Cover image for Dereliction of duty : Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the lies that led to Vietnam
Dereliction of duty : Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the lies that led to Vietnam

1st ed.
Physical Description:
xviii, 446 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
The new frontiersmen and the old guard : 1961-October 1962 -- Havana and Hanoi : October 1962-November 1963 -- New war new leader November : 1963-January 1964 -- Graduated pressure : January-March 1964 -- From distrust to deceit : March-July 1964 -- Across the threshold : July-August 1964 -- Contriving consensus : August-September 1964 -- Prophecies rejected and the path of least resistance : September-November 1964 -- Planning for failure : November-December 1964 -- A fork in the road : December 1964-February 1965 -- The foot in the door : February-March 1965 -- A quicksand of lies : March-April 1965 -- The coach and his team : April-June 1965 -- War without direction : April-June 1965 -- Five silent men : July 1965.
Dereliction of Duty makes a unique, groundbreaking contribution toward clarifying what happened, why, and who was responsible for the decisions that led to direct U.S. military intervention in the Vietnam War. Based on more than five years of painstaking research, it includes startling revelations from previously classified transcripts of crucial meetings, many of which were obtained by the author through the Freedom of Information Act; tapes of private telephone conversations; exclusive access to personal diaries; interviews with participants; and oral histories.

The result is an inescapable correction to the prevailing view that an American war in Vietnam was inevitable. The book follows step-by-step the series of developments and secret decisions made in Washington between November 1963 and July 1965 to intensify the American military commitment in Southeast Asia. And it reveals that the disaster that followed was not caused by impersonal forces but by uniquely human failures at the highest levels of the U.S. government: arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self-interest, and above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people.

The roles played by the president's closest advisers - McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, George Ball, Maxwell Taylor, and especially Robert McNamara - in the decisions to escalate American involvement are central to the story. And the reasons behind those decisions - now exposed - challenge McNamara's claim that American policy makers were prisoners of the ideology of the containment of Communism and therefore should be absolved of responsibility for the final outcome. The book also reveals for the first time how the virtual exclusion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the decision-making process exacerbated the problem.


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Book 959.704 MCM 1 1
Book 959.704 MCM 1 1

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"The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C."

--H. R. McMaster (from the Conclusion)

Dereliction Of Duty is a stunning analysis of how and why the United States became involved in an all-out and disastrous war in Southeast Asia. Fully and convincingly researched, based on transcripts and personal accounts of crucial meetings, confrontations and decisions, it is the only book that fully re-creates what happened and why. McMaster pinpoints the policies and decisions that got the United States into the morass and reveals who made these decisions and the motives behind them, disproving the published theories of other historians and excuses of the participants.

A page-turning narrative, Dereliction Of Duty focuses on a fascinating cast of characters: President Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor, McGeorge Bundy and other top aides who deliberately deceived the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. Congress and the American public.

McMaster's only book, Dereliction of Duty is an explosive and authoritative new look at the controversy concerning the United States involvement in Vietnam.

Author Notes

Herbert Raymond McMaster was born on July 24, 1962 in Philadelphia. He is a U.S. Army lieutenant general and the 26th National Security Advisor. His military assignments include Director of Army Capabilities Integration Center and Deputy Commanding General, Futures, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

McMaster earned a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in American history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His thesis was critical of American strategy in the Vietnam War, which was further detailed in his 1997 book Dereliction of Duty. In this book McMaster's explores the military's role in the policies of the Vietnam War. The book criticized high-ranking officers of that era, arguing that they inadequately challenged Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson on their Vietnam strategy. His other titles include The Art of Command: Military Leadership from George Washington to Colin Powell, Lesson for a Long War: How America can Win on New Battlefields and Ideas and Weapons: Influence and Perception in Modern Warfare.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Challenging the passive-voice argument that the U.S. was trapped by ideology or circumstance in its war in Vietnam, McMaster, a serving officer and Gulf War combat veteran, casts a harsh but penetrating light on a crucial aspect of that conflict. He presents the war as a consequence of specific decisions made by specific men. Lyndon Johnson's fixation on short-term domestic political goals, he says, limited his capacity to deal with a complex, remote international problem. Johnson compounded this shortcoming by insisting on consensus among his advisors‘particularly within the military he distrusted. Robert McNamara, according to McMaster, believed he could satisfy the president's demands with a strategy of "graduated pressure" that offered minimal risk, cost and visibility. Meanwhile, despite fundamental reservations with McNamara's strategy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed to articulate objections and to develop alternatives, thus abdicating their professional and civic responsibilities. Instead, loyal to their particular services, committed to the principle of civilian control and seeking to make the best of a bad situation, the Joint Chiefs, McMaster says, acquiesced in a pattern of subterfuge and deception that shaped the war and its outcome before it even began. McMaster's seminal analysis demonstrates in particular that an officer's moral courage is as important as his willingness to face physical risk. The generals and admirals who kept silent as America descended into the Vietnam quagmire had many times been in harm's way. Yet when subjected to a final test, they were unable and unwilling to make the choice demanded of service-academy cadets: the harder right over the easier wrong, whatever the personal cost. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

An intriguing analysis that challenges the view that Cold War anticommunism was primarily responsible for American military intervention in Vietnam. In his first book, McMaster, a US Army major and Persian Gulf war veteran, and a historian who has taught at West Point, zeroes in on the actions of Lyndon Johnson and his top advisers from the time LBJ became president in November 1963 to the July 1965 decision to escalate the war drastically. The author makes a convincing case that domestic political considerations were behind the development of the failed strategy of graduated military pressure. The actions of Johnson, his top civilian advisers, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) were, moreover, characterized by ``arrogance, weakness [and] lying in the pursuit of self interest.'' President Johnson heads McMaster's culpability list, which also includes Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, JCS head and US ambassador to South Vietnam Gen. Maxwell Taylor, Taylor's JCS successor, Gen. Earle Wheeler, and top advisers William and McGeorge Bundy. McMaster's touchstone is the unchallenged fact that Johnson wanted to fight the war on poverty, not the war in Vietnam. McMaster interprets virtually all of LBJ's actions as chief executive in that light. From November 1963 to November 1964 Johnson's overarching goal was to win the presidential election. After that, his main concern was enacting his Great Society programs. The fact that Johnson made Vietnam policy based on domestic-policy implications, McMaster believes, was a recipe for disaster in Vietnam. David Halberstam promulgated similar arguments in The Best and the Brightest (1972). McMaster, using newly released transcripts and other primary source material, pays more attention to the JCS's role. Unsparing in his analysis of the chiefs, McMaster takes them severely to task for their ``failure'' to provide LBJ with ``their best advice.'' A relentless, stinging indictment of the usual Johnson administration Vietnam War suspects. (illustrations, not seen)

