Dereliction of Duty

On February 20, 2017, Lt. General Herbert Raymond “H. R.” McMaster was named as National Security Advisor following the February 13 forced resignation of Michael T. Flynn. McMaster is a combat veteran of the first Gulf War. His most notable accomplishment was commanding Eagle Troop of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of 73 Easting on 26 February 1991 where he led his troop of nine M1A1 Abrams tanks into battle in the opening of the war’s ground attack. McMaster’s nine tanks advanced to contact and then destroyed 28 Iraqi tanks, 16 personnel carriers and 30 trucks in 23 minutes with no American losses.

H.R. McMaster

His PhD dissertation at UNC was critical of American strategy in the Vietnam War, which was further detailed in his 1997 book Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam, book that explores the military’s role in the policies of the Vietnam War.

I have read that book and believe it gives a clear picture of how McMaster thinks, and his opinion of how the civilian control over the military should function, and how it has failed in the past. This may be an indicator of how he sees the future as well, and will most likely be the model that he will use in his role as National Security Advisor.

McMaster’s book outlines the biographies of a number President John Kennedy’s cabinet and military advisors. He describes many of those who were in important positions, but specifically those of Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara and Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Both McNamara and Johnson were military officers during World War II, and neither served with distinction in any combat role.

McNamara served as a logistical statistician interested in developing a system where logistics would be reduced to a mathematical model that could be used to shape how best to fight the war. He later used those skills at Ford to successfully manage that business. McNamara was brought into Kennedy’s cabinet during the Cuban Missile crisis where his processes were used to apply a measured response to the Soviet threat. In reality, his work had little to do with the outcome, as Kennedy and Khrushchev negotiated a solution with no input from McNamara. His “success”in this area would later lead to his downfall in Vietnam.

Johnson was in the US Navy and flew one time as an”observer” aboard an aircraft that developed mechanical failures, terminating the flight with an emergency landing. General McArthur awarded Johnson a Silver Star, one of the highest awards given. He alone was given a medal, even though he had no authority on the flight and was not part of the flight crew. He would become President Kennedy’s Vice President fifteen years later.

McMaster wrote at length about the relationship between Johnson and McNamara and the common ground between them. Both men’s reputations were undeserved and were build on hyperbole, and were exaggerated to give them authority and status. They were both prone to lying to protect each other, and that became their bond.

McMaster concluded that McNamara’s theory of applying just sufficient pressure or a “measured response” often resulted in failure and that he often misled those he reported to by fabricating a satisfactory outcome or deflecting to a similar but distinctly different operation that was a success. He often created a scenario out of whole cloth to prove his theory as correct. Among those were the attack on US Navy ships in the Tonkin Gulf, an attack that never took place, yet led directly to the escalation of the conflict.

This fabrication of facts eventually resulted in a situation where “the numbers” became more important than the truth. A complete reliance on statistics and the willingness to produce numbers that corresponded to the expected outcome detached Johnson from reality.

McMaster found that at first, McNamara did not respond to requests from the military when additional authority was needed. He included several examples such as when US forces in Vietnam requested additional troops early in the conflict McNamara’s policy of a graduated application of force rejected that request. Air Force General Curtis LeMay proposed the destruction of North Vietnamese anti-aircraft emplacements before the bombing campaign started, but that was not allowed by McNamara, saying that only responsive fire was allowed, and then allowed a policy of “fire only when fired upon,” resulting in hundreds of aircraft being shot down.

McMaster’s book ends in 1965. Later, McNamara’s plan, supported by requests from top U.S. military commanders in Vietnam, led to the commitment of 485,000 troops by the end of 1967 and almost 535,000 by June 30, 1968. McNamara put in place a statistical strategy for victory in Vietnam. He concluded that there were a limited number of Viet Cong fighters in Vietnam and that a war of attrition would destroy them. He applied metrics (body counts) to determine how close to success his plan was. US forces would provide the requested number to show their progress, with no regard to reality. The casualty lists mounted as the number of troops and the intensity of fighting escalated. McNamara’s reliance on enemy body counts became more important than any other statistic.

In summary, McMaster’s book describes a situation in the President’s office where facts were changed to meet requested expectations, despite obvious disasters which were either ignored or rewritten to be successes. He described how high level authorities lied to each other and to congress about their activities and the associated costs in both dollars and human lives. He described how political connections and careers were more important than the actual events and how that eventually led to our failure in the conflict.

The book is available from most book sellers in both hard and soft binding.

About Terry Welshans

I grew up in Burbank, California. My dad worked at a company that made sub assemblies for about every airplane made in the 1960-1970 era, so it was only natural that the aviation bug bit me while I was quite young. I hold a commercial pilot certificate and fly as much as I can. I live in Bardstown, Kentucky with my wife, moving here after we retired. I am a Vietnam veteran and a cancer survivor. I like to keep politicians honest, and do so when they open an avenue where I feel they have erred.
This entry was posted in Government, Heroism, History, Politics, US Army, US Military, War, World History. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Dereliction of Duty

  1. What I like about Lt. Gen. McMaster is the fact he is not afraid to call it like it is. His book is now required reading at West Point and the War College. The fact he stepped on so many toes cost him a star. He almost never made Brigadier. He was passed over twice, finally squeaking in on his third and last allowed try for promotion. Up until now, I believe he was resigned to retire with three stars, because that fourth star was going to be elusive. Maybe now he will get it.

    He definitely has the right stuff. As a Captain, he took his squadron of nine tanks into the heart of a battalion of the elite Republican Guard force in Iraq. A half-hour later when the smoke and sandstorm cleared, he had destroyed 80 Russian built T-72 tanks and assorted other armored vehicles. One thousand Iraqis, mostly dead, but with some wounded. In all of that action, he lost one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and a Sergeant–and that was a fluke. He had shot an Iraqi armored vehicle, not realizing the gunner was still alive. That surviving gunner put a cannon round into a Bradley, killing the Sergeant.

    I had wondered who suggested his appointment. I am sure neither Trump nor Bannon had any clue as to who H.R. McMaster is. It appears to have been Sec. of Defense Mattis. Mattis was a Marine general. They are from different services, but I figure they were well acquainted, and probably trust each other. At this point, the plot thickens. Mattis is shrewd, and wanted somebody he knew he could trust in the den of thieves. Different branches of service, since Mattis is a Marine, but I am guessing they know each other well.

    To make matters even more interesting, on January 27 trump said that he was giving Mattis authority to override him:

    …..I will tell you that he will override [me] because I am giving him that power,” Trump said. “He is an expert. He is highly respected. He is the general’s general.”

  2. For more on H.R. McMaster, he was featured in a National Geographic documentary. NatGeo produced a series for the History Channel called Greatest Tank Battles. They featured the tactics and personalities of some of the greatest tank commanders, such as Patton and Rommel. The Battle of 73 Easting has been called the last great tank battle of the 20th Century. No doubt it was. McMaster was interviewed extensively for the documentary. One can get a sense of his personalty and demeanor from this documentary.

    This documentary is worth 46 minutes of one’s time, especially in view of the fact H. R. McMaster is now in charge of the National Security Council. Given recent events, the security and safety of the entire civilized world may rest on this man’s shoulders. His judgment and political skills will be tested to the limit.

  3. Terry Welshans says:

    General Mattis has had his own problems as he is quite outspoken and controversial, but I respect his ability as a leader. I would follow either McMaster or Mattis into battle.

  4. wordcloud9 says:

    There’s going to be a clear conflict with the utter lack of discipline of the Commander-in-Chief – Wonder how that will turn out?

    • The end game was written 2,500 years ago. The beginning and end have already been written. Only the middle part is not yet written. McMaster is an historian, a scholar and a tactician. He is a student of Sun Tzu.

      The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.

      It is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying, and thereby they achieve great results.

      Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.

      Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.

      If your opponent is of choleric temper, irritate him.

      It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used.

      All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

      Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.

      Then finally, the end game. Never completely corner the opponent, because then he has no choice but to fight to the death. If an escape is allowed, then he no longer needs to fight to the death.

      When you surround an opponent, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.

  5. pete says:

    Has trump cleared this with Bannon yet?

    • Bannon is being isolated. He put himself on the NSC, but he was only a junior officer in the Navy, and was not even successful at that. McMaster has already reassigned some of the officers Bannon put on the NSC. He replaced them with top experts loyal to the country, not the administration. Bannon now finds himself in meetings surrounded by people with years of experience and expertise in their own areas. His influence has been diminished significantly, and soon he will be insignificant to the point of being totally irrelevant.

  6. Terry Welshans says:

    The adults are back, at least in the NSC. Now he needs to boot Bannon.

    • Have you seen this NatGeo documentary? It goes over the tactics and philosophy of Sun Tzu, then applies them to operations in WW2, Vietnam and the Civil War. The video is old and copied from VHS, but is an excellent history lesson.

  7. Terry Welshans says:

    Thanks. I had not seen that before. I have read the book however…..

  8. If we are lucky, maybe McMaster will get retired Colonel Douglas Macgregor, who was in charge of the 73 Easting operation to join his team. Macgregor was stymied when up for promotion because of his willingness to speak truth to power. When the Iraq war first started, he supported it. By 2012, he challenged general James Amos’ stance on the United States Marine Corps. Macgregor argued that the military capability and pertinence of the Marines, along with Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps, made them both “as relevant as the Army’s horse cavalry in the 1930s”

    In 2014, he stated that the U.S. Army is designed to benefit four star generals, not brigade readiness.

    Macgregor is now running a consulting service. He got a PhD from the University of Virginia in International Relations.

    Both these men are Scotsmen by heritage. Figures.

    “It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no good man gives up but with life itself.”

    Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland, 1320

    Colonel Douglas Macgregor’s web page.

  9. I’m pretty sure that Sun Tzu was Scottish. From clan MacTzu. Famed advisors of both the Wallace and Roy clans. They dropped the Mac when they moved out east.

    True story.

    Or maybe it was the other way round. I get so easily confused before my first coffee. In either case, it is good to see some net positive from the adult supervision.

    Now if we can just get rid of Sessions.

    • You know that Rob Roy was Chieftain of Clan Macgregor. He was a real badass himself.

      Maybe they will catch Sessions with a stash of kiddie porn, or worse.

      There is precedent for sending an AG to the slammer. Recall what happened to the late unlamented US Attorney Generals John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst.

      • Terry Welshans says:

        If Sessions does not have his own, perhaps the CiC can lend him some. But it can always be “discovered” as the need arises.

  10. Whoops.The plot thickens. President Bannon and his assistant orange-hued gofer, overruled McMaster in order to keep a 30 year old rookie stooge on the NSC after McMaster reassigned him to some other job to make room for a professional.

  11. ragnarsbhut says:

    Michael Flynn was probably forced into a guilty plea.

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