Atlantic area.”55 Army
General Arthur Collins, a planning officer who believed that the United States was going to
“nibble away at this Vietnamese problem” and that the southern Vietnamese had no will to fight,
urged MACV official Bruce Palmer to oppose the moves to the RVN in early 1965.56 Collins
and the Marines both got nowhere with their complaints. The United States had already passed
the point of no return in Vietnam, and in March and April 1965 American policymakers seemed
solely concerned with sending more troops to the RVN, not in debating whether they should be
there. Within months, by July 1965, the commitment to Vietnam would become irreversible,
with Johnson approving a major reinforcement of about 50,000 troops, with more to be deployed
“as requested,” and increasing draft calls to 35,000 monthly. The war had been “Americanized”
despite over a decade of military misgivings, and within a few years, by Tet 1968, the fears and
bleak predictions of so many officers had been borne out.
Who’s to Blame?
Not surprisingly, with White House and service officials at odds over Vietnam, civil
military relations were at a low point. Indeed, the military, sensing early on that conditions in
Vietnam were not conducive to American success, looked for ways to avoid responsibility for
what they saw a likely disaster there. So, in addition to fighting a war in Vietnam, U.S. officials
found themselves involved in political conflict at home over who would bear the blame for
failure in Southeast Asia.
Such concerns were evident early on. In a thorough and candid analysis of the political
and military factors that were conditioning U.S. policy in Indochina, the MAAG Commander,
Lionel McGarr revealed that the type of political acridity that was dragging down the American
experience in Vietnam. The MAAG chief, moving beyond the usual military behavior of
accepting orders and trying to find practical solutions for them, even if disagreeing with civilian
decisions, actually questioned the assumptions driving the U.S. role in Indochina from not only a
military but a political viewpoint as well. To McGarr, it was clear that the military was at odds
with the state department, embassy, and Vietnam Task Force appraisals and recommendations for
Vietnam. Their reports of deterioration in the south and the urgent need for action from
Washington, McGarr wrote to Lemnitzer, were “written primarily for high level civilian
consumption to cover [the] State Department with paper in the eventuality that the situation here
goes from bad to worse.” Recent bleak reports had merely “point[ed] up dangers . . . of which we
were already well aware and previously reported.” Diplomatic officials, McGarr complained,
had only just started “reading their mail” and learning the details of the war.57
Clearly McGarr feared that the civilian establishment would try an end run around the
military in Saigon so, “for the protection of the Armed Forces of the United States and
specifically the Army which runs MAAG Vietnam,” he wanted Lemnitzer to see his unfiltered
judgment of the “presently worsening situation here.” State Department officials, McGarr
believed, were overlooking past mistakes and “basic differences of opinion between them and the
military” in Vietnam. Both Foggy Bottom and the embassy, he added, had ignored or opposed
the need to build up the ARVN and develop counterinsurgency capabilities, and it was only
“Kennedy’s pronouncements on Vietnam as well as Vice President Johnson’s visit here, not to
mention increasing Viet Cong pressure, [that] made [the ARVN increase] imperative.” Worse,
the RVN’s leaders, also bypassing reluctant U.S. military officials, now “feel they can get
anything they want, regardless of MAAG recommendations, by going through the Ambassador to
top American levels.” While McGarr was not as pessimistic as he had a right to be, he did see a
“slimmer and slimmer” chance to “pull this one out of the fire.” Aware of the political factors
involved in developing Vietnam policy, the MAAG chief concluded with striking honesty that
“as I am jealous of the professional good name of our Army, I do not wish it to be placed in the
position of fighting a losing battle and being charged with the loss.”58
McGarr’s views may be as close as one comes to finding a “smoking gun” on the politics
of Vietnam in the Kennedy years. In his report the MAAG chief had crystallized the major
factors that were dooming the U.S. experience in Vietnam. Not only clearly recognizable
battlefield deterioration–caused principally by an imposing enemy as well as a deficient ally-
but, just as importantly, domestic political brawls would make it virtually impossible for
America to meet its objectives in Vietnam. Civilian officials apparently felt the same way. In a
bluntly honest memorandum to President Johnson in 1964, his close advisor Jack Valenti advised
him to “sign on” the JCS before making any “final decisions” about Vietnam. Fearing the “future
aftermath” of such decisions, and invoking Omar Bradley’s support of Harry Truman at the
MacArthur hearings during the Korean War, Valenti wanted the JCS’s support of the president’s
policy to be made public so as to avoid future recriminations. In that way the chiefs “will have
been heard, they will have been part of the consensus, and our flank will have been covered in
the event of some kind of flap or investigation later.”59
During the deliberations over sending in combat troops in early 1965, Admiral U.S. Grant
Sharp, the Pacific Commander, was ambivalent over the growing commitment. Though
recognizing the deterioration in southern Vietnam, Sharp believed that long-term success would
require “a positive statement of national policy and specifically a command decision as to
whether or not we are or will participate actively in the fighting in [the] RVN, or whether we will
continue to adhere to our long standing policy that this is a Vietnamese war and that we are only
advisors.”60 Sharp, as U.S. officers had done since the original commitments to Southeast Asia,
was once more pressing the civilian establishment in Washington to take responsibility for
By mid-1965, service leaders were obviously suspicious of their civilian counterparts and
worried about their conduct of the war. Earle Wheeler bemoaned what he saw as “overcontrol
and overmanagement” by Pentagon civilians and wanted his field commanders to be free of
having “their hands tied by . . . theorists at higher headquarters.” Admiral David McDonald, the
naval commander, likewise was concerned that Johnson’s graduated bombing campaign would
fail, but that the president would eventually leave office and “the only group left answerable for
the war would be the military.”61 Admiral Sharp explicitly addressed such political
considerations in his instructions to Westmoreland. Although the ambassador had already told
MACV commanders that they could commit their forces to battle against the VC, and Sharp had
reiterated that authorization, the Commander-in-Chief of Pacifica Forces [CINCPAC] also urged
that Westmoreland “realize that there would be grave political implications involved if sizable
U.S. forces are committed for the first time and suffer a defeat.” The commander should thus
“notify CINCPAC and JCS prior to [the] commitment of any U.S. ground combat force.”62
Indeed, such political maneuvering would be an implicit yet critical element in Vietnam
policymaking from that point on because military men were aware that civil-military relations as
well as battlefield conditions would determine the nature of U.S. involvement in the war.
American officers–although not usually as candid as Sharp in discussing the “grave political
implications” of their decisions–did recognize that the president and defense secretary would
never authorize unlimited resources or operations in Vietnam. Military policy was not made in a
vacuum; public opposition to the war, Johnson’s domestic agenda, and international political
considerations, as well as the situation on the ground in the RVN, would always be significant
elements in the formulation of strategy. The president himself made this clear at a mid-June
NSC meeting on Vietnam. To Johnson, dissent at home, trouble in the field, and the threat of
PRC intervention meant that the United States had to limit both its means and ends in Vietnam.
It thus had to contain the enemy “as much as we can, and as simply as we can, without going all
out.” By approving Westmoreland’s reinforcement request in mid-year, he explained, “we get in
deeper and it is harder to get out . . . . We must determine which course gives us the maximum
protection at the least cost.”63
The president’s concern about a deeper commitment was revealing, indicating that he
would not authorize unlimited resources to or wholly unrestrained operations in Vietnam.