Booklist Review

The "error not of values and intentions but of judgment and capabilities" to which Robert McNamara admitted in In Retrospect (1995) leaves out his deceptions that helped plunge America into the Vietnam War. McNamara may not have remembered them in his memoir, but army officer McMaster found them in the Joint Chiefs of Staff's archives for the crucial decision-making years of 1964 and 1965. Distilled to its essence, McMaster's thesis proposes that the plans and advice on Vietnam prepared by the nation's military advisers were systematically sidetracked by McNamara. Two facts exemplify the whole dense forest of facts McMaster explores: the prediction of the Joint Chiefs of the Army and Marine Corps that "victory" would require five years and 500,000 troops only reached LBJ's ears once (he didn't listen, obviously), and the Pentagon war games of McNamara's theory of "graduated pressure" eerily ended in stalemate. McNamara suppressed all such warning signs, theorizes McMaster, because he was responding to LBJ's anxiety to keep Vietnam's "noise level" down until the 1964 election was over and the Great Society safely enacted. As damning of the civilian leaders as he is, McMaster doesn't blithely exonerate the brass. They didn't heed their own warnings and acquiesced in McNamara's incrementalist policy, in the hope of eventually getting the huge force they diffidently advised would be needed to win. Writing about an ocean of memos, meetings, and reports as he does, McMasters delivers a narrative more diligent than dramatic, but his take on pinpointing the architect(s) of the Vietnam fiasco should prove, nonetheless, of high interest. --Gilbert Taylor



