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The Best and the Brightest

de David Halberstam

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2,065307,724 (4.2)40
History. Politics. Nonfiction. HTML:David Halberstams masterpiece, the defining history of the making of the Vietnam tragedy, with a new Foreword by Senator John McCain.

"A rich, entertaining, and profound reading experience.The New York Times

/> Using portraits of America s flawed policy makers and accounts of the forces that drove them, The Best and the Brightest reckons magnificently with the most important abiding question of our country s recent history: Why did America become mired in Vietnam, and why did we lose? As the definitive single-volume answer to that question, this enthralling book has never been superseded. It is an American classic.

Praise for The Best and the Brightest

The most comprehensive saga of how America became involved in Vietnam. . . . It is also the Iliad of the American empire and the Odyssey of this nations search for its idealistic soul. The Best and the Brightest is almost like watching an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.The Boston Globe

Deeply moving . . . We cannot help but feel the compelling power of this narrative. . . . Dramatic and tragic, a chain of events overwhelming in their force, a distant war embodying illusions and myths, terror and violence, confusions and courage, blindness, pride, and arrogance.Los Angeles Times

A fascinating tale of folly and self-deception . . . [An] absorbing, detailed, and devastatingly caustic tale of Washington in the days of the Caesars.The Washington Post Book World

Seductively readable . . . It is a staggeringly ambitious undertaking that is fully matched by Halberstams performance. . . . This is in all ways an admirable and necessary book.Newsweek

A story every American should read.St. Louis Post-Dispatch.… (mais)
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Vietnam summarized ( )
  Mcdede | Jul 19, 2023 |
I finished David Halberstam's The Best and The Brightest. A 5 star 800 page tome on the political decision-making and decision makers for the United States involvement in the Vietnam War.

Ho Chi Minh tried as early as World War I to gain recognition of Vietnamese independence, but likely had his best opportunity for recognition of Vietnamese Independence at the end of World War II through Franklin Roosevelt's anti-colonialism. Sadly, this recognition died with the death of Roosevelt.

David Halberstam's touches on big picture military moments, but the crux of the book deals with the decisions that led to a slide into deeper involvement in a French Colonial conflict that ultimately led the United States to be engaged in a full blown war.

The cast of decision makers includes 5 presidents, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. Other notable figures include presidential advisors, cabinet officials, ambassadors, and military leadership, including such notable individuals as Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, Dean Rusk, Bill and McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow, Robert McNamara, Robert Lovett, George Kennan, George Ball, Abe Fortas, Clark Clifford, Daniel Ellsberg, Henry Cabot Lodge, Maxwell Taylor. William Westmoreland, and Earl Wheeler Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The essence of Halberstam's work is that the United States slowly and incrementally found itself sliding from financially supporting the French to providing financial and arm support to the Vietnamese, to military advisers to ultimately a full scale military involvement including airstrikes and ground troops.

This slide was led largely by Lyndon Johnson who was trying to avoid escalation into war to promote The Great Society but at the same unwilling to allow U.S. prestige to be undermined and by Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Dean Rusk consistently deferred Department of State responsibility to Robert McNamara and the Department of Defense.

McNamara tried to support the military while being supplied with deceptively incomplete or false information from military advisers and later commanding General William Westmoreland to help with incremental growth of the war by understanding needed resources to win and overstating the accomplishments of pacification programs such as the strategic hamlet program and the success of bombing and U.S. ground forces and the effectiveness of ARVN. The misinformation also included the downplaying of the abilities and resources of North Vietnamese forces.

It's a sad story of various advisers working st odds with each other and ultimately those who provided accurate information being isolated by those who pushed a pro-war agenda.

It was a tough read but a great one.
  dsha67 | Mar 26, 2023 |
Long tale that just got bleaker and bleaker. I am not sure what I thought I was getting in to, certainly delivers chapter after chapter of forlorn presumption. ( )
  kcshankd | Sep 16, 2022 |
Tedious but informative. ( )
  btbell_lt | Aug 1, 2022 |
The main question about World War 1 that Barbara Tuchmann's seminal The Guns of August was trying to answer was "How did this happen?" How did all these complacent European countries, many of whose leaders were related, with no clear reason to go to war, and with uncounted amounts of wealth in trade and prosperity at stake, end up sending millions of their youth to die in the mud over marginal amounts of land that they didn't even really want? Tuchmann identified a number of cognitive errors that clouded the minds of the people in charge: overconfidence in their own military prowess, fear of looking weak to domestic constituencies, excessive influence of war hawks in decision making, excessive bureaucratic infighting, the elevation of political considerations over military realities, disregard for negative feedback, and perhaps most crucially, a failure to understand how small moves could irrevocably commit nations to much larger future moves, with much greater consequences than originally anticipated. Being a well-read and perceptive intellectual, John F Kennedy was well aware of Tuchmann's insights, and, after being humbled by the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, successful used them to avert nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, in one of those little ironies of history, he was completely unable to avoid following a similar path of small but irreversible escalations in Vietnam, until the full-on war he had been trying to avoid eventually trapped his successors and millions of people in the senseless slaughter of the Vietnam War.

I think Halberstam's book is easily as perceptive, in broad terms, as Tuchmann's classic. Tuchmann is only cited once, briefly, but even though this book, written in 1972, had a much closer vantage point to its still-active subject than The Guns of August, and hence is closer to unusually detailed and eloquent journalism than a straight-up history, Halberstam observes and recounts all the same organizational pathologies that plagued the French General Staff and the Prussian High Command that were still present in the American political and military leadership. One thing above all that this book does, alluded to in its title, is shatter the illusion that the only thing you need to face big problems is to acquire smart people. There are endless sections chronicling the brilliance and acuity of people like Robert McNamara, who could revolutionize vast domains like the auto industry, but were unable to figure out how to get themselves out of the Vietnam trap or even to make anything close to progress in any direction. Even lesser characters, like the legions of assistant deputy sub-under-secretaries who seem to be pretty bright fellows, managed closely and carefully by a White House that rewarded and encouraged cleverness, spend vast quantities of their page time engaged in self-destructive internecine struggles about whether to report bad news and how much, while the country whose destiny they were trying to determine slowly slipped out of their grasp. Men who had gone to the best schools, who had racked up acclaimed careers in industry or finance or the military, who had smoothly ascended through the toughest jungles of the American elite, were unable to conjure a victory against one of the smallest, weakest, and poorest countries in the world.

The struggles of these dramatis personae are told through extended profiles, which are the major highlights of the book due to their length and detail. Halberstam delves deeply into the life stories of all-but-forgotten figures like Averell Harriman, Dean Rusk, or Dean Acheson to show, over and over again, the truth of Yeats' lines about how "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity". It's impossible to overstate the role that McCarthyism specifically, and anti-Communism generally, played in leading the US to the war. People who accurately reported or expressed pessimism about the escalation into war in bother the White House and the military were repeatedly and systematically shunted aside, transferred to worse jobs, or rendered helpless by accusations of being "soft on Communism". For the men whose careers had spanned even "successful" wars like Korea, the traumas of witch hunting made it impossible to back down, like poker players who through pride or fear simply can't fold and cut their losses. And so as the stakes kept getting raised, hawkishness became the only permissible philosophy in the Cabinet throughout both Kennedy's "team of rivals" management style and Johnson's "my way or the highway" style, the war simply got more and more intense with its own peculiar self-reinforcing logic, and each man found himself a prisoner of events beyond his control. All the major players had big incentives to escalate and act tough; no one's career was helped by caution and disagreement. In fairness to Kennedy, book clearly lays out the Truman and Eisenhower-era roots of America's involvement in Vietnam, but as he makes clear, only during the Kennedy era did the Vietnam "conflict", "brush fire", or "quagmire" really start to become a war that we couldn't back out of, despite how smart all of these guys were.