Johnson would, however, escalate the war to levels not imagined just years earlier. Military
leaders, despite recognizing the risks of intervention in Vietnam and having arrived at no
consensus on how to conduct the war, nonetheless continually pressed the White House to
expand the U.S. commitment. Unable to develop any new ideas to alter conditions in the RVN,
or to admit that they were not likely to reverse the situation there, American officers asked for
more of the same. The president in turn would both “get in deeper” but not fully satisfy the
military’s requests. Either way, Lyndon Johnson would be responsible for what happened in
As the war continued on, without appreciable improvement, in 1967 and thereafter, civil
military jockeying to avoid blame for the war intensified. The military, in fact, began to plant the
idea that they had to fight with “one hand tied behind their backs,” a staple of postwar
conservative revisionism on the war, while the conflict was in progress. Time and again, though
they recognized that the Johnson administration was not going to escalate the war without
restraint, take the battle to the north, or activate reserves, military leaders would request those
very measures to make the civilians responsible for fighting short-handed, as it were.
Admiral Sharp, in another of his candid political evaluations, virtually admitted as much.
The reinforcements that the JCS requested “are simply not going to be provided,” he understood.
“The country is not going to call up the Reserves and we had best accept that.” On the other
hand, Sharp, like Marine leaders, saw Westmoreland’s plans, a war of attrition, as a “blueprint for
defeat.” The Pacific commander, as unimaginative as ever, still hoped to rely on air power to
alter conditions in Vietnam, but also urged Westmoreland to keep the pressure on the White
House. “Continue to state your requirement for forces,” he told the commander, “even though
you are not going to get them.”64 Sharp later alleged in his memoirs that politicians in
Washington stabbed the military in the back, but the Admiral must have seen the knife headed
his way well before the war had ended. Westmoreland too understood the political
considerations involved in developing strategy. In a somewhat contradictory reply to Sharp’s
charges, the commander “caution[ed] against too gloomy an appraisal” of his campaign plans, but
he also told the Admiral that their analyses of the situation in Vietnam were “identical.”
Accordingly, Westmoreland decided to seek a third course, somewhere between the JCS call for
reinforcement and Reserves and his own plans.65
In the end, of course, Westmoreland would develop no new approach to the war. Instead
he continued to request more troops and resources, despite Sharp’s blunt awareness that they
would not be forthcoming, and despite similar warnings from Harold K. Johnson. “You are
painfully aware of the problems ahead of us,” the Army chief cabled Westmoreland, “if we
cannot some way to bring our authorized and operating strengths into line.” Calling for
“personnel economy” and greater “discipline” in requisitioning resources, Johnson asked for the
commander’s support to stem the problem before the defense department began to investigate the
Army’s handling of manpower issues.66
Everything, of course, would come to a boil in early 1968, as the enemy staged its
countrywide Tet Offensive. In the aftermath of Tet, which had undermined Westmoreland’s
recent claims that there was “light at the end of the tunnel,” Wheeler traveled to Saigon where he
offered a gloomy appraisal of conditions in Vietnam–his famous “it was a very near thing”
report. But he and Westmoreland also requested 206,000 more troops and the activation of about
200,000 reservists. But it was clear that major reinforcement was not forthcoming in February
and March 1968. Wheeler recognized the pervading gloom in the White House, admitting that
“Tet had a tremendous effect on the American public . . . on leaders of Congress . . . on President
Johnson.” General Dave Richard Palmer, remembering the April 1967 request, observed that
“the ground had already been fought over, the sides were already chosen.” As a result, while
Wheeler was in Vietnam, Bruce Palmer, now a MACV commander, informed Westmoreland that
General Dwight Beach, the Army’s Pacific commander, had been aware of the new reinforcement
request and “had commented that it would shock them [Washington officials].”67 As
Westmoreland himself admitted, he and Wheeler “both knew the grave political and economic
implications of a major call-up of reserves.” Westmoreland tried to be upbeat but saw that
Wheeler was “imbued with the aura of crisis” in Washington and thus had dismissed dismissed
any optimistic briefings. “In any event,” the MACV Commander added, the JCS chair “saw no
possibility at the moment of selling reinforcements” unless he adopted an alarmist tone to exploit
the sense of crisis. “Having read the newspapers,” Westmoreland wondered, “who among them
[civilian leaders] would even believe there had been success?” Wheeler’s approach to the issue
notwithstanding, Westmoreland suspected that “the request may have been doomed from the first
in any event” due to long-standing political pressure to de-escalate.68
Harold K. Johnson suspected as much. In their initial meetings after the Tet attacks
began, the chiefs decided to wait for the dust to settle before making recommendations for future
strategy. Within days, however, it was clear that the JCS and MACV did not have that luxury,
and would have to make a prompt policy statement. Instead of deliberating over the proper
course for the future, Johnson observed, the chiefs just endorsed a program for major
reinforcements. “I think this was wrong,” the Army chief later asserted. “There should have
been better assessment” of the situation before forwarding military plans to the White House.
The chiefs, despite their misconceptions, approved the reinforcement request anyway, essentially
because they did not want to reject the chair’s suggestion. “If you want it bad,” Johnson
sardonically remarked, “you get it bad.”69
And the brass did get it bad. Political leaders had also made it clear that substantive
reinforcements would not be forthcoming. Even before Tet, the PAVN strike at Khe Sanh had
alarmed Johnson. Now, meeting with his advisors, the president charged that “all of you have
counseled, advised, consulted and then–as usual–placed the monkey on my back again . . . I do
not like what I am smelling from those cables from Vietnam.”70 During his first post-Tet press
conference the president asserted that he had already added the men that Westmoreland though
were necessary. “We have something under 500,000,” Johnson told reporters. “Our objective is
525,000. Most of the combat battalions already have been supplied. There is not anything in any
of the developments that would justify the press in leaving the impression that any great new
overall moves are going to be made that would involve substantial movements in that direction.”
By the following week, with more advisors expressing their concern about Tet and the war in
general, it was clear to the president that the military could exploit White House division over
Vietnam. “I don’t want them [military leaders] to ask for something,” Johnson worried aloud,
“not get it, and have all the blame placed on me.”71
That, to a large degree, was precisely what happened. In the aftermath of Tet and the
reinforcement request, Johnson found himself in an untenable position, unable to send more
troops to Vietnam given the shocking nature of the enemy offensive, and unwilling to admit
defeat and move on. Politically, he was weakened beyond repair, with Democratic Senators
Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy opting to challenge for the party’s nomination for
president, and thereby forcing the President to withdraw from the race, and thus opening the door
for Richard Nixon’s triumph, based on his pledge to get out of Vietnam. Subsequently,
conservatives and military officials began to attack Johnson for his tentative approach to
Vietnam, for not activating reserves, for not conducting operations north of the seventeenth
parallel, for not giving the military the resources it needed to win, for making American soldiers
fight “with one hand tied behind their back.”
Vietnam Redux?
If David Shoup’s words were an appropriate way to introduce this topic, then Anthony
Zinni provides a nice bookend to this topic as one moves on to Iraq. Zinni, a Marine General and
past commander of the U.S. Central Command [CENTCOM] as well as a special envoy to the
Middle East for the White House, was among the earliest and most outspoken military critics of
George Bush’s war on Iraq, and his words, along with many other officers–as in the Vietnam
era– offer a compelling indictment of the current war and the political leaders who started it.