Chapter One 1 The New Frontiersmen and the Old Guard 1961-October 1962 Allowing for reasonable exceptions and a wide latitude of variation, the typical New Frontiersman is about 46 years old, highly energetic, distinctly articulate and refreshingly idealistic. In short, he has much in common with the man the American people have chosen as their President. --M. B. SCHNAPPER, 1961 The disaster of the Vietnam War would dominate America's memory of a decade that began with great promise. In the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Dwight Eisenhower's vice president, Richard Nixon. Despite a narrow margin of victory, the new president exuded confidence. His clarion call, "Let us begin anew," evoked the prospect of a new era of prosperity and opportunity. Although he was only five years younger than Nixon, Kennedy at forty-three seemed youthful and vigorous compared to his opponent and the "old timers" of Eisenhower's administration. A witty, attractive man, Kennedy was a World War II hero and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who had gained considerable political experience as a congressman and senator. His rhetoric exhorted America's youth to "pay any price" and "bear any burden" to extend the virtues of their country to the rest of the world. The idealism that Kennedy seemed to personify would be lost in a place that, in 1960, was of little interest or significance to Americans. A campaign issue that Kennedy had taken up with some vigor was that of the need for reform in national defense strategy and the management of the Department of Defense. Truman administration Defense Secretary Robert Lovett advised Kennedy that reform in the Pentagon would be "painful" but was "long overdue." He told him that his defense secretary should be "an analytical statistician who can ... tear out the overlap, the empire building." Lovett urged the president-elect to consider the forty-four-year-old president of the Ford Motor Company, Robert Strange McNamara, for the job. When World War II began, Robert McNamara was serving on the business faculty at Harvard University, teaching the application of statistical analysis to management problems. Initially disqualified from military service because of his inability to pass an eye examination, he became a consultant to the War Department to develop statistical controls within the Army Air Corps supply system. After spending the first year of the war teaching at the Army Air Forces Statistical Control Officers School, McNamara requested an assignment to the Eighth Air Force in England. McNamara arrived in England in February 1943 and, after three weeks, sought a commission as a captain. The professor-turned-military-officer became part of a traveling statistical control group that analyzed maintenance, logistics, and operational problems in England, India, China, and the Pacific. McNamara often met resistance from military officers who discounted his new methods. A lieutenant colonel in 1945, he left the Army an ardent believer in the need for statistical management and control over military organizations. After World War II, McNamara, with several of his Army Air Corps statistician colleagues, joined Ford. They were known collectively as the Whiz Kids, a term later associated with the young analysts McNamara brought with him to the Pentagon. At Ford, McNamara preferred the academic milieu of Ann Arbor to the corporate culture of suburban Detroit. His drive, ambition, and analytical talents led to his appointment, in November 1960, as the first company president who was not a member of the Ford family. One month later R. Sargent Shriver, John F. Kennedy's brother-in-law, visited McNamara on behalf of the president-elect. Although he intended to remain at Ford, McNamara agreed to fly to meet Kennedy. Among the qualities that Kennedy admired was self-assurance. During his second meeting with Kennedy, McNamara surprised the president-elect and his brother Robert with his assertiveness. He handed Jack Kennedy a contract stipulating that he be given free rein over appointments in the Department of Defense and not be expected to engage in purely social events. Kennedy read the document and passed it, unsigned, to his brother. McNamara seemed the man for the job. The Kennedy brothers swept McNamara out the front door of the brick Georgetown house and introduced the secretary of defense-designate to the bevy of reporters waiting outside in the freezing cold. Kennedy worried most over the appointment of a secretary of state. Reluctant to alienate any of his key Democratic constituencies, he settled on everyone's second choice, Dean Rusk. Rusk, a former Rhodes scholar from Georgia, was a professor of government and dean of faculty at Mills College in California, when, in 1940, he was ordered into active military service as an Army captain. He served initially in Washington as an intelligence analyst. With the advent of American involvement in World War II, Rusk left the capital for the headquarters of the China, Burma, and India theater of operations. The quality of the cables that the young staff officer sent to the War Department caught the eye of Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. General Marshall summoned Rusk to Washington, where he joined Col. George A. Lincoln's Strategy and Policy Group to help develop long-range politico-military contingency plans. In 1946 Rusk joined the State Department and, in 1950, became Secretary of State Dean Acheson's assistant for Far Eastern affairs. In 1952 he left the State Department to head the Rockefeller Foundation. During his years of government service, Rusk built a solid reputation for loyalty and trustworthiness within the Democratic establishment. The unprepossessing, introspective Rusk provided a conspicuous contrast to the confident, assertive McNamara. Lovett and Acheson had recommended Rusk enthusiastically, and, after a brief interview, Kennedy decided to appoint him. Kennedy had considered McGeorge Bundy for secretary of state, but concluded that he was too young. In 1953, Bundy, at thirty-four, was appointed dean of Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. His formative years were spent in the best schools of the Northeast--Groton, Yale, Harvard--and in association with some of the most influential people in the twentieth-century United States. He assisted Henry Stimson (William Howard Taft's secretary of war, Herbert Hoover's secretary of state, and Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of war) in the preparation of his memoirs. He also helped Dean Acheson prepare a collection of his personal papers for publication. Bundy was known for an abruptness and imperious demeanor with those he considered his intellectual inferiors, but he could also be effusive and engaging in a social setting. Kennedy chose him as special assistant for national security affairs (usually called national security adviser). Kennedy placed a premium on academic qualifications and superior intellect. McNamara, Rusk, and Bundy all shared distinguished academic backgrounds. Moreover Kennedy wanted men who shared his broad interests and could engage in wide-ranging, informal discussions. Perhaps the most important determining factor of each man's relative influence would be his ability to establish a close personal rapport with the president. Rusk, who preferred established procedures and protocol, had difficulty adjusting to the president's freewheeling style. Socially he remained distant from the president and was the only senior official Kennedy did not address by his first name. McNamara and Bundy would prove more adept at securing the president's confidence and affection. The president's personal style influenced the way he structured the White House staff to handle national security decision making. Having no experience as an executive, Kennedy was unaccustomed to operating at the head of a large staff organization. He regarded Eisenhower's National Security Council (NSC) structure as cumbersome and unnecessary. Immediately after taking office, he eliminated the substructure of the NSC by abolishing its two major committees: the Planning Board and the Operations Coordinating Board (OCB). Kennedy resolved not to use the NSC except for the pro forma consultation required by the National Security Act of 1947. In place of the formal Eisenhower system, Kennedy relied on an ad hoc, collegial style of decision making in national security and foreign affairs. He formed task forces to analyze particular problems and met irregularly with an "inner club" of his most trusted advisers to discuss problems informally and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of potential courses of action. Kennedy's dismantling of the NSC apparatus diminished the voice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in national security matters. Under Eisenhower military officers connected with the JCS were assigned to the Planning Board and