Of course, even to this day, it's somewhat of an open question of which President is most to "blame" for the Vietnam War, depending on which part you're talking about and how you define "blame". Truman, for his inaction when the French were trying to regain control of their colonial empire and he was too distracted with the Korean War? Eisenhower, for his belief that the fight against the Soviets and the Chinese was more important than the Vietnamese desire for self-determination, and who allowed McCarthyism to poison vital parts of the government? Kennedy, for his refusal to look weak on Communism after the debacle at the Bay of Pigs, the creation of the team who would oversee Vietnam's transformation into chaos, and for his timidity in taking a real stand one way or the other during crucial years of escalation? Johnson, who, unbriefed, unprepared, and unsure after Kennedy's assassination, publicly vowed that he wouldn't "lose" Vietnam the way that China had been "lost", and thought that if he just had a bit more time and money and men, he could make the issue go away with overwhelming force, salvaging his Great Society? Nixon, who, though his involvement came very late, still managed to sabotage the Paris peace negotiations with his "secret plan"? With the hindsight of 40 years after the book was written, it's clear that the problem went beyond any particular President, both because our goals were unclear, and because in a sense, the tools of government that each man used did not really belong to him. At one point, Vietnam genuinely was a tiny, unimportant country whose wishes could be safely ignored, but even with one of the greatest assemblies of talent the country had ever seen, the problem that they were trying to "solve" by propping up dictators, calculating meaningless body count statistics, and suppressing all dissent, was simply beyond their understanding.

Ho Chi Minh is frequently compared to George Washington; one wonders after reading this book if King George III had his own "best and brightest" ministers who advised analogous strategies like shelling Boston, propping up a puppet government in Georgia, rounding up colonists and settling them into "strategic plantations", or simply sending more and more redcoats. The profile of Lyndon Johnson in particular really brings home the weakness of the "imperial" style of government, as Arthur Schlesinger termed it, especially when not just Johnson but the country lost as the Great Society was upstaged by the war; Halberstam is nearly equal to Robert Caro in his ability to bring forth the drama in a man's soul and connect it to the larger currents of history. His account also prompts the modern reader to silently consider the many parallels to the way the Iraq War was promoted and managed, and its similar effects on the world. I don't know if all wars have their beginnings in the exact same kind of group stupidity recounted here, but if more governments read books like this, the world would certainly be a better place. I feel that this work, in some sense a Greek tragedy, is essential to understanding the Sixties, its war, and its place in our world. ( )
1 vote aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
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Rosenthal, JeanTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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History. Politics. Nonfiction. HTML:David Halberstams masterpiece, the defining history of the making of the Vietnam tragedy, with a new Foreword by Senator John McCain.

"A rich, entertaining, and profound reading experience.The New York Times

Using portraits of America s flawed policy makers and accounts of the forces that drove them, The Best and the Brightest reckons magnificently with the most important abiding question of our country s recent history: Why did America become mired in Vietnam, and why did we lose? As the definitive single-volume answer to that question, this enthralling book has never been superseded. It is an American classic.

Praise for The Best and the Brightest

The most comprehensive saga of how America became involved in Vietnam. . . . It is also the Iliad of the American empire and the Odyssey of this nations search for its idealistic soul. The Best and the Brightest is almost like watching an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.The Boston Globe

Deeply moving . . . We cannot help but feel the compelling power of this narrative. . . . Dramatic and tragic, a chain of events overwhelming in their force, a distant war embodying illusions and myths, terror and violence, confusions and courage, blindness, pride, and arrogance.Los Angeles Times

A fascinating tale of folly and self-deception . . . [An] absorbing, detailed, and devastatingly caustic tale of Washington in the days of the Caesars.The Washington Post Book World

Seductively readable . . . It is a staggeringly ambitious undertaking that is fully matched by Halberstams performance. . . . This is in all ways an admirable and necessary book.Newsweek

A story every American should read.St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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