In the summer of 2002, as the administration was ramping up for war with its now
discredited claims of Iraqi WMDs and links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, Zinni was
already speaking out. To the General, Iraq was a dangerous diversion from the more critical
issues of developing a Middle East peace process, actually giving priority to containing terrorism,
and repairing America’s image and political influence. As he saw it, “our relationships in the
region [the Middle East] are in major disrepair . . . we need to quit making enemies we don’t
need to make enemies out of. And we need to fix those relationships. There’s a deep chasm
growing between that part of the world and our part of the world. And it’s strange, about a
month after 9/11, they were sympathetic and compassionate toward us. How did it happen over
the last year?” Zinni also took a shot at White House civilians who were committed to war
against Iraq while well-known military leaders like Norman Schwarzkopf, Brent Scowcroft,
Wesley Clark and others had misgivings about intervention. “It might be interesting,” Zinni said
to crowd laughter, “to wonder why all the generals see it the same way and all those that never
fired a shot in anger and really hell-bent to go to war see it a different way. That’s usually the
way it is in history.”72
At the same time, Brent Scowcroft, a retired Air Force general, past National Security
Advisor, and probably the closest colleague of George Herbert Walker Bush, wrote an editorial
in the Wall Street Journal making similar points. “Any campaign against Iraq, whatever the
strategy, cost, and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on
terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time .
. .The shared view in the region is that Iraq is principally an obsession of the U.S.” General
Joseph Hoar, who as a Marine general was the CENTCOM commander from 1991to 1994, also
warned against intervention in Iraq. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee
in August 2002, Hoar maintained that an invasion would be “risky” and unnecessary and was
especially concerned that American forces would be virtually alone in Iraq, as Turkey and other
regional allies were not supportive of the U.S. mission there. Without allies on the ground, the
American commitment would have to be extensive, the general observed, and current troop
estimates emanating from the pentagon, in the 70,000-100,000 range, were much too small. “It
seems to me at the end of the day,” he pointed out, you’re going to have to put people on the
Throughout the fall of 2002, as the administration ratcheted up the pressure on Iraq,
Zinni and General Wesley Clark were outspoken voices of dissent. Zinni continued to see Iraq as
a sideshow to more important issues, especially the Israeli–Palestine peace process, which he saw
as “the single issue that drives everything in the Middle East,” but was “at the lowest point that
it’s probably ever been.” Some officials, Zinni pointed out, had argued that a war in Iraq might
facilitate the peace process in the region, a notion the general found outlandish–“I don’t know
what planet they’re on,” he observed, “because it isn’t the one that I travel.” To Zinni, the
larger political crisis in the Middle East meant that Iraq just was not a priority. Saddam, he
believed, had been contained by U.N. sanctions and the ongoing inspection process, so Palestine
and other issues like encouraging reform in Iran and repairing the American image in the Arab
world were far more critical. In his “personal view,” as Zinni put it, Iraq “isn’t number one; it’s
maybe sixth or seventh.” Perhaps most telling, Zinni anticipated that, after a successful
intervention, serious problems would emerge. As he explained, “Expectations grow rapidly. The
initial euphoria can wear off. People have the idea that Jeffersonian democracy, entrepreneurial
economics and all these great things are going to come. If they are not delivered immediately, do
not seem to be on the rise, and worse yet, if the situation begins to deteriorate — if there is tribal
revenge, factional splitting, still violent elements in the country making statements that make it
more difficult, institutions that are difficult to reestablish, infrastructure damage, I think that
initial euphoria could wane away. It’s not whether you’re greeted in the streets as a hero; it’s
whether you’re still greeted as a hero when you come back a year from now.”74
As Zinni was making the rounds trying to temper the Bush administration rush to war,
another respected general, Wesley Clark, was actively dissenting as well. Clark had been the
Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1997-2000 and prosecuted the Kosovo attacks as
such. To Clark, that intervention had succeeded because it had multilateral support and was done
under NATO auspices, but the Bush “war on terror” was taking on an increasingly unilateral
character, which would lead to American isolation and even further damage relations with
Middle Eastern states. With regard to Iraq specifically, Clark was more blunt, and bleak. While
he assumed that the initial invasion would be short and successful, the longer-term consequences
of a war in Iraq would be much more troubling. The food distribution and health care systems
were likely break down, while there would be “violence and revenge” in the streets as the old
regime fell apart. Even worse, a quick and devastating defeat of Iraq would cause “a deepening of
the Arab sense of humiliation across the region” as they saw the U.S. triumph as “a reimposition
of colonialism” in a war which they believed was principally fought for control of the world’s oil
supply, and, Clark cautioned, “there is little our American soldiers can do to prevent this.”75
As the White House continued to sound the war alarms in the fall and winter of 2002, the
generals continued to speak out. Zinni, in a prescient analysis before the Center for Defense
Information, an organization of retired officers critical of American foreign policy, offered ten
conditions for a successful military campaign in Iraq, which included building a coalition to
intervene; keeping the destruction to a minimum; keeping “the street, the populace, quiet;
maintaining public order; sharing the burden with allies and the Iraqis; making certain that the
change in power from Saddam to a new regime is orderly; taking care to see that “the military is
not stuck” in Iraq; and continuing to meet other commitments.76 Zinni’s concerns apparently
were shared by active-duty officers as well. The Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki,
and the Marine Commandant, General James Jones, were reported to be worried by “excessive
confidence” in the pentagon that any resistance to the American presence would collapse quickly,
and they warned that a campaign in Iraq could be “a protracted and bloody affair.” To some
degree, such blunt appraisals reflected their fears about war in Iraq, but they were also part of
civil-military tensions, as in the Vietnam era, between the brass and the Secretary of Defense. As
soon as the U.S. began planning to invade Iraq, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Donald
Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary, had planned on a quick invasion with a light force and a short
occupation, while service chiefs advocated longer-range planning with a much larger force for
both the invasion and inevitable occupation.77
Indeed, the debate the number of US forces needed in Iraq would serve as a defining issue
in the war and the greatest source of friction between Rumsfeld and his military subordinates.
Unlike most policy conflicts, which are kept inside the pentagon or gradually leaked to the press,
this debate was public from the first. In February 2002 the Army Chief, Shinseki, appearing
before the Senate Commitee on Armed Services, publicly disagreed with Rumfeld’s estimates on
the troop strength needed in Iraq. While Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, insisted that
the war could be fought and Iraq occupied with no more than 100,000 forces, Shinseki insisted
that “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be needed to fight the war and then pacify the
country. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were visibly irritated by Shinseki’s numbers, finding them
“far off the mark” and claiming that a smaller force would be adequate because there was no
history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there had been in Kosovo, and that the Iraqi people would
welcome the Americans as liberators.78
The warnings of Zinni, Clark, Hoar, Shinseki and others notwithstanding, the Bush
administration attacked Iraq on 19 March 2003, and within weeks U.S. soldiers were facing
many of the problems the officers had anticipated in the run-up to the war, which led in turn to
more military criticism and civil-military acrimony. Although the invasion itself did not meet
much resistance and Bush declared an end to major combat operations, and “one victory” in the
war on terror and Iraq, during a photo opportunity aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln with a
“Mission Accomplished” banner in the background, military leaders were not as sanguine.