the OCB. Through these representatives, the JCS could place items important to the military on the NSC agenda. During NSC meetings Eisenhower considered differing opinions and made decisions with all the Chiefs in attendance. Kennedy's structural changes, his practice of consulting frankly with only his closest advisers, and his use of larger forums to validate decisions already made would transcend his own administration and continue as a prominent feature of Vietnam decision making under Lyndon Johnson. Under the Kennedy-Johnson system, the Joint Chiefs lost the direct access to the president, and thus the real influence on decision making, that the Eisenhower NSC structure had provided. Diminished JCS access to the president reflected Kennedy's opinion of his senior military advisers. Kennedy and the young New Frontiersmen of his administration viewed the Eisenhower JCS with suspicion. Against the backdrop of Kennedy's efforts to reform the Defense Department, and under the strain of foreign policy crises, a relationship of mutual distrust between senior military and civilian officials would develop. Two months after Kennedy assumed the presidency, tension between the New Frontiersmen and the Old Guard escalated over a foreign policy blunder in the Caribbean. The Old Guard in the Pentagon were soon relegated to a position of little influence. The Bay of Pigs shattered the sense of euphoria and hopeful aspiration that surrounded the New Frontiersmen during their first months in Washington. In early 1960 the Eisenhower administration had authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to form, arm, and train a Cuban exile force for the purpose of overthrowing Fidel Castro's government in Cuba. When Kennedy took office, a brigade of approximately fifteen hundred men located in secret Guatemalan bases comprised this "Army of Liberation." Embarrassed by the anti-Castro training camps, President Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes asked Kennedy to have the force removed from Guatemalan soil by the end of April. Faced with the choice of using or losing the exile brigade, the president approved a plan designed to support the invasion while preserving his ability to deny U.S. involvement. After dark on April 16, 1961, the invasion force set out for the Bay of Pigs, Cuba. The invaders soon discovered that their American destroyer escort would not accompany them after they moved to within twenty miles of their homeland. Any hopes of gaining surprise were futile: The Kennedy administration had failed in its attempts to suppress news articles that revealed the plan for a U.S.-sponsored invasion, and the invasion was a hot topic of conversation on the streets of Havana. Castro was awakened at 1:00 A.M. on April 17 with the news of the brigade's arrival. Unmarked antiquated planes attacked the Cuban Air Force base but failed to destroy many of Castro's fighters. Denied American air cover, the ships supporting the landing force were either sunk or fled from the area. Castro's jet fighters attacked the exile brigade from above as his ground forces began pushing them back to the sea. The "liberators" were running out of ammunition. On April 18 Kennedy, with the support of Secretary of Defense McNamara, fended off requests from the Joint Chiefs and others to provide direct American support to the besieged brigade. The next day, in the face of incessant attacks, the abandoned exile force surrendered. Of the approximately thirteen hundred men who actually reached the beaches, almost twelve hundred were taken prisoner and about one hundred were killed in action. John Kennedy had not considered the consequences of going forward with the Bay of Pigs invasion. The president's informal style and structure of decision making did not allow for a systematic review of the planned invasion of Cuba. Under Eisenhower a White House intelligence office closely monitored CIA plans and operations. Eisenhower had approved only planning and preparation for the invasion. When Kennedy abolished the intelligence office of the OCB, he impeded his staff's ability to gain familiarity with and take control of the Eisenhower administration's policies and programs. The CIA was able, therefore, to present the plan for the invasion as a decision already made by Kennedy's predecessor. Although the president took public responsibility for the Bay of Pigs failure, he placed a large measure of blame for the disaster on poor military advice from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He thought that his senior military advisers should have been more assertive with their doubts about the operation's chances for success. For their part the JCS believed that Kennedy's ire was misdirected. The president consulted the JCS only after he had made the decision to launch the invasion. The military services had provided personnel on special assignment to the CIA, but remained unaware of their activities. The Chiefs were skeptical about the operation's chances of success and stated that the landing could only succeed if the landing force controlled the air. They blamed the president for not consulting them earlier and thought his decision to leave the landing force stranded on the beach reprehensible. The Bay of Pigs debacle not only exacerbated mutual distrust between the president and his senior military officers but spurred an intense desire on the part of John Kennedy to overthrow the Castro regime. Meanwhile another foreign policy challenge had developed in Laos--a landlocked nation in Southeast Asia positioned among China, Cambodia, Thailand, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam. In its effort to deny control of the country to Pathet Lao communist guerrillas, the Eisenhower administration had alternately provided military assistance to, and acted to weaken, the Lao government in Vientiane. When Kennedy took office in January 1961, the Pathet Lao had seized key objectives on the strategically vital Plain of Jars and threatened the fragile American-supported government of Prince Boun Oum. By late April the president was considering U.S. military intervention. Smarting from what they believed had been unfair criticism after the Bay of Pigs, the Chiefs were determined that any commitment of U.S. military force not suffer from the indecision and lack of firepower that had been evident in the abortive Cuban invasion. They told Kennedy unambiguously that military action in Laos could involve the United States in a large-scale land war in Southeast Asia and might escalate into a confrontation with China. They recommended that if any troops were deployed, they should arrive in a strength of at least sixty thousand men. Army general Lyman Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Chief of Staff George H. Decker warned Kennedy not to take action unless he was prepared to use nuclear weapons to "guarantee victory." A military commitment in Laos reminded Lemnitzer and Decker of the same sort of limited, costly, protracted commitment that the generals had experienced in Korea. After a meeting at the State Department on Laos, Rusk asked Lemnitzer, "Lem, do you think we can get the 101st [Airborne Infantry Division] in there?" The general responded, "We can get it in all right. It's getting it out that I'm worried about." During the Laotian crisis, the president was again dissatisfied with the advice of the Joint Chiefs, whose thinking he regarded as outmoded and unimaginative. He found the JCS estimate of the number of troops needed excessive and ordered only ten thousand Marines, then stationed in Japan, to prepare for deployment to Laos. He believed that strategic options in military affairs should give him more flexibility than a stark choice between inaction and large-scale commitment. Meanwhile preparations for the deployment of the Marines, coupled with diplomatic activity, seemed to have a positive effect on Moscow's attitude toward the Laotian problem. Eventually Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to negotiations aimed at developing a neutral Laos. The May 1961 international conference on Laos assembled in Geneva and lasted until July of the following year. The U.S. government considered the outcome less than favorable. The diplomatic settlement left the Pathet Lao in control of roughly the eastern half of the country, a region that North Vietnam used to supply and reinforce the Viet Cong insurgents in their fight against the American-backed South Vietnamese regime. The unfavorable Laotian settlement, combined with the apparent connection between American threats of Marine deployment and Soviet willingness to negotiate, reinforced Kennedy's opinion that JCS advice was of limited value and heightened the distrust between the president and his senior military advisers. The New Frontiersmen were men of action, and the Chiefs' reluctance to take military action short of a large-scale deployment upset them. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Hilsman and White House Assistant Michael Forrestal, son of the late secretary of defense, thought that the military had gone "soft." With respect to Laos, they "beat their chests until it comes time to do some fighting and then they start backing down," Hilsman wrote in 1962. Because the front line against Communism had not been drawn in Laos, South Vietnam would become the principal focus of U.S. policy in Southeast Asia. Under those circumstances Kennedy brought into his administration a man who would exert great influence over two presidents' decisions to escalate American involvement in Vietnam. Reeling from the wave of public criticism following the Bay of Pigs and aware of his increasingly troubled relationship with the JCS, Kennedy told his staff that he needed someone to be "my advisor to see that I am not making a dumb mistake as Commander in Chief." To provide him with military advice and to coordinate the efforts of the White House staff, Defense Department, and intelligence agencies, the besieged president looked to former Army Chief of Staff Maxwell Davenport Taylor. Max Taylor seemed the model of the soldier-statesman. Inspired by his Confederate grandfather's Civil War tales, Taylor pursued a military career with great enthusiasm from an early age. When his sixth-grade teacher asked him to name his professional ambition, the young Taylor wrote "major general." Twelve years later he graduated fourth in the West Point class of 1922. A talented linguist, Taylor later returned to the Military Academy to teach Spanish and French. During assignments in China and Japan, he became proficient in Japanese. It was, in part, his reputation as both a warrior and a scholar that made the general attractive to Kennedy. Taylor earned a reputation as a successful combat commander during World War II. He began the war on General Marshall's secretariat, but soon rose to command the 101st Airborne Division in Europe. He returned to Asia in 1953 to lead the Eighth Army in the closing months of the Korean War. In 1955, when Army Chief of Staff Matthew Ridgway retired without a second two-year term because of his unhappy relations with the Eisenhower administration, Taylor was named his successor. Like Ridgway, Taylor soon became frustrated by his inability to persuade the president or his indecisive secretary of defense, Charles Wilson, that a larger and more capable Army was vital to America's national security. Taylor served a full four years but retired eighteen months before Eisenhower relinquished the presidency to John F. Kennedy. The fifty-eight-year-old had been a general officer for sixteen years. When he retired, Taylor was "thoroughly fed up with the Pentagon and ... its ways." Taylor's frustration stemmed in part from Eisenhower's subordination of military policy to domestic economic priorities. Eisenhower believed that the United States, engaged in protracted competition with the Soviet Union, had to husband American economic strength as the basis for prevailing in the Cold War. When the fighting in Korea ended on July 26, 1953, the president developed a lower-cost strategy for national defense, the "new look." The new look rejected Ridgway's and Taylor's arguments that American military forces must remain "balanced" in size or configuration with those of the Soviet Union and relied instead on the military doctrine of "massive retaliation." To maintain a credible deterrent against Communist aggression, massive retaliation gave top priority in the defense budget to the Air Force and nuclear weaponry. Under the new look, the Army dropped from twenty to fourteen divisions (a reduction of nearly five hundred thousand soldiers) while the Air Force expanded from 115 to 137 wings and added thirty thousand airmen. To achieve economy as well as security in national defense, the new look sought to combine the threat of nuclear force with alliances, ready reserves, and psychological and covert operations. On January 12, 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announced in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations that the administration would "depend primarily on a great capacity to retaliate instantly" to achieve a "maximum deterrent at a bearable cost." In addition to his desire to cut costs, the lesson of the Korean War--that the American public would not support a protracted, limited conflict in a distant land--weighed heavily on Eisenhower. In contrast to Eisenhower, Kennedy had been sympathetic to Taylor's argument that massive retaliation be supplanted with a military doctrine of "flexible response." In The Uncertain Trumpet, a scathing critique of Ike's defense policy published soon after the Army Chief's retirement, Taylor called for "the unqualified renunciation" of the doctrine of massive retaliation. He wrote that reliance on the threat of "blasting [our enemies] from the face of the earth with atomic bombing if they commit aggression against us or our friends ... offers no alternative other than reciprocal suicide or retreat." His proposed military strategy of flexible response would "give multiple choices to our political leaders" and allow them to "cope with threats of many gradations, extending from subversive insurgency ... to limited war--conventional or nuclear--and finally to unlimited nuclear war." To rebuild its ability to fight conventional wars, Taylor argued that the United States had to expand and reinforce its ground forces overseas and create a robust strategic reserve of ground and air forces on its own soil. Kennedy became enamored of Maxwell Taylor's ideas. Two weeks before declaring his candidacy for the presidency, Kennedy wrote to Evan Thomas, Maxwell Taylor's editor, with an assessment of The Uncertain Trumpet. The book had persuaded Kennedy that "we have not brought our conventional war capabilities into line with the necessities." The senator thought that Taylor's critique of American defense policy and structure deserved "reading by every American." It was Kennedy's and Taylor's first contact in what would become a relationship of mutual respect and great affection. Taylor's ideas were evident in Kennedy's first presidential address on defense policy, in which he stated that "any potential aggressor contemplating an attack on any part of the free world with any kind of weapons, conventional or nuclear, must know that our response will be suitable, selective, swift, and effective." Taylor would help Kennedy effect a doctrinal shift that influenced deepening U.S. involvement in Vietnam. But first Kennedy needed Taylor to redress the balance of the president's troubled relationship with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On April 21 President Kennedy telephoned Taylor, who had just taken over as president of the recently opened Lincoln Center performing arts complex in New York City. Distraught over the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy asked Taylor to come to Washington immediately for consultation. Nine weeks later Taylor returned to active military duty to take an unprecedented White House position as "Military Representative of the President." The president outlined his duties: 1: The Military Representative is a staff officer to advise and assist the President with regard to those military matters that reach him as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The Military Representative is not interposed between the President and any of his statutory advisors or advisory bodies such as the Secretary of Defense, JCS or the NSC but maintains close liaison with them and is prepared to give his personal views to assist the President in reaching decisions. He is available to represent the President when the latter desires senior military representation at home or abroad. 2: The Military Representative has an analogous function of advice and assistance in the field of intelligence. He is not interposed between the President and the DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] or the intelligence community but watches the functioning of the intelligence apparatus of the government to assure that it meets the present and future needs of the President. 3: In the so-called Cold War planning and action, the Military Representative will check on the use of our military and intelligence assets and verify the effectiveness of their integration and employment. 