by Steve Lancaster 2/26/14
By H.R. McMaster • A service member who is derelict has willfully refused to perform his duties (or follow a given order) or has incapacitated himself in such a way that he cannot perform his duties. Such incapacitation includes the person falling asleep while on duty requiring wakefulness, his getting drunk or otherwise intoxicated and consequently being unable to perform his duties, or his vacating his post contrary to regulations.
Article 92 also applies to service members whose acts or omissions rise to the level of criminally negligent behavior. McMaster invokes article 92 of the UCMJ in Dereliction of Duty. His book is directed not only at Lyndon Johnson, but also his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, and by extension the Joint Chiefs of Staff who most often failed to voice their professional opinion on an administration that did not want to hear what the military thought.
This is the essential thesis of McMaster’s case; the administration marched into involvement in Vietnam in spite of professional advice from men like Matthew Ridgeway who advised Eisenhower to avoid military combat units assisting the French in 1954. The new Democratic administration of JFK, stung by unfounded charges of being weak on communism during the campaign, and motivated by Khrushchev’s announced support for wars of national liberation in January of 1961, responded in JFK’s inaugural, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Khrushchev, laid down a challenge to the new president, and JFK picked it up in Vietnam. It was a school yard sucker punch. JFK, his ego high on election hubris, responded without realizing that nemesis was waiting in the wings.
It seems that JFK, and his mostly civilian administration and cabinet, did not read, or failed to understand, Clausewitz, that political goals should be based upon vital national interests and that military goals should be consistent with and support the political goals. Neither situation was true in the Vietnam War at any time. This failure to understand and be consistent is the fundamental idea of McMaster’s book.
Those who did question the policy of either JFK or LBJ were frozen out of the decision cycle. By the later stages of his admiration, LBJ was listening only to those who agreed with him in his Tuesday breakfast meetings. LBJ and his administration continued to send messages to DRV in the hope that something would stick to the wall. But they did not even know where the wall was.
Ho and his successors were not interested in messages that might encourage a Western leader; their focus was on victory and the unification of Vietnam. The failure on the part of every US administration to understand this vital difference was central to American political defeat in Vietnam. And the failure on the part of the secretary of Defense to listen to the professionals in the JCS was a dereliction of duty.
However, the commander at MACV and the JCS shoulder equal responsibility for not pursuing their opinions to the president and in the failure to resign rather than follow a policy that was in fundamental disagreement with the principles of war. In the end, the job was more important to the senior officials and officers than the lives of 58,000 KIA.
McNamara would later back-step from his aggressive pursuit of the war — the regrets of a man trying to make amends and to get into heaven. • (6508 views)