Although Rumsfeld and Commanding General Tommy Franks believed that continued fighting
by fedayeen, Iraqi paramilitaries, were merely speedbumps on the way to quelling Baghdad and
the entire country, many other commanders believed that the continued insurgency represented a
larger threat. The Army commander in the Gulf, General William Wallace, angered pentagon
officials when he publicly anticipated a longer and tougher war than initially projected. “The
enemy we’re fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed against,” he admitted,
“because of those paramilitary forces. We knew they were here, but we did not know how they
would fight.”79 Wallace’s words seemed to open up a spigot of military criticism in late March
and early April 2003, especially as American forces, despite Rumsfeld’s denials, had a “pause”
in the war to meet logistics demands. The media reported that Rumsfeld had continued to refuse
the generals’ requests for more troops, perhaps as many as six times, and micromanaged the
conflict to the military’s constant frustration. One colonel, speaking off-the-record, blasted the
defense secretary, observing that “he wanted to fight this war on the cheap. He got what he
wanted.” In late May, after Bush’s virtual declaration of victory, Marine General David
McKiernan countered that “the war has not ended”, and that continuing guerrilla attacks by
Saddam loyalists “are not criminal activities, they are combat activities”. Other officers
contended that the problems facing American troops in Iraq had vindicated Shinseki’s testimony
before congress, and relations between the military and civilian establishments were being
compared to the acrimony that was present during the tenure of Robert McNamara during the
Vietnam 80
Amid the unusual criticism from officers in the field, the retired generals weighed in as
well. Joseph Hoar, writing on the op-ed page of the New York Times, criticized Rumsfeld for
ignoring military advice on the troops strength needed in Iraq and for seeming to transfer
responsibility for problems there to the military rather than be accountable himself. Wesley
Clark insisted that Iraq was not a theater in the war on terror, but a diversion from it, and early on
observed that a quick victory was “not going to happen” due to the continued resistance of Iraqis
to the American presence–“plenty of venom” against the U.S. remained, he observed–and the
failure of Americans to enlist a larger group of allies in the war. Zinni was more direct. “This is
in fact the wrong war at the wrong time,” he remarked. “We’re applying military action to places
where it isn’t necessary,” and, if continued, he did not believe that Americans “will stand for a
series of wars like this.” As Zinni saw it, the Arab world would be relieved that Saddam was
ousted from power, but “on the other hand, there will be great apprehension about this world
power that bullied its way in, ignored international arguments and now has decided to impose a
form of government on this country.”81
As the dissent of the brass continued, the chair of the Joint Chiefs, General Richard
Myers, publicly rebuked officers, active-duty and retired, as “misinformed, inaccurate and
harmful to American forces in combat.” Myers specifically targeted media analysts like Wesley
Clark and General Barry McCaffrey, claiming that criticizing the war on television had become
“great sport here inside the Beltway.” These critics, he added, “either weren’t there, or they don’t
know, or they’re working another agenda. It is not helpful to have those kind of comments come
out when we’ve got troops in combat.” McCaffrey, however, took a shot at Rumsfeld in return.
“This war is too important to be left ot the secretary alone,” he asserted. “At the end of the day I
think they ought to value my public opinion.”82 Shinseki, who gained increasing credibility
throughout 2003 as his prewar appraisals were proven right–some classmates reportedly wore
“Ric Was Right” caps at his West Point Reunion– offered his public opinion too, lamenting that
the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq “didn’t have to be this difficult.” Shinseki, like Clark and
others, particularly criticized the administration for its unilateral approach in the Middle East.
“We will need the help of others, our friends, our allies and even former adversaries,” he
By the latter part of 2003, the military and pentagon, reminiscent of Vietnam, were
engaged in a virulent political battle over the war. The journalist Seymour Hersh, who always
had impressive contacts in the military, reported in November that Rumsfeld was contemptuous
of many of the Clinton-era generals still in the pentagon and he complained that many of them
had “the slows,” invoking Lincoln’s attack on General George McLellan during the Civil War.
Military men, however, countered that Rumsfeld simply did not anticipate the problems
encountered in Iraq, so he provided American forces with insufficient equipment–from tanks to
armored vehicles to personal armor–and inadequate reserves. One general lamented that
Rumsfeld and his colleagues “believed their own propaganda” and, instead of planning for
warfare, relied on “McNamara-like intimidation by . . . a small cell.”84 Zinni was even more
angry, and blunt. Speaking before Marine and Naval officers, the general invoked his previous
experience to condemn the current situation. “My contemporaries, our feelings and sensitivities
were forged on the battlefields of Vietnam,” he said passionately, “where we heard the garbage
and the lies and we saw the sacrifice. I ask you, is it happening again?” Indeed, Zinni’s
experience in Southeast Asia was forming his opinions of Iraq. While recovering from serious
wounds from an AK-47 attack, he promised himself “if I’m ever in a position to say what I think
is right, I will . . . I don’t care what happens to my career.” As early as 1998 Zinni had publicly
argued that a “weakened, fragmented, chaotic Iraq, which could happen if this isn’t done
carefully, is more dangerous in the long run that a contained Saddam is now.” Five years later,
the general’s views seemed prescient. Even Saddam’s capture, he contended, would provide
only a short morale boost. “Since we’ve failed thus far to capitalize” on any opportunities in the
war, “I don’t have confidence we will do it now. I believe the only way it will work out now if
for the Iraqis themselves to somehow take charge and turn things around. Our policy, strategy,
tactics, et cetera, are still screwed up.” Wesley Clark likewise continued to criticize the war,
even calling for a full congressional investigation into why the U.S. invaded Iraq. “We don’t
know what the motivation was. We just don’t know. We’ve spent $180 billion on it, we’ve lost
480 Americans, we’ve got 2/500 with life-changing injuries . . . “ Going beyond his critique of
the war, Clark added that he feared “we’re at risk with our democracy” because Bush headed “the
most closed, imperialistic, nastiest administration in living memory. They even put Richard
Nixon to shame. They are a threat to what the nation stands for, and we need to get him out of
the White House.”85
Clark’s verbal bombshells were part of a much larger campaign of military dissent as the
war dragged on. By mid-2004, as the first anniversary of the start of the Iraq campaign passed,
more dissension among military leaders was visible. Thomas Ricks, the well-regarded military
writer for the Washington Post began an analysis of the war in May with the observation that
“deep divisions are emerging at the top of the U.S. military over the course of the occupation of
Iraq, with some senior officers beginning to say that the United States faces the prospect of
casualties for years to come without achieving its goal of establishing a free and democratic
Iraq.” Many officers, echoing Vietnam, noted that American forces were causing large numbers
of enemy casualties but not achieving strategic successes. One senior general at the pentagon
bluntly observed that the U.S. was likely to lose in Iraq; “it is doubtful we can go on much longer
like this,” he believed. “The American people may not stand for it–and they should not.” The
general, like so many other officers, singled out Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz for blame, both
because they did not have a coherent war strategy or an exit strategy. One younger general
likewise criticized the pentagon’s leadership. “Like a lot of senior Army guys, I’m quite angry”
at the Bush administration, he admitted and listed two reasons–“One is, I think they are going to
break the Army,” and even worse, “I don’t think they care.” Zinni similarly went after the
pentagon’s leaders, accusing Rumsfeld and his associates of “at a minimum, true dereliction,
negligence and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence and corruption.”86
Indeed, dissenting generals played an increasing role in the public debate in 2004, in large
measure because many of them endorsed and worked for the election of John Kerry, the
Democratic challenger to Bush. At the same time, media reports on generals who were
criticizing Bush became common. General Jack Keane, who had been Vice Chief of Staff of the
Army, testified before the House Armed Services Committee that the pentagon had been
“seduced by Iraqi exiles” and thus engaged in unrealistic planning for the invasion, and
discounted the likelihood of an insurgency. General Hoar added that it was “ludicrous” to
believe that the war was going well. “There are no good options,” he believed, just barely a year
after the campaign began. “We’re conducting a campaign as though it were being conducted in
Iowa, no sense of the realities on the ground. It’s so unrealistic for anyone who knows that part
of the world. The priorities are just all wrong.” General William Odom, past head of Army
Intelligence and an NSC official, scoffed at the White House’s optimistic reports on the war.