4: The Military Representative has no command authority except within his own office. He may, however, call directly on any department or agency of the government for information necessary for the discharge of his responsibilities. Qualifications in the text reflected Kennedy's desire to avoid criticism from the JCS and members of Congress who might view the position as an infringement on the statutory responsibilities of the Joint Chiefs. The Joint Chiefs had reason to believe that Taylor would assert himself in areas that had been the sole responsibility of the JCS. Taylor's experience as Army chief of staff led him to recommend radical reform in the JCS organization. He had left the Eisenhower administration exhausted from "well nigh continuous conflict" with his civilian leaders and fellow officers of the Joint Chiefs. Taylor's difficult experience stemmed, in part, from the institutional conflict endemic in American democratic government. After World War II questions of defense policy figured prominently in the continuing power struggle between the executive branch and Congress. Dissent from members of the Joint Chiefs could weaken the president's position with the legislature and undermine an administration's policy decisions. Although Eisenhower had described the Chiefs' statutory right to appeal to Congress as "legalized insubordination," Taylor disapproved of the president's expectation that military officers mold their advice to the views and feelings of superiors and accept public responsibility for policy decisions that they opposed. Taylor thought that Eisenhower was obsessed with "loyalty and teamplay," and castigated him for creating an environment in which members of the administration pressured the JCS to accept a "preconceived politico-military line." In Taylor's view the military's "ultimate loyalty" to the Constitution and the people, as embodied by their congressional representatives, outweighed personal fealty to the commander in chief. He believed that Congress and the public should be aware of the dissenting views of the nation's top military leaders. However, Taylor revised his opinions on the proper relationship between the military and the commander in chief when he returned to government service under Kennedy. The formation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reflected the tension between the need to integrate military advice into the national security policy process and the desire to retain civilian control over the defense establishment. In January 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt had established the JCS to satisfy the exigencies of America's newly formed military alliance with Great Britain. During World War II the JCS planned and directed U.S. military strategy, managed materiel and manpower, and coordinated among the nation's military allies. In 1944 Congress began hearings on postwar defense organization and examined the issue in earnest after the war. After a two-year debate, Congress passed the National Security Act of 1947 to "provide a comprehensive program for the future security of the United States." The act and its amendments in 1949 established the CIA, created the NSC to coordinate policy for the president, and created a loose confederation of the armed services under the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The new Department of Defense consisted of OSD, the JCS, and the military departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force (the Marine Corps remained within the Department of the Navy). The act, which was essentially a compromise between Army and Navy proposals, shifted responsibility away from individual service secretaries and gave OSD authority over the "national military establishment." The legislation stipulated that the full-time members of the JCS include a chairman and the military heads of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The commandant of the Marine Corps would vote only on matters directly affecting his service. Congress provided the JCS with a staff to aid the Chiefs in their advisory and executive functions. Congress designated the Joint Chiefs as the "principal military advisors" to the president, the National Security Council, and the secretary of defense. The legislators concluded that the most senior professional officers from each of the services could offer the best military advice to the "national command authority." Testifying before the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs on May 1, 1946, Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal argued that reliance on "a single military genius" would risk "mistakes of judgment." Meeting together, each Chief would have to "justify his case before a group of intelligent partners." Congress was persuaded that the JCS, meeting together as a corporate body, comprised the best forum from which to obtain military advice. However, interservice competition for scarce resources impinged on the Chiefs' ability to cooperate in the interest of national security. Differences among the Chiefs centered on the definition of "roles and missions" of the services. The way the Chiefs defined roles and missions determined force size and structure and the research, development, and procurement of new weapons systems. Conflicts between the services led to inefficiency and redundancy. During his second term as president, Dwight Eisenhower grew increasingly concerned that, if the Chiefs did not cooperate, transcending narrow service views, civilians less familiar with the complexities of warfare, such as the secretary of defense, might assume the Chiefs' responsibilities. Eisenhower sought a structural solution to the problems of service parochialism and inefficiency. The Defense Reorganization Act of 1958 aimed to centralize control over the services, remove redundancies, streamline command channels, and provide for tighter civilian control at the Pentagon. Although Congress expected the act to affirm JCS responsibility to provide military advice and plan military operations within unified commands (geographical commands that included forces from all four services), the law permitted the OSD to share the Chiefs' advisory role and removed the JCS from the chain of command that ran from the president to the commanders in the field. The secretary of defense would direct the unified commands while the Joint Chiefs performed executive functions, such as translating guidance from the secretary into military orders and directives. Although the Chiefs retained their charter as "principal military advisors," the wide latitude given to the secretary of defense to provide for more effective and efficient administration would permit a strong-willed secretary to concentrate power in his hands. The erosion of the Chiefs' power and influence, which Eisenhower had predicted, was closer to becoming a reality. Centralization in the Department of Defense did nothing to attenuate interservice rivalry. Indeed, Eisenhower's defense policies intensified competition between the services. In The Uncertain Trumpet Taylor advocated even greater centralization of JCS advisory responsibility. Deeply affected by conflict among the Chiefs, Taylor wrote that he would "dissolve" the organization and replace it with a single defense chief of staff, who, as the senior military officer of the U.S. government, would report directly to the secretary of defense and the president. Taylor recognized that pressures from within the military services colored the advice of JCS members. If a chief were seen as abandoning that service's interest, he risked losing all credibility and respect. Taylor's plan called for an advisory body, independent of the military services, called the Supreme Military Council. The council would consist of senior officers from each of the services who were either retired or on their last tour of duty. Aware of Taylor's views, the JCS chairman, General Lemnitzer, had been less than enthusiastic about Taylor's appointment as military representative of the president, and Kennedy moved to defuse potential criticism from the Pentagon. Brig. Gen. Chester "Ted" Clifton, the president's military assistant, telephoned McNamara's military assistant to discuss the formal announcement of the president's decision to place Maxwell Taylor on the White House staff. Clifton observed that Taylor's duties would be "laid out very carefully" so that members of Congress and the press sympathetic to the JCS would not deem Taylor a usurper of the Joint Chiefs' advisory responsibilities. The White House statement would say only that the matter had been "discussed" with the secretary of defense and the joint chiefs of staff. The president directed, however, that General Lemnitzer attend the formal announcement and "stand by to come out with a hurrah." Kennedy also indicated his expectation that Secretary McNamara publicly convey his enthusiasm in some fashion. The president privately acknowledged that Taylor's responsibilities could easily have been performed by the Pentagon's senior military men. He was not only dissatisfied with the Joint Chiefs' advice but also frustrated by his inability to establish with them the kind of friendly rapport that he enjoyed with the rest of his staff and with many of his cabinet officials. To Kennedy generals and admirals were too formal, traditional, and unimaginative. Bundy confided to Taylor's principal assistant that Kennedy "would never feel really secure" about the military until "young generals of his own