❮Reading❯ ➼ The Best and the Brightest Author David Halberstam – Motyourdrive.co.uk


  • Paperback
  • 688 pages
  • The Best and the Brightest
  • David Halberstam
  • English
  • 20 February 2018
  • 9780449908709

10 thoughts on “The Best and the Brightest

  1. says:

    It sounds unspeakably dull and ponderous it was not I found I could not put the book down It had all the ingredients of a great novel a tragic plot of almost Shakespearean proportions, a fascinating cast of characters, and some wonderful writing Liaquat Ahamed, The Independent 01 January 2010 In 1963, the notion that a newspaper reporter might challenge the official story of generals and ambassadors in the middle of a war, essentially accusing them of lying, was so improbable that it could have occurred only to someone still in his twenties The Second World War and the unquestionable prestige that it conferred on men in uniform were only a generation old George Packer, The New Yorker 7 May 2007The foreign policy and the men that gave us the Vietnam War The war is here as decisions should we bomb, should we send troops, what lies to tell the public McCarthyism set the stage, so alcohol was involved Of course, there is to it than that The personal profiles of the men involved are excellent Mostly they are Ivies with the right connections and families, Grotton of course, but there at least one barefoot farm boy and Johnson.


  2. says:

    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 and 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 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 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 and 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 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.


  3. says:

    Recently Colin Powell answered a NYT book review question by saying that this book is the one he would require President Obama to read I read Halberstam s master work decades ago loved it own it in hardback no less However,I couldn t quite pinpoint why Powell thought Obama should read it, so I had no choice but to read it again joy Yes, it is a war book Vietnam but far than that it s a fascinating character study of how the flaws of the top people in government got us into Vietnam and kept us there I confess I m still not sure what Powell would expect Obama to get out of it but I can take a guess The book starts with Kennedy s election and how he staffed his administration with the best and the brightest men of the time Their credentials were impeccable but Kennedy had a private definition of that phrase that went beyond demonstrated brilliance To be on the Kennedy team, you had to be pragmatic, logical and never allow emotions to cloud thinking The public John Kennedy was an inspiring speaker, just like our current President On the stump, both connected with people on an gut level Both were able to elicit from voters an emotional response the belief that almost anything was possible In private, Kennedy and his men mocked colleagues who were motivated primarily by idealism or ideology Their answer to making America great was to approach everything with personal detachment and analyze the situation from a purely pragmatic standpoint Only minds such as theirs were capable of reaching the right conclusion They had no use for advice based on previous experience The past wasn t prologue it was a waste of time Arrogance and ego ran rampant I don t know about the people surrounding Obama but long before the election I was positive that, regardless of the stirring rhetoric, this man functioned from a purely pragmatic base I think what Powell hoped the President would learn is that pragmatism uncoupled from humanism is a blueprint for failure.Powell put it simply in the only other line attributed to him by the NYT People its all about people.


  4. says:

    The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam appears on a number of lists of the most important nonfiction books of the twentieth century I totally concur It should be required reading for college Twentieth Century American History, and maybe even high school It is a 5 plus star book in every sense.This is the definitive story of how America found itself in the quagmire of the Vietnam War in the decade of the 1960 s And no one was better equipped to tell this story than Halberstam He won a Pulitzer Prize for his in country reporting 1962 64 from Vietnam in 1964 In 1965 he wrote The making of a quagmire America and Vietnam during the Kennedy era He was vilified by presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon for his forthright, honest reporting of the corruption and deceit in Vietnam and the lies being perpetrated by both the South Vietnamese and American governments In an epilog of the book written years later he said it was the saddest story he witnessed in his lifetime The quotes alone in the book are worth the read.The book is written around short biographies of key players in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations The Best and the Brightest , particularly Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, Maxwell Taylor, William Westland, Kennedy, and LBJ They are fascinating portraits.It is a rather long book, but I found it so compelling, that it read quickly The audiobook is also well done This book should be on everyone s list.


  5. says:

    The short version of the book Boys will be boys This is a baby boomer book The idealism of the Kennedy presidency seems very much like the idealism of the Obama campaign and early presidency Some reviewers have compared how the U.S got into Vietnam with how we got into Iraq Congressional action based on misinformation In both places the enemy wears no uniform and blends into the people and the countryside Learn about Laos Maybe you have barely heard of it, let alone know anything about it But we bombed Laos too And Cambodia We were really assholes playing with fireworks Big time These men were all liberals, committed to the good things in life, to decency and humane values They were for civil rights and for peace they did not talk about keeping the niggers in their place, or lobbing grenades into the Kremlin men s room they were good men, urbane, modern, if they were for a war, it would be a good war One of the most distressing parts of the book is in the beginning when it shows the many opportunities for the U.S to avoid war in SE Asia We just couldn t pull it off in spite of the best minds of the day They didn t get it about a little bit pregnant Have you noticed that this is a book about men Well, of course, it s about politics and war in the 1960s and 1970s when women didn t exist in these arenas Women politicians Nah Women soldiers Are you kidding In SE Asia women were in brothels for the guy soldiers No, not the gay soldiers We didn t have those back then.It is hard not to notice the preponderance of men in power in the 1960s McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow, Maxwell Taylor, Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, Jack Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Edward Kennedy, Daniel Ellsberg, George Ball, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Moyers, Sargent Shriver, Lyman Lemnitzer, Henry Cabot Lodge, John McNaughton, Hubert Humphrey, William Westland, Ellsworth Bunker, Richard Nixon This is a stunning book If it has been a while since you thought about what happened in Vietnam or you missed that era, you need to read this book The details, including behind the scenes and behind the reports, are there in a readable presentation The men who called the shots, withheld critical information and made serious misjudgments are examined in detail Although this is a book about what happened in Washington, DC and southeast Asia in the 1960s, you can imagine the politics and events recently in the middle east following some of the same patterns The names have changed, but This book was written and published in the midst of the war and is credited with being a factor in the ending of that war I think it would be fair to call Halberstam a whistle blower The book was and is an eye opener about the workings of the federal government, especially the Executive Branch and the military.I don t read the tell all books that politicians seem to write at the end of their terms of office or careers so I cannot compare But I do not see that this book is in that same category anyway The inside information that fills this book all applies to the topic at hand and is not sensationalism The revealing information here is how the United States was maneuvered into a war by the best and the brightest An easy four stars for me It is a very long book and could have been shortened by a hundred pages by cutting back on some of the biographical information about the principal characters I actually did find the book to be a page turner at times but mostly not in the biographical segments.One last thing in 1964 Lyndon Johnson was elected President by a landslide as the peace candidate If you are a Baby Boomer, as I am, this book will remind you of some things that you may have tried hard to forget But it will also tell you some things you never knew.


  6. says:

    Halberstam gives us the inside story of how America entrapped itself in the Viet Nam War He shows how the legacy of McCarthyism and 1940 s politics over China left a decimated State Department and influenced JFK s and LBJ s thinking He details the many times JFK and others who doubted the war altered their positions out of fear of being seen as soft He shows how the arrogance and overconfidence of Kennedy s team and subsequently Johnson s led the US into war He takes us through the constant escalation ending with the Tet offensive of 1968 and the fall of the fa ade of competence, the public s realization that its government as well as the war was lost and out of control Along the way we learn the backgrounds, motivations and impact of key figures Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, John Paton Davies, McGeorge Bundy, William Bundy, Walt Rostow, Dean Acheson, George Ball, Averill Harriman, Clark Clifford, Roger Hilsman, John McNaughton, Maxwell Taylor, Paul Harkins, William Westland, Robert Kennedy and of course JFK and LBJ We start with JFK selecting his team He chose the never outspoken Dean Rusk for Secretary of State, wanting no one who would challenge him Kennedy was really assigning himself the role of Secretary of State Picking from the Boston elite, Kennedy chose the intellectual McGeorge Bundy as his Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Mac Bundy was pedigree Eastern establishment having attended Groton then Yale where he graduated Suma Cum Laude and on directly to Harvard as a Junior Fellow skipping the PhD program and ascending to professor of government and dean even though he had never taken a course in government in college This skill to impress and advance was well applied in his White House job The quick and energetic Bundy took control and usurped the Department of State relegating Dean Rusk to the background As a JFK favorite he controlled access to the president He was supremely confident of his abilities and eminently capable of getting his way however, he had no actual experience in foreign affairs His hardline approach to the Soviets reflected his father s, a former Henry Stimson aide, and Dean Acheson s to whose daughter his brother, Bill Bundy, over at Defense was married.Several factors led JFK to look at Viet Nam as a part of the cold war and to take a tough approach First, the Bay of Pigs debacle which JFK lackadaisically let happen forced him to adopt a strong anti communist line since he could not again afford to look weak It led Kennedy to take a hard stance in his meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna ending in Khrushchev s bombast which in turn caused Kennedy to send troops to Europe and to Viet Nam to show his toughness Second, the legacy of the McCarthy period was still acutely felt in the Kennedy administration While JFK believed that not recognizing and hence not engaging with Red China was a mistake, fear of political backlash prevented any change in policy JFK s decision bode ill for any rational policy towards Viet Nam Making China part of the problem rather than part of the solution only left one option, further escalation Third, during the Truman administration conservative Republicans challenged the loyalty of Foreign Service officers who dared report the truth about Chiang Kai shek and the Nationalists likely defeat China experts such as John Carter Vincent, John Stewart Service and John Paton Davies had their careers ruined Truman s attempt to preempt the conservative s attacks with his own loyalty investigations only gave credence to Republican charges In 1950, Joseph Alsop s article in the Saturday Evening Post entitled Why We Lost China fueled Joseph McCarthy s witch hunts for those responsible The fall of China, the Korean War and McCarthyism caused a re characterization of the French Indo China war from colonial to anti communist, an altered perception that would carry into the sixties.After the Geneva conference which split Viet Nam into North and South in 1954, John Foster Dulles convinced Eisenhower to send 200 advisors and foreign aid money to bolster the South Thus America replaced the French in Viet Nam By 1961 the Viet Cong were expanding and South Viet Nam s President Diem s situation was growing dire With Foreign Service Asian experts discredited and discarded, two European experts with no experience in Asia, the new Ambassador Frederick Nolting and his friend William Truehart, were assigned to Viet Nam With background in NATO and European affairs they viewed events through the prism of the communist threat and ignored the nationalistic nature of the Viet Cong insurgency.JFK then sent interventionists General Maxwell Taylor and Mac Bundy deputy Walt Rostow to Saigon to report back In December 1961, their report caused JFK to send thousands of US advisory troops and General Harkins, Taylor s longtime friend, to lead them JFK from this point on would be deceived about the true situation in Viet Nam JFK appointed John McCone to head the CIA McCone was a conservative Republican California millionaire picked at RFK s urging JFK picked the hardline McCone to keep Republicans off his back appalling his traditional liberal supporters Trying to placate the hardliners JFK was playing right into their hands.Harkins, Ambassador Nolting, and the American contingent worked through the autocratic, insular, moody Diem The Diem relied on American aid the he was hated by the Vietnamese But his truth was America s truth and reporters who dared report anything different were pressured and disparaged as were American field commanders in the advisory mission When they told the truth about what they saw, the total ineffectiveness of the ARVN, the expansion of the Viet Cong, they were at best dressed down by Harkins, at worst transferred out, their careers shattered Those who tried to go around Harkins soon found out his support and instructions came from his friend at the top, JCS Chairman Maxwell Taylor JFK s Defense Secretary Robert McNamara too was fooled, taking at face value the reporting of Taylor and Harkins as late as mid 1963 McNamara s stellar image as the dynamic can do businessman lent credibility to the military which was dictating policy to the civilians McNamara had worked his way up to the President of Ford Motor Company as a financial systems expert, controlling costs and streamlining operations A former Harvard accounting professor, he had originally done this type of financial, logistics and production planning for the air force during WWII He brought his statistical control oriented mind set to Washington The McNamara Taylor visit to Viet Nam in September 1963 finally made McNamara doubt the information he was receiving from the military JFK also lost faith in the military s reporting and realized his administration was hopelessly divided between hardliners and those at State who saw the war both as a military and political failure While all agreed that Diem was part of the problem, for the liberals criticizing Diem was a copout It was safe to vent against Diem rather than the military which lashed out at any criticism But it left the fundamental problem unaddressed which was recognizing the Viet Nam war as one of nationalism rather than as part of the cold war Diem was killed in a US approved coup Nov 1st The new South Vietnamese leadership let the truth out about the progress of the war and even the doubters were shocked by how bad things were JFK was assassinated three weeks after Diem JFK had kept his misgivings about the war to his inner circle Publically he extolled the progress of the war and virtue of the American mission thus making it difficult for Johnson to even consider disengaging Kennedy s timid approach left a quickly unraveling situation and a public completely unprepared for the reality of the war Johnson said he would not lose Viet Nam like China had been lost But he, just as Kennedy had planned, wanted the Viet Nam issue on the backburner until the 1964 election was over His Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, never one to make waves, gladly went along Rusk viewed Viet Nam as a military problem, not a political one He never even visited Viet Nam One who visited frequently was McNamara and he took charge in 1964 expanding his role in the vacuum of the State Department Johnson was in awe of McNamara who he regarded as super intelligent and organized In 1964, McNamara began focusing on Hanoi as the solution He learned on his December 1963 visit after the coup how much he had been lied to and how precarious the situation was He switched strategy to focus on North Viet Nam as the source of the problem ignoring the indigenous nature of the Viet Cong Planning was begun on different bombing scenarios and their effect Meanwhile Johnson s style of imposing consensus stifled opposition Naysayers were driven out at the demands of the military or Johnson himself Johnson held Viet Nam policy discussions only with his closest advisors shutting out any possible dissent.In August 1964, the destroyer Maddox was attacked in the Tonkin Gulf The US and South Vietnamese had been conducting raids on the North s coast so this was possibly a response or it could have been a complete illusion The facts are cloudy, but LBJ used this incident to get a resolution through Congress authorizing the president to use conventional forces He assured Congress that this authorization did not mean ground troops in Viet Nam which is how Johnson would use it after the election Bombing a few of the North s PT boat bases in retaliation, LBJ was seen as being restrained in his response to the alleged attack Partly this image was due to the comparison to his election opponent, Goldwater, who was seen as possibly starting a nuclear war JFK had appointed General Maxwell Taylor as his personal military advisor then made him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Taylor had deferred to JFK on policy supporting his and McNamara s graduated approach, quieting the Joint Chiefs who wanted either all out war or to leave LBJ appointed Taylor ambassador to South Viet Nam in July 1964 Taylor, frustrated, began to entertain bombing as an answer, albeit as a political statement than an effective military measure Thinking Hanoi would not want to lose its industrial base that they would negotiate.LBJ was leery of bombing, listening to the lone major dissenter left, George Ball, whose memos critical of bombing were funneled to the president through Press Secretary Bill Moyers But the pressure was on from Taylor, McNamara and the JCS and the press in the form of the strident Joe Alsop The CIA and INS had studied bombing and found it would be ineffective, but these studies were suppressed by Taylor and never reached LBJ The likely Hanoi response was to infiltrate troops to the South which they did Bombing advocates had no plan B if Hanoi matched Washington s escalation Bombing advocates looked at it as a middle ground between abdicating and sending in ground troops believing they could always stop But they couldn t, the war became personal Taylor, McNamara, Bundy, Rostow and others could not admit defeat and ever increasing escalation ensued The turning point was February 1965 With the Viet Cong mortar attack that killed eight Americans and wounded fifty at Pleiku, McNamara and Bundy said the US must retaliate against the North or look hopelessly weak hitting Johnson in a soft spot A major rationale for bombing was to avoid sending in ground troops But ground troops would be needed to protect the airfields, which would expand to controlling enclaves surrounding them and ultimately to Westland s use of troops for search and destroy missions While the JCS and Westland expected and planned for ground troops, Taylor objected, but found himself out of the loop He was now a civilian and the military had taken control Taylor realized the inadequacy of Americans fighting in the jungle, but Westland and his top general Depuy saw Americans as superior fighting men armed with and better weapons They would learn the hard way.By April 1965, plans were made to increase the troop commitment to 80,000 Westland requested troops to protect airstrips and provide security for infrastructure, but his real intent was to use them for search and destroy missions Several factors led to the commitment of combat troops The declining influence of Taylor who opposed search and destroy operations but acquiesced in the enclave strategy the continued ascendency of McNamara and his facts and figures such as force ratios which he pulled out of nowhere the acknowledged failure of the bombing campaign Rolling Thunder to bring the North to the table the unwillingness of LBJ to look weak by looking for a way out the lack of any real opposition, only George Ball actively dissented.By July of 1965, it was apparent that as fast as the US sent troops, infiltrated from the North, thus Westland constantly upped his requirements from 200,000 to 300,000 to 400,000 to 500,000 McNamara submitted budgets with the false assumption that the war would end in 1967 Much of the rationale was LBJ s desire to get his Great Society programs through Congress first If the true cost of the war were known, LBJ was sure his domestic programs would be rejected.Through 1966 and 1967, departures of disillusioned doubters and advocates turned doubters ensued George Ball, Bill Moyers, Mac Bundy and Bob McNamara Some like McNamara turned dove Johnson shipped him off to the World Bank and replaced him with Clark Clifford , others like Moyers and Bundy simply moved on, and longtime dissenter George Ball left in disgust Johnson simply became insular Bundy was replaced with eternal optimist Walt Rostow who fed Johnson his preferred diet The 1968 Tet offensive was the final straw Now the whole nation saw the hopelessness of the war and dissent took hold across the country Eugene McCarthy took on Johnson in the 1968 primaries and showed Johnson he had no support for reelection Clark Clifford, to Johnson s chagrin began telling Johnson the truth But it took a group of powerful establishment business and political leaders to meet with Johnson and tell him he was destroying the country, before he relented and agreed to begin backing off the war.In spite of Halberstam s tendency to belabor his points, the book is highly readable But what makes this book so valuable is the insight into how arrogance, fear of being seen as weak, and misapplication of past experience led to failure It was disheartening to see how those who saw the dangers and knew better compromised with those who didn t, eroding their positions, allowing the relentless hawks to get their way I was struck by the similarity of the failure to take on Joe McCarthy early on and the failure to take on vigorously the Viet Nam hardliners Clearly compromise is not always the best way.


  7. says:

    The Best and the Brightest is an 816 page tome about the men who came to power under Kennedy and continued to serve under Johnson The men who were supposedly the brightest and most able men ever assembled by a President The men who led their country into the disastrous Vietnam war.Halberstam spent over two years interviewing people to write this book and he clearly did his research His writing shows a clear understanding of the region, history, politics and players Despite some repetitive or dry sections, most of the book is surprisingly fast moving and well written In an effort to portray a complete picture of the players, there are a lot of men covered, not all of whom seem critical I felt I could use an organizational chart or a quick reference section at the end to remember who was who and what their role was.Though written over 30 years ago, this book s lessons are still relevant today Halberstam teaches readers about the restrictions on speaking up against China policy, then Vietnam He tells of how the officials demanded patriotism, opposing viewpoints were closed off, considered non patriotic, their proponents excluded from access to power The lesson is the importance of debate, of being open to information bad news as well as good , of the difficulty many people have in holding on to their principles when power is at stake.Perhaps the greatest lesson of the book is that best and brightest is a relative term Even the seemingly most perfect people have flaws that can have disastrous consequences, especially in situations where dissent is discouraged and problems are papered over And also, that best and the brightest in the 1960s was an exclusive word, limited to ambitious white men, most of whom craved power and were afraid to make mistakes If the definition of best and brightest had been inclusive, if different types of intelligent and thoughtful people had been allowed access to decision making, the results might have been different For those interested in how decisions were made from the American side, in how a group of smart men could make such serious mistakes, this is a book worth reading.


  8. says:

    A wonderfully written and engaging history of the war in Vietnam from its origins in the 1940s until 1970 I have read this book and three other histories Fitzgerald, Sheehan and Mann over the last month, and the story is remarkably consistent the unshakable, implacable arrogance and the impenetrable, willful ignorance of civilian politicans and bureaucrats over the period, as well as the malfeasance of the US military, i.e institutional loyalities, personal vanities and careerism of top brass, during these years that saw the deaths of millions It s inconceivable that rational human beings can act in this way, so one must conclude that Presidents, presidential hangers on and career soldiers can t possibly be rational human beings, and that includes the gang of war criminals, Obama, Gates and Clinton, currently in power One can only hope that the national debt grows to many tens of trillions of dollars, to whatever level it needs to rise even if a consequence is the total liquidation of middle America as a class so that we can no longer indulge the flaws of our national character, apart, one also hopes, from our penchant for civil war and mutual extermination The world will be a better place when those circumstances appear.


  9. says:

    The hubris, the miscalculation, the turning a deaf ear to bad news, telling the boss what he wants to hear, generals who give rosy reports so as not to spook the civilian authorities, lying to the public and minimizing the problems This tale is told from the commanding heights of powerful men who driven by very human frailties and flaws plowed the US into a quagmire costing 60,000 American lives and millions in Indochina This tale only talks about Vietnam and each move drawing us deeper into a war that many in high places saw coming but not heeded because others held sway the people who largely were overconfident and didn t have any clear picture partly out of listening to underlings who told the boss what he wanted over truth tellers who were an obstacle to grand plans I don t spend as much time on Vietnam as I should but it was one of the unraveling factors that brought us where we are today And it could have been avoided.


  10. says:

    At the very end of his long and thorough work, The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam comments that the trap was set long before anyone realized it was a trap This phrase adequately summarizes the main theme of the work This book isn t designed to give you an understanding of the war in Vietnam Instead, its an account of extremely decent, brilliant, and well qualified men slipped into a trap, and how their struggles to break free of this trap only got them firmly stuck.My only other experience with Halberstam is with his sports writing, specifically his masterful Breaks of the Game, an account of a season Halberstam spent with the Portland Trailblazers in the late 1970s Breaks of the Game, and other books that focus on a sports individuals, tend to follow a similar structure the author uses the built in narrative of a season to profile specific individuals This allows a talented writer to expand his range of topics For example, although Breaks is ostensibly about the 1979 80 Portland Trailblazer s season, it also works as a thought provoking analysis of the NBA in the 70s.Halberstam uses a similar structure in The Best and the Brightest As the reader follows the decision making concerning Southeast Asia throughout the Kennedy and Johnson administration Halberstam parses out in depth profiles of the major players However, Halberstam is truly a master of digression, and he doesn t limit himself to profiles The book isn t so much about the men who made the decisions, as its about the thinking behind the decisions itself The trap Halberstam describes is not the situation in Vietnam, but a system of thought, influenced by World War II and the early years of the Cold War Vietnam was merely the locale where the inherent fallacy of American policy was exposed According to Halberstam, we didn t get stuck in Vietnam when we sent in combat troops, or we started bombing North Vietnam, or when we deposed Diem Instead, as Halberstram illustrates, the seeds of tragedy were planted when China went Communist in 1949 Truman was blamed with losing China, as if it was ever ours The outrage gave ammunition to Joe McCarthy and helped launch his career Asian experts in the state department, who were generally only guilty of being accurate, were forced from their career France s troubles in Indochina, which were previously viewed as a revolutionary struggle against colonialism, were cast as part of the free world s struggles against the red threat Halberstam details how the consequences of this system of thought all contributed to, and in a certain way led inevitably toward the eventual tragedy.A conclusion one could draw from the book is that it didn t necessarily matter who made the decisions, what dictated the outcome was the conventional thought of the period However, the book s other theme is the effect of the political establishment on the decision making process By giving rich and illuminating profiles of the individuals behind the decisions Halberstam paints a portrait of the American political establishment The reader is given a real sense of the characters of the men in power and their motives If the The Best and the Brightest works best as a tragedy, it is not lacking in tragic characters Halberstam is a really great writer, probably one of the best writers of nonfiction I ve ever read His prose can be lyrical, or straight forward when he needs it to be His has a firm grasp on the players and the events and acts as a excellent guide I never got bogged down in details and the book remained a joy to read throughout I first picked up The Best and the Brightest looking for a better understanding of the war in Vietnam and I really didn t get that However, I did get an account of how the United States found itself committed the biggest policy blunder in its history Men who should have known better, the best and the brightest we had to offer, patently refused to consider unconventional thought, and displayed a startling ignorance of history I really admired the way Halberstam wrote of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Dean Rusk, and Robert McNamara Good thing we learned our lesson Oh, wait.


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The Best and the Brightestcharacters The Best and the Brightest, audiobook The Best and the Brightest, files book The Best and the Brightest, today The Best and the Brightest, The Best and the Brightest 42633 The Best And The Brightest Is David Halberstam S Masterpiece, The Defining History Of The Making Of The Vietnam Tragedy 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 It Lose As The Definitive Single Volume Answer To That Question, This Enthralling Book Has Never Been Superseded It S An American Classic


About the Author: David Halberstam

David Halberstam was an American journalist and historian, known for his work on the Vietnam War, politics, history, the Civil Rights Movement, business, media, American culture, and later, sports journalism He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1964.Halberstam graduated from Harvard University with a degree in journalism in 1955 and started his career writing