“Bush hasn’t found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it’s worse, he’s lost on that front. That he’s going to
achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It’s lost. Right now, the course we’re on,
we’re achieving Bin Laden’s ends.” Odom then strikingly claimed that Iraq was already “far
graver than Vietnam. There wasn’t as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we
mindlessly went ahead with the war that was not constructive for US aims. But now we’re in a
region far more volatile, and we’re in much worse shape with our allies.”87
Not surprising, such views could have consequences. In May 2005 General John Riggs
was forced into retirement and lost one of his stars because of infractions that were considered
too minor to be even entered into his official record. Riggs’ real offense, many of his fellow
officers claimed, was being too critical of Rumsfeld’s conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq, in particular his decision to fight the war without the troop strength recommended by Army
officers like Shinseki. Army General Jay Garner, who was the first head of reconstruction in Iraq
appointed by Bush, observed that, in the pentagon, “They all went batshit when that happened.
The military part of [Rumsfeld’s office] has been politicized. If [officers] disagree, they are
ostracized and their reputations are ruined.” General Odom, however, was retired and more free
to speak out, and in the summer of 2005 went further than any of his colleagues but openly
advocating that the U.S. “cut and run” from Iraq. Since Bush and his supporters were often
accusing war critics of advocating “cutting and running” from Iraq, Odom took the question head
on. As the general saw it, the various reasons against pulling out had little or no merit.
American forces were already involved in a civil war, he argued, which began when the U.S.
invaded and could not be ended by a continued presence there. Nor, the general added, was it
possible for the U.S. to create a democratic government in Iraq, so remaining in-country for that
reason was invalid. “Any government capable of holding power in Iraq will be anti-American,”
he observed, “because the Iraqi people are increasingly becoming anti-American.” As Odom saw
it, Bush’s statements about progress in Iraq were becoming too similar to Lyndon Johnson’s
statements during the Vietnam War. Iraq, the general also believed, was actually making the so
called war on terror harder to conduct, since Iraq had become a breeding ground for anti
American terrorists. Odom also believed the global consequences could be dreadful, as the U.S.
lost prestige among allies, as the war potentially spread to other areas in the region, and as
Iranian influence grew as a direct result of the American occupation of its neighboring country.
To Odom, the Iraq War was the greatest strategic mistake that the U.S. had ever made and it had
the potential to undermine the very ideology of constitutional democracy given the unilateral and
summary way the Bush administration had acted.88
Odom’s criticism was not unique, and by 2006, as the American intervention in Iraq
surpassed the length of U.S. involvement in World War II, military dissent was stronger than
ever. In January Colin Powell’s deputy at the State Department, Colonel Larry Wilkerson,
charged that Iraq policy had been taken over by a “cabal” at the pentagon and that the war
demonstrated “the worst ineptitude in governance, decision-making and leadership I’ve seen in
50-plus years . . . That includes the Bay of Pigs, that includes–oh my God, Vietnam. That
includes Iran-Contra, Watergate . . .” While Wilkerson was making a media splash with his
charges, an army report concluded that American forces in Iraq were stretched to the breaking
point due to inadequate troop levels and being overextended. With recruiting numbers down and
young officers leaving the services at a much higher than usual rate, the army had become a “thin
green line,” as Colonel Andrew Krepinevich, lead author of the study, pointed out. Rumsfeld,
however, ostensibly dismissed the report, merely claiming that the troops were “battle hardened”
and able to fight on.89
Rumsfeld, by this point, was even more of a lightning rod for criticism and the level of
public opprobrium for the defense secretary among military leaders was unprecedented. In April,
several retired officers –including General Paul Easton, who had been in charge of training the
Iraqi Army in 2003 and 2004; Zinni; Riggs; Clark; Hoar; General Gregory Newbold, a Marine
who had been the military’s ranking operations officer during the run-up to the war; General
John Batiste, who commanded an Army division in Iraq in the early stages of the war; General
Charles Swannack, who had commanded the 82d Airborne in Iraq; Marine General Paul Van
Riper, a veteran of Vietnam and Desert Storm and lecturer at the National Defense University;
General David Irvine, an Army expert on interrogation and military law; and Rear Admiral John
D. Hutson, who served as the Navy’s Judge Advocate General from 1997 to 2000–called on
Rumsfeld to resign.90 Bush, naturally, dismissed the generals’s criticism, but the demand for the
defense secretary’s ouster truly had shown how badly the U.S. experience in Iraq had devolved.
Even during the depths of Vietnam there had not been such a public outcry by military officials
in defiance of civilian leadership.
Collectively, the dissent of military officials, some retired and publically critical, some
on-duty and anonymous in their blunt and often bleak views, offers a striking and insightful
glimpse into the way the Iraq War unfolded. Many of the generals who opposed the war did so
prior to the invasion of March 2003 and time has proven their evaluations at the time to be
prescient. U.S. forces remain mired down in Iraq, as Zinni, Clark, Hoar and so many others
anticipated. The insurgency in Iraq grows, there is no sign of a democratic renaissance in
Baghdad, casualty numbers go up daily, and the so-called war on terror remains a sideshow to the
quagmire in the Middle East.
Like David Shoup and so many Vietnam-era military officials, U.S. generals in the
twenty-first century have spoken out against a war that not only is costing huge amounts of blood
and treasure but also is daily damaging American interests all over the globe.

1. Shoup speech at Junior College World Affairs Day, Los Angeles, 14 May 1966, reprinted in U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Present Situation in Vietnam, 90th cong., 2d sess., 1968, 47 [hereafter cited as SCFR, with hearing title].

2. Commanding General (hereafter CG), U.S. Forces, India-Burma Theatre, memorandum to War Department, CG, U.S. Forces, China Theatre, and CG, U.S. Army Liaison Section in Kandy, Ceylon, 11 September 1945, CRAX 27516, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Record Group 218, Chairman’s File, Admiral Leahy, 1942-1948, National Archives, Washington, D.C. (hereafter RG 218, with appropriate filing information); Gallagher, Hanoi,to General R.B. McClure, Kunming, 20 September 1945, in ed. Gareth Porter, Vietnam: The Definitive Documentation of Human Decisions (Stanfordville, N.Y., 1979), volume I: 77-8, document 41 (hereafter cited as Porter, Vietnam, with appropriate volume, page, and document designations). See also Report on Office of Strategic Services’ “Deer Mission” by Major Allison Thomas, 17 September 1945, Porter, Vietnam, I: 74-7, doc. 40; memorandum for the record: General Gallagher’s Meeting with Ho Chi Minh, 29 September 1945, ibid., I:80-1, doc. 44; and U.S. Congress, House Committee on Armed Services, United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967: Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, 12 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1971), Book 1, I.C.3., C-66-104 (hereafter USVN Relations with appropriate volume and page designations). 3. Marshall telegram to Caffery in Paris, 13 May 1947, in Porter, Vietnam, I:145-46, doc. 101; Marshall telegram to Caffery, 3 July 1948, ibid., I:176-77, doc. 118. See also Marshall telegram to Reed, 17 July 1947, ibid., I:156-57, doc. 104; It became standard practice for the military to question any large commitment to Vietnam. In JCS studies of national security priorities in 1947, Southeast Asia was consistently ranked at the bottom, while officials in the Navy and War Departments more specifically recognized Ho Chi Minh’s Bovertures to the United States and realized that he was not a puppet of Stalin. Melvyn P. Leffler, Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War (Palo Alto, CA., 1992), 148, 166. 4. JCS 1992/4, “U.S. Policy Toward Southeast Asia,” 9 July 1949, 092 Asia to Europe, case 40, Records of the U.S. Army Staff, Record Group 319 (hereafter RG 319, with appropriate filing information); Plans and Operations position paper, “U.S. Position with Respect to Indochina, 25 February 1950,” RG 319, G-3 091 Indochina, TS. 5. JSPC 958/5, “U.S. Military Measures in Southeast Asia,” RG 218, CCS 092 Asia (6-25-48), section 9; U.S. Minutes of U.S.-U.K. Political-Military Conversations, 26 October 1950, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950 (Washington, 1976), 3:1696 (hereafter cited as FRUS with appropriate year, volume, and page designations). 6. Substance of Discussion of State-JCS Meeting at the Pentagon Building, 21 December 1951, FRUS, 1951 (Washington, 1977) 6:568-70; and JSPC memorandum to JCS, “Conference with France and Britain on Southeast Asia,” JSPC 958/58, 22 December 1951, RG 218, CCS 092 Asia (6-25-48), section 20.