generation in whom he has confidence" filled the top uniformed positions in the defense establishment. Bundy knew that it was important to Kennedy that the top military men be able to "conduct a conversation" with the president to give him a "feeling of confidence and reassurance." Taylor would strive to satisfy the president's need. Kennedy's new personal adviser found the president "an amazingly attractive man--intelligent with a ready wit, personal charm, an ability to inspire loyalty in the people around him." He soon cultivated a warm friendship with the president and his family. Taylor knew that the Chiefs and the secretary of defense viewed him as a competing voice in national security issues. The retired general moved to head off potential animosities and assured his old friend Lemnitzer that he would be more of an ally than a source of competition. He told Lemnitzer that his "close personal relations with the President and his entourage" would help to ensure that the Chiefs' advice reached the president. When he arrived in Washington on April 22, Taylor's first responsibility was to conduct an investigation of the decision to mount the Bay of Pigs invasion. Although he concluded that the Chiefs were "not directly responsible" for the misadventure, he criticized them for not warning the president more urgently of the dangers. When the administration sought military advice on narrow questions about the operation, the Chiefs gave competent answers but offered no overall assessment because "they hadn't been asked." Taylor concluded that relations between the commander in chief and the JCS had reached "crisis" level. To address the problem he drafted a memorandum outlining what the president ought to expect from the Chiefs in the area of military advice. The memo ordered the JCS to initiate advice as well as respond to specific requests. Moreover the Chiefs should fit "military requirements into the overall context of any situation, recognizing that the most difficult problem in government is to combine all assets in a unified, effective pattern." The president used Taylor's memo as the basis for a meeting with the Chiefs on May 27, 1961. One month later he signed a slightly revised version, which he designated National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 55. Taylor's memorandum revealed how much his few weeks' association with the Kennedy White House had changed his thinking about the advisory role of the JCS. When he left the Eisenhower administration, he believed that the Joint Chiefs should provide narrowly focused military advice with "limited, if any, attention to political or economic factors, since these components of national strategy had qualified spokesmen elsewhere in the governmental structure." After witnessing the "crisis" that grew out of mutual dislike and distrust between the president and the Joint Chiefs, Taylor abandoned his previous view that the JCS should not "take into account the views and feelings of superiors," and supplanted it with an acknowledgment of "the importance of an intimate, easy relationship, born of friendship and mutual regard between the president and the Chiefs." He revised the conviction that he had held as Army chief of staff that the JCS should remain a "nonpolitical body" whose loyalty to the Constitution and the people superseded allegiance to any particular administration. When Taylor arrived in Washington, the Joint Chiefs were in the middle of scrambling to keep up with the new defense secretary's demands for information and quantitative justifications for existing policies and programs. President Kennedy had given McNamara thirty days to accomplish a complete review of defense policy and the organization of the Pentagon. McNamara was to develop a program to eliminate waste and inefficiency. Anxious to provide "active, imaginative, and decisive leadership" in the Department of Defense and abandon "the passive practice of simply refereeing the disputes of traditional and partisan [service] factions" that had characterized the efforts of Eisenhower's defense secretaries, the new secretary undertook a comprehensive analysis of his department. The Joint Chiefs were unable to respond to McNamara's demands fast enough, and their cumbersome administrative system exacerbated the administration's unfavorable opinion of them. Any issue that came before the Chiefs first went to "action officers" of each of the services, who worked on a "flimsy" copy of the proposal. When the action officers reached consensus, they forwarded the issue on buff paper to experienced colonels called "planners." Each planner incorporated his service's position into the paper. The paper, now green in color, rose to the three-star operations deputies of each service, who, if in agreement with the position in the paper, acted for the Chiefs. If the operations deputies could not agree, or if the matter was of critical importance, the issue went before the Chiefs themselves. If the JCS could not reach a consensus opinion on the subject, the dissenting members prepared letters of nonconcurrence and forwarded them to the secretary of defense for decision. The system, based on compromise at every level, often resulted in ambiguous, watered-down proposals. Interservice rivalry complicated an already cumbersome administrative system. Since the Air Force had become an independent service in 1947, the bickering over the organization and employment of military aviation, which had begun in the early 1920s, had worsened. Historian Earl Tilford, Jr., emphasized that the Air Force, "like an illegitimate child at a family reunion ... felt less than comfortable with its origins, and all the more so since its primary reason for being was based on the unproven doctrine of strategic bombing." The Marines constantly felt threatened by the Army. The Navy, Air Force, and Army each sought important roles within American nuclear strategy and continental defense. Each service feared that another might usurp its role and thereby undercut its structure, its ability to develop future weapons, and thus its ability to wage war. Split decisions in the JCS often resulted from one or more of the services challenging another's justification for the development or procurement of particular weapons. This unhealthy competition often took on the character of an argument between selfish children and undercut further the credibility of the Joint Chiefs as an advisory body. McNamara quickly lost patience with the Chiefs' unresponsiveness and squabbling. His answer to the mutually reinforcing problems of parochialism and administrative inefficiency became familiar: increased centralization in the OSD. Kennedy gave his new secretary of defense carte blanche, and McNamara took advantage of it. Drawing on his experience with analytical methods and statistics, he forced new management techniques on a reluctant department. He brought in an army of bright young analysts to assist him, and used the wide latitude given the secretary of defense in the Defense Reorganization Act of 1958 to create a staff structure that mirrored military staff functions. Freed from dependence on the JCS for analysis, McNamara exerted civilian control over what had before been almost exclusively military prerogatives. McNamara's principal staff included young men such as Department of Defense General Counsel John McNaughton (a Harvard Law School professor who replaced Paul Nitze as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs in 1963), Special Assistant Adam Yarmolinsky (a longtime Kennedy aide), Charles J. Hitch (former president of the University of California), and the man some referred to as the "chief whiz kid," Alain Enthoven, for whom McNamara created a new Office of Systems Analysis. The defense secretary gave his team "full backing," and the young civilians discharged their responsibilities and exerted their authority with vigor. McNamara's Whiz Kids were like-minded men who shared their leader's penchant for quantitative analysis and suspicion of proposals based solely on "military experience." Many of them had worked in think tanks and research corporations, such as RAND, and they were eager to apply their techniques to the problems of the Defense Department. Taylor recalled that "cost-effectiveness charts appeared on all the walls, and a whole host of requests for information and advice flooded the JCS." The two most important offices were Paul Nitze's International Security Affairs (ISA) and Alain Enthoven's Systems Analysis divisions. Enthoven quickly became McNamara's point man in establishing firm civilian control over the Defense Department. His flair for quantitative analysis was exceeded only by his arrogance. Enthoven held military experience in low regard and considered military men intellectually inferior. He likened leaving military decision making to the professional military to allowing welfare workers to develop national welfare programs. Enthoven suggested that military experience "can be a disadvantage because it discourages seeing the larger picture." He and many of his colleagues believed that most people in the Department of Defense simply tried to "advance their particular project or their service or their department." He was convinced that "there was little in the typical officer's early career that qualifies him to be a better strategic planner than ... a graduate of the Harvard Business School." He used statistics to analyze defense programs and issues and then gave the secretary of defense and the president information needed to make decisions. Enthoven saw no limits to the applicability of his methods. McNamara's autocratic style and the condescending attitude of his young civilian assistants deeply disturbed the Joint Chiefs and other military officers in the Pentagon. The military viewed Enthoven and the rest of McNamara's staff as adversaries. Differences arose between the JCS and McNamara's office over new management techniques, the military budget, and weapons procurement. The officers resented the lack of respect for military experience among those whom they nicknamed derisively McNamara's "happy little hotdogs." Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay recalled that McNamara's Whiz Kids were the most egotistical people that I ever saw in my life. They had no faith in the military; they had no respect for the military at all. They felt that the Harvard Business School method of solving problems would solve any problem in the world.... They were better than all the rest of us; otherwise they wouldn't have gotten their superior education, as they saw it. Although united in their vexation with McNamara and his staff, the Chiefs remained divided on substantive defense issues. McNamara, who had promised to act "decisively and effectively to accomplish ... solution[s]," intervened to resolve issues of contention between the Chiefs. He battled with the Air Force and Navy over his plan to develop a fighter jet common to all the services, the notorious TFX. His and Enthoven's belief that submarines and unmanned missiles were more efficient and effective nuclear deterrents than bombers ran afoul of the Air Force's traditional preference for piloted aircraft. McNamara's opposition to the B-70 bomber program soured his relations with the Air Force until Curtis LeMay retired in 1965. The Army, neglected during the Eisenhower years, benefited from McNamara's belief in strong conventional forces to fight limited wars. In less than one and one-half years in office, McNamara added more than three hundred thousand troops to the Army. Differences over defense allocations and structure diminished the Chiefs' influence relative to the defense secretary's civilian analysts. The initiative that displeaseed all the services equally was McNamara's method for determining the military budget. Although each of the Chiefs opposed the new budget system, McNamara's requirement that each service prepare an unconstrained estimate based on perceived needs kept the Chiefs divided over how defense dollars should be allocated. After receiving uncoordinated service estimates, the Whiz Kids would make recommendations to McNamara on what he should retain and what he should cut from each of the proposals. The Joint Chiefs felt that they had no real influence over the budget process. Adm. David Lamar McDonald later accused McNamara of dishonesty for never admitting that there was in fact a real ceiling on the budget, and expressed his frustration that "the whiz kids ... decided what we could get along without," cutting programs without explaining their decisions to the people who would "have to fight" with the weapons and equipment. Officers on Taylor's personal staff warned the general that the Kennedy administration was making a deliberate effort to minimize the military's influence over defense policy. Air Force major William Y. Smith had observed a "general trend to downgrade the influence of military leaders in the determination of policies." Part of the responsibility, Smith observed, rested with the Chiefs. Citing the inability of the Joint Chiefs to abandon their preoccupation with service interests, he predicted that unless they began to project their advice "outward and upward" and address policy concerns rather than narrow service interests, the prospect for harmonious civil-military relations would remain dim. Taylor's principal assistant, Col. Julian Ewell, blamed the dominance of McNamara's civilian advisers for the weakening of the Chiefs' voice in issues of national security. He shared Bundy's view that no matter what the JCS did to improve their own operation, "the progressive tightening up of the McNamara regime might tend to cancel it out." Taylor discovered that McNamara often suppressed JCS advice in favor of the views of his civilian analysts. On several defense issues McNamara either failed to consult the JCS or did not forward their views to the White House. Taylor's staff reported that, in addition to McNamara's strict control over the JCS, greater centralization in the Kennedy White House prevented military advice from reaching the president. The president had increased his reliance on ad hoc gatherings of "principals" that usually included Bundy and McNamara. Informal committees with responsibility for particular issues conducted closed deliberations and often sent papers directly to the president. Ewell observed that loose associations of second-level officials in the White House and the Defense and State departments furthered their own defense agendas by working "across channels by personal contact" and calling on their associates who were "members of the club, and whom they [could] count on to agree with them." The members of Kennedy's inner circle protected their ideas with ideological fervor. The New Frontiersmen believed that to effect change they had to "ignore ... the minor frictions involved in changing policy." Ewell found that a "moralistic approach" inspired Kennedy's closest advisers to make judgments "which the actual circumstances support only very tenuously." Having concluded that the Joint Chiefs were more an impediment than an asset, Kennedy moved to replace the "holdover" chiefs of the Eisenhower administration with his own men, who would be less likely to resist his administration's defense policies. JCS chairman Lemnitzer had taken an unequivocal position on Laos and believed that the United States should be prepared to use its full power before deciding to intervene anywhere. Although Lemnitzer's advice may have been appropriate under Eisenhower's policy of massive retaliation, it was anathema to Kennedy's and Taylor's conception of flexible response. When Gen. Lauris Norstad, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commander, announced his intention to retire in September 1962, Kennedy designated Lemnitzer as Norstad's replacement in order to create a vacancy in the chairmanship. He then broke the traditional rotation between the Army, Navy, and Air Force and installed Taylor as the new chairman. Taylor, who had ostensibly retired from military service four years before and had condemned Eisenhower for replacing the Chiefs in similar fashion, thus pushed aside Adm. George Anderson, who had assumed that he was next in line for the job. Simultaneously, Kennedy and McNamara forced Army Chief of Staff Decker, who in April 1961 had told McNamara that "we cannot win a conventional war in Southeast Asia," to retire after only two years in the job. McNamara, based on Taylor's recommendation, designated the deputy commander in chief of the European Command, Earle G. Wheeler, as Decker's replacement. With his own man as chairman of the JCS, Kennedy would no longer need a "military representative." When Taylor moved across the Potomac River to the Pentagon, the president abolished the White House position. On October 1, 1962, Taylor took over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He found the Chiefs, still embittered over what they regarded as Kennedy's unfair criticism in the wake of the Bay of Pigs, engaged in ongoing battles with civilian officials in the OSD. The Chiefs saw Taylor's selection as the imposition of a Kennedy man on an organization designed by law to give impartial military advice to the commander in chief, Taylor quickly cultivated a warm relationship with the man whom many of the military officers in the Pentagon deeply resented. Taylor and McNamara found common ground in their belief in the need for administrative reform in the Pentagon, faith in the "flexible response" strategy, and utter devotion to their commander in chief. Like McNamara, Taylor concluded that the answer to problems of service rivalry and administrative inefficiency was increased centralization of power in the chairmanship and the OSD. Taylor had once lamented the indecisiveness of Eisenhower's defense secretaries, and he lauded McNamara for tