Dereliction of Duty (1997 book)

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Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam
Dereliction of Duty (McMaster book).jpg
Author H. R. McMaster
Country United States
Language English
Subject Vietnam War
Publisher Harper Perennial
Publication date
September 2, 1997
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 352
ISBN 0060187956

Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam is a book written by then Major, currently National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, that presents a case indicting former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and his principal civilian and military advisers for losing the Vietnam War.[1] The book was written as part of McMaster's Ph.D. thesis at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.[2]

Blame for leaders[edit]

McMaster blamed leaders in Washington for losing the Vietnam War, writing:

"The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of The New York Times, or on the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C., even before Americans assumed sole responsibility for the fighting in 1965 and before they realized the country was at war. . . . [It was] a uniquely human failure, the responsibility for which was shared by President Johnson and his principal military and civilian advisors."[3]

Other themes[edit]

The book examines the failure of Robert McNamara and U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson's staff, alongside the military and particularly the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to provide a successful plan of action to pacify either a Viet Cong insurgency or decisively defeat the North Vietnamese Army.[4] McMaster details why military actions intended to indicate "resolve" or to "communicate" ultimately failed when trying to accomplish sparsely detailed, confusing, and conflicting military objectives. In his opinion, the military is to be used appropriately in order to meet objective military targets and goals.


Unusual for an active-duty officer, McMaster scolded the U.S. government for its "arrogance, weakness, lying in pursuit of self-interest [and] abdication of responsibility to the American people."[5]

Retired Brigadier General Douglas Kinnard said that the book is built around examining and interpreting four ... key Washington decisions that were of major influence on the American involvement in Indochina:

  1. the August 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
  2. the February 1965 decision to conduct air strikes against North Vietnam
  3. the March 1965 decision to introduce American ground troops into Vietnam
  4. the July 1965 decisions to introduce substantial American forces while not mobilizing the reserves[3]

A review in The New York Times by military historian Ronald H. Spector praised many aspects of the book, but criticized the author's emphasis on the shortcomings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the outcome of the war, as opposed to the strengths of North Vietnamese military strategy and tactics.[2] Spector also notes that McMaster, like earlier authors, presented a picture of Lyndon B. Johnson as a President chiefly concerned about keeping Vietnam from becoming a political issue, and with his portrayal of Johnson's advisers as men possessing a distinctive combination of arrogance, deviousness and disdain for expertise different from their own.[2]


In a CNN report on Iraq in October 2006, the influence of the book in military circles is noted:

General Pace said he and the other joint chiefs were debriefing commanders just back from the front lines, including one colonel recognized as a rising star and creative thinker—Col H.R. McMaster, the author of 1997 book Dereliction of Duty, considered the seminal work on military's responsibility during Vietnam to confront their civilian bosses when strategy was not working.[6]


  1. ^ Gal Perl Finkel, US NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER FACES CHALLENGES AT HOME AND ABROAD, The Jerusalem Post, February 22, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Ronald H. Spector (20 July 1997). "Cooking Up a Quagmire". New York Times. Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  3. ^ a b three book reviews in PARAMETERS, US Army War College Quarterly - Autumn 1997
  4. ^ Wirtz, James J. (1999). "A Review Essay of H. R. McMaster's Dereliction of Duty". Political Science Quarterly. 114 (1): 131–136. doi:10.2307/2657994. JSTOR 2657994 – via JSTOR. (Registration required (help)). 
  5. ^ Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., U.S. Army (ret.)
  6. ^ "Report: British Army chief calls for Iraq pullout" (13 October 2006). Retrieved 20 February 2017.

External links[edit]