7. Substance of discussion of State-JCS Meeting at the Pentagon Building, 10 July 1953, FRUS, 1952-1954 13:648ff. 8. JCS Paper, “The Situation in Indochina,” 7 February 1954, RG 218, CCS 092 Asia (6-25-48), section 57. 9. Andrew Rotter, The Path to Vietnam: Origins of the American Commitment to Southeast Asia (Ithaca, N.Y., 1987) ; Lloyd Gardner, Approaching Vietnam: From World War II to Dienbienphu (New York, 1988) ; William Borden, The Pacific Alliance: United States Foreign Economic Policy and Japanese Trade Recovery, 1947-1954 (Madison, WI, 1984). 10. Army position on NSC Action 1074-A, n.d., USVN Relations, Book 1, II.B.1., B-10, Book 9, 333; Chief of Staff, USA, memorandum to JCS, 6 April 1954, FRUS, 1952-1954 13:1269-70; Ridgway quoted in Robert Asprey, War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History (Garden City, N.Y., 1975), 817-8; Ridgway interview with Maurice Matloff, 2-6, Military History Institute [MHI]. See also JCS memorandum for Secretary of Defense, “Indochina,” 8 April 1954, RG 218, CCS 092 Asia (6-25-48) section 62; PP-Gravel I:93; CSUSA memorandum to JCS, “Reconnaissance of Indochina and Thailand,” JCS 1992/359, 14 July 1954, 15 July 1954, RG 218, CCS 092 (6-25-48), section 75; Ridgway, Soldier, 276. 11. JCS memorandum for Secretary of Defense, “French Request for Additional Aid,” 27 April 1954, RG 330, Records of the Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs [ASD/ISA], 091 Indochina, May-December 1954. 12. General Thomas Trapnell comments at debriefing, 3 May 1954, USVN Relations, Book 9, 406-20. 13. Supplement to Outline Plan for Conducting Military Operations in Indochina with United States and French Union Forces, Spring (April-May) 1954, RG 319, G-3 091, Indochina TS (5 April 1954) FW 23/5. 14. JCS 1992/334, “Military Situation in Tonkin Delta,” 7 June 1954, RG 218, CCS 092 Asia (625-48), section 71; ; JCS 1992/348, “Rhee Offer of One Corps for Commitment in Indochina,” 29 June 1954, RG 218 CCS 092 Asia (6-25-48), section 73; Wilson in 215th Meeting of National Security council, 24 September 1954, Dwight Eisenhower Library, Ann Whitman File–NSC Series, Box 6; Gavin, G-3, memorandum for Chief of Staff, USA, “Military Implications of Cease-Fire Agreements in Indochina,” 22 July 1954, RG 319, G-3 091 Indochina. See also JCS memorandum for Secretary of Defense, sub: Additional Aid for Indochina, 24 June 1954, RG 330, ASD/ISA 091 Indochina, May-December 1954. 15. JCS 1992/287, “Preparations of Department of Defense Regarding Negotiations on Indochina for the Forthcoming Geneva Conference,” 11 March 1954, RG 218, CCS 092 Asia (6-25-48), section 59. See also JCS memorandum for Secretary of Defense, 12 March 1954, USVN Relations, Book 9, 266-70. On the inevitability of Communist victory in any elections in
Vietnam see George McT. Kahin, Intervention: How America Became Involved in Vietnam (Garden City, NY, 1987), 53, 450; Admiral Edwin T. Layton, Deputy Director for Intelligence, Joint Staff, memorandum for Director Joint Staff, 22 December 1955, “Emerging Pattern–South Vietnam,” RG 218, CCS 092 Asia (6-25-48), section 17. 16. Lansdale Team’s Report on Covert Saigon Mission in 1954 and 1955, Pentagon Papers–Senator Gravel Edition [PP-Gravel] I:573-83, doc. 95; G-3 Staff Study, “Long-Range (Through FY 56) for Development of Minimal Forces Necessary to Provide Internal Security for South Vietnam,” 2 November 1954, RG 319, G-3 091 Indochina. 17. JCS 1992/412, “Indochina,” 5 November 1954, RG 218, CCS 092 Asia (6-25-48), section 86. 18. Collins to Dulles, 20 January 1955, DDRS, 78, 295A; Collins to Dulles, 13 December 1954, USVN Relations, Book 1, IV. A. 3., 20-22; Many of Collins’s reports from Vietnam can be found in FRUS, Vietnam, 1955-57 (Washington, 1985), 1:200-370. See also David Anderson, J. Lawton Collins, John Foster Dulles, and the Eisenhower Administration’s ‘Point of No Return’ in Vietnam,” Diplomatic History 12 (Spring 1988): 127-47. 19. To Eisenhower and Dulles, it was Collins, not Diem, who might have to be replaced. During a meeting with the president in early March 1955, Eisenhower told Dulles to consider replacing Collins with Maxwell Taylor and suggested that a special law be developed to allow the general to serve as special ambassador without giving up his military rank. Taylor, however, became the Army chief shortly thereafter, while Collins was replaced by Elbridge Durbrow, who became ambassador to the RVN. Dulles’s Memorandum of Conversation with the President, 7 March 1955, White House Memorandum Series, John Foster Dulles File, folder: Meetings with the President (7), Eisenhower Library. 20. Anderson, Trapped By Success: The Eisenhower Administration and Vietnam (New York, 1991), chapters 5 and 6. 21. F.W. Moorman memorandum to Gavin, “Indochina,” 11 May 1954, RG 319, CS 091 Indochina; JCS 1992/367, “U.S. Assumption of Training Responsibility in Indochina,” 3 August 1954, RG 218, CCS 092 Asia (6-25-48), section 77. See also USVN Relations, Book 1, III.A.2., A-19-20; Cable, CH MAAG to DEPT AR, 20 June 1954, NR: MG1750A, RG 218, CCS 092 Asia (6-25-48), section 72; USVN Relations, Book 1, IV.A.3., 7-9, and Book 10, 701-02; Gavin and Adams to Ridgway, “U.S. Policy Toward Indochina,” 10 August 1954, RG 319, G-3 091 Indochina. For background on military criticism regarding training see USVN Relations, Book 2, IV, A. 4., 2-5; Brink to General Reuben Jenkins, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, Department of Army, 16 April 1952, 091 Indo-China 1952, RG 218, Chair’s File, General Bradley; memorandum of conversation, Director PPS (Nitze), 12 May 1952, FRUS, 1952-1954 13:141-4; JSPC memorandum to JCS, “Report of U.S. Joint Military Mission to Indochina,” JCS 1992/246, 3 November 1953, RG 218, CCS 092 Asia (6-25-48) section 48; Admiral Davis memorandum to Nash, “U.S. Military Advisors in Indochina,” 27 November 1953, RG 330,012.2-742 Indochina.
22. Gavin and Adams to Ridgway, “U.S. Policy toward Indochina,” 10 August 1954, RG 319, G3 091 Indochina. 23. CH MAAG, Vietnam, telegram to CINCPAC, 9 June 1956, RG 218, CCS 092 Asia (6-2548), section 23. 24. CS Bulletin, MAAG, n.d., Williams Papers, box 1, folder 138, MHI, emphasis in original. 25. Arleigh Burke Oral History, (Columbia Oral History Project), 165-72, Eisenhower Library. 26. Lyman Lemnitzer Oral History, (Columbia Oral History Project), 46-8, Eisenhower Library. 27. Collins interview at Combat Studies Institute, Army Command and General Staff College, 14, MHI. 28. Lewis Fields Oral History, 251, Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington Navy Yard, [Hereafter cited as MCHC with appropriate information]. 29. David Anderson, Trapped by Success, 133. 30. Hilsman Memorandum, 9 May 1962, Hilsman Papers, box 2, folder 6, JFKL. This document, a hecticly-written, somewhat stream-of-consciousness effort, was untitled, but a close reading indicates that Hilsman, who referred to himself in the third person singular throughout, was the author; Hilsman also quoted in Stephen E. Pelz, “Documents: `When Do I Have Time to Think?’ John F. Kennedy, Roger Hilsman, and the Laotian Crisis of 1962,” Diplomatic History 3 (Spring 1979), 22; It is indeed ironic that Hilsman would score the military’s alleged softness in Indochina in May 1962, for the JCS–urging a military emphasis in Vietnam–had criticized his “Strategic Concept for South Vietnam” which had viewed the insurgency as a primarily political problem and urged a program of civic action. Hilsman report, “A Strategic concept for South Vietnam,” 2 February 1962, FRUS, Vietnam, 1962, 73-90; “Memorandum of a Discussion at Department of State-Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting,” 9 February 1962, Ibid., 113-6. 31. McGeorge Bundy to Johnson, 27 January 1965, NSC History–Troop Deployment, UPA, emphasis in original; see also M. Bundy 1557 to Taylor, 28 January 1965, NSC History –Troop Deployment, UPA; Lyndon B. Johnson, The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency (New York, 1971), 122-3. 32. Maxwell Taylor Oral History, interview by Ted Gittinger, 14 September 1981, interview 3, 25, Lyndon B. Johnson Library [LBJL], Austin, Tx. 33. McGeorge Bundy to Johnson, 24 July 1965, “The History of Recommendations for Increased US Forces in Vietnam,” VN C.F., NSF, box 74-75, folder: 2 E, 5/65-7/65, 1965 Troop Decision, LBJL. 34. Maxwell D. Taylor, Swords and Plowshares (New York, 1972), 333-4.
35. Westmoreland analysis in Taylor 2058 to Johnson, 5 January 1965, The War in Vietnam: Classified Histories by the National Security Council. University Publications of America. “Deployment of Major U.S. Forces to Vietnam: July 1965.” and Declassified Documents Reference System (DDRS), 83, 2793. 36. Harold K. Johnson, MHI Oral History Program, 8, Center of Military History (CMH), Washington, D.C.. 37. Taylor to Johnson, 6 January 1965, NSC History–Troop Deployment, UPA; see also Taylor to Johnson, 27 January 1965, NSC History–Troop Deployment, UPA; Taylor to Johnson, 2 February 1965, DDRS, 77, 34D. 38. Among the missions for the 34 battalions would be protection of 23,000 U.S. military personnel, 16 airfields, 9 communications centers, 1 large POL storage area, and 289 separate installations where Americans lived or worked. Taylor 2056 to Johnson, 6 January 1965, NSC History–Troop Deployment, UPA. 39. Taylor to M. Bundy, 1 February 1965, NSC History–Troop Deployment, UPA; Westmoreland also pointed out that, amid the political turmoil of late January, ARVN soldiers in Da Nang were participating in anti-U.S. demonstrations. Westmoreland Memorandum for the Record, 28 January 1965, “Discussion with General Khanh,” Westmoreland Papers, box 5, folder: #13 History Backup (I), LBJL. 40. Taylor to Johnson, 2 February 1965, DDRS, 77, 34D. 41. McGeorge Bundy to Johnson, 27 January 1965, “Re: Basic Policy in Vietnam,” NSC History-Troop Deployment, UPA; see also Dean Rusk with Richard Rusk, As I Saw It, edited by Daniel S. Papp (New York, 1990), 447; Johnson, Vantage Point, 122-3. 42. Taylor 2052 to Johnson, 6 January 1965, NSC History–Troop Deployment, UPA; Taylor, Swords and Plowshares, 329-38. 43. Bundy in Halberstam, The Best and The Brightest (New York, 1972), 646. 44. McGeorge Bundy to Johnson, 7 February 1965, “The Situation in Vietnam,” NSF, NSC Meetings File, box 1, folder: volume 3, tab 29, LBJL; see also Johnson, Vantage Point, 125-8. 45. McGeorge Bundy, 7 February 1965, “A Policy of Sustained Reprisal,” P.P.-Gravel, 3: 687-9; see also sources cited in previous note. 46. Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam (New York, 1989), 56-62. 47. Colonel H.M. Darmstandler, 15 December 1967, “Chronology of Significant Requests and Decisions Affecting the Air War Against North Vietnam,” Warnke-McNaughton, box 7, folder:
VNS 2 [Vietnam, 1966-1968] (1), LBJL; JCS to CINCPAC, 12 February 1965, “Courses of Action Southeast Asia–First 8 Weeks,” NSC History–Troop Deployment, UPA; for the JCS’s air plans see Annex to JCS to McNamara, 7 March 1965, “Air Strike Program Against North Vietnam,” VN C.F., NSF, box 193, folder: Vietnam, JCS Memos, volume 1 [2 of 2], LBJL. 48. Vincent Demma, “Suggestions for the Use of Ground Forces, June 1964-March 1965.” Unpublished Manuscript, CMH. 49. William Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (Garden City, NY, 1976), 115. 50. Westmoreland to Sharp, 27 February 1965, “Use of U.S. Air Power,” Westmoreland Papers, box 5, folder: #13 History Backup, LBJL; see also Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports, 123. 51. Demma, “Suggestions for Ground Forces”; DePuy in William Gibbons, The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War: Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships, Part III: January-July 1965 (Princeton, NJ, 1989). 125. 52. Taylor 2699 to Rusk, 22 February 1965, NSC History–Troop Deployment, UPA. 53. Taylor 3003 to Secretary of State, 16 March 1965, NSC History–Troop Deployment, UPA. 54. MACV Command History, 1965, 31. 55. General Norman Anderson, Oral History, 170-2, MCHC. 56. Gibbons, Government and Vietnam War, 170. 57. McGarr to Lemnitzer, 12 October 1961, FRUS, Vietnam, 1961, 347-59. 58. See sources in previous note. Ironically, McGarr has been essentially ignored in all major works on Vietnam, but, with the publication of the FRUS volumes on Vietnam, the MAAG chief’s insight and worries about the war are clear. 59. Valenti to Johnson, 14 November 1964, CF, CO 312, VN, box 12, folder: CO 312, Vietnam, 1964-65, LBJL. A handwritten note at the bottom of the document indicates that the president discussed this memorandum with Valenti. 60. Sharp to Wheeler and Westmoreland, 26 February 1965, “Security Situation in Southeast Asia,” Westmoreland Papers, box 5, folder: #13 History Backup, LBJL. 61. Wheeler and McDonald in Richard K. Betts, Soldiers, Statesmen, and Cold War Crises (Cambridge, MA, 1971) , 11. 62. U.S.G. Sharp to Westmoreland in NMCC to White House, 13 June 1965, NSC History-Troop Deployment, UPA; for background see Westmoreland to Taylor, 3 June 1965, “Authority
for the Commitment of US Ground Combat Forces,” Westmoreland Papers, folder 511: #16 History Backup, 10 May-30 June 1965, Washington National Records Center [WNRC], Suitland, MD; Taylor 4036 to Secretary of State, 3 June 1965, NSC History–Troop Deployment, UPA. 63. Bromley Smith, summary Notes of 552d NSC Meeting, June 11, 1965, NSF, NSC Meetings File, box 1, folder: volume 3, tab 34, LBJL; see also Kahin, Intervention, 348-52. 64. Sharp to Westmoreland, 13 June 1967, Westmoreland v. CBS, LC, box 18, folder: MACV Backchannel Messages to Westmoreland, 1-30 June 1967, WNRC. 65. Westmoreland MAC 5601 to Sharp, 13 June 1967, Westmoreland v. CBS, LC, box 18, folder: MACV Backchannel Messages from Westmoreland, 1-30 June 1967, WNRC; U.S.G. Sharp, Strategy for Defeat: Vietnam in Retrospect (San Rafael, CA, 1978). 66. Johnson WDC 8419 to Westmoreland, 27 June 1967, Westmoreland v. CBS, LC, box 18, MACV Backchannel Messages to Westmoreland, 1-30 June 1967, WNRC. 67. Wheeler in Merle Miller, Lyndon: An Oral Biography (New York, 1980), 611; Dave Richard Palmer, Summons of the Trumpet: U.S.-Vietnam in Perspective (San Rafael, CA, 1978), 261; Record of COMUSMACV Fonecon with General Palmer, 0850, 25 February 1968, Westmoreland Papers, folder 450: Fonecons, February 1968, WNRC. 68. Westmoreland added, disingenuously it would seem, that he and Wheeler “had developed our plans primarily from the military viewpoints, and we anticipated that other, nonmilitary considerations would be brought to bear on our proposals during an intensive period of calm and rational deliberation.” Westmoreland paper, “The Origins of the Post-Tet 1968 Plans for Additional Forces in the Republic of Vietnam,” April 1970, Westmoreland Papers, folder 493 [1 of 2]: #37 History Files, 1 January-31 June 1970, WNRC; Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports, 469. Ironically, both Westmoreland and Gabriel Kolko believe that Wheeler was trying to exploit the circumstances of Tet with his alarmist reports in order to get reinforcements and a reserve callup. In Kolko’s case, however, he argues that Wheeler was “conniving” for more troops principally to meet U.S. needs elsewhere, see Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, The United States, and the Modern Historical Experience (New York, 1985), 315. 69. Harold K. Johnson interview, MHI Senior Officer Debriefing Project, section 11, 14-5, used at CMH. 70. Notes of the President’s Meeting with Senior Foreign Policy Advisors, 9 February 1968, Tom Johnson’s Meeting Notes, box 2, folder: February 9, 1968–10:15 p.m., LBJL. 71. Johnson in NYT, 2 February 1968; Notes of the President’s Meeting with Senior Foreign Affairs Advisory Council, 10 February 1968, Tom Johnson’s Meeting Notes, Box 2, Folder: February 10, 1968–3:17 p.m., LBJL.
72.Comments of General Anthony Zinni during a speech before the Florida Economic Club, 23 August 2002, transcript of audio version on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” 73.Scowcroft in Wall Street Journal, 15 August 2002; Hoar testimony cited in New York Times, 1 August 2002, and Tufts University newsletter [Hoar is a Tufts Alumnus], 5 August 2002, 74.Zinni cited in BBC story, “US envoy warns against Iraq war,” 9 September 2002,; Zinni address to George C. Marshall Foundation, 10 September 2002, reprinted in; Zinni in Salon, 17 October 2002, 75.Wesley Clark, “An Army of One?” Washington Monthly, September 2002,; Clark in International Herald Tribune, 9 October 2002. 76.Anthony Zinni, “A General Speaks Out on Iraq,” 31 October 2002, 77. “US military chiefs break ranks to say war ‘will be bloody,’ The Independent, 19 December 2002, reprinted in, 78.Shinseki’s prepared statement at; see also “Threates and Responses . . . Pentagon Contradicts General on Iraq Occupation Force’s Size,” New York Times, 28 February 2003. 79. Wallace in New York Times, 28 March 2003, and The Guardian/UK, 28 March 2003. 80. “Scorned general’s tactics proved right,” and “War tactics split is denied by US,” in The Guardian, 29 and 31 March 2003; “Rumsfeld’s Design for War Criticized on the Battlefield,” New York Times, 31 March 2003; “U.S. Commander Says War Not Over in Iraq,” Washington Post, 30 May 2003. 81. Joseph Hoar, “Why Aren’t There Enough Troops in Iraq,” New York Times, 2 April 2003; Clark on CNN, 26 March and 7 April 2003,; Zinni speech at Canisius College, Buffalo News, 4 April 2003. 82.”Top General Denounces Internal Dissent on Iraq,” and “Ex-Generals Defend Their Blunt Comments,” in New York Times, 2 and 3 April 2003.
83. “Shinseki criticizes U.S. fight in Mideast,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin Hawaii News, 20 September 2003. 84. “Offense and Defense: The Battle Between Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon,” The New Yorker, 7 November 2003. 85. “Ex-Envoy Criticizes Bush’s Postwar Policy,” and “For Vietnam Vet Anthony Zinni, Another War on Shaky Territory,” Washington Post, 5 September and 23 December 2003; “Wesley Clark Calls for Probe on Iraq,” and “Wesley Clark Says Democracy Is At Risk in America,” 13 and 14 January 2003. 86. “Dissension Grows in Senior Ranks on War Strategy,” Washington Post, 9 May 2004; Gen. Zinni: “They’ve Screwed Up,” CBS News, 21 May 2004. 87. “Keane: U.S. ‘Seduced by Iraqi Exiles,’ Didn’t Plan Properly for Insurgency,” Stars and Stripes, 16 July 2004; Hoar and Odom in “Far Graver than Vietnam,” The Guardian, 16 September 2004. 88.”Unceremonious end to Army career, “ Baltimore Sun, 29 May 2005,,1,2860514.story?coll=bal-homeheadlines.; William Odom, “What’s wrong with cutting and running?” Nieman Watchdog, 3 August 2005,; “General Condemnation,” In These Times, 8 March 2006,
89.”Breaking Ranks,” Washington Post, 19 January 2006; “Army stretched to breaking point, report says,”, 25 January 2006; “Young Officers Leaving Army at a High Rate,” New York Times, 10 April 2006. 90.”More Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld’s Resignation,” New York Times, 14 April 2006; “Anatomy of a Revolt,” Newsweek, 24 April 2006,; “Criticism of Rumsfeld Sparks Debate in Military,” National Public Radio report, 25 April 2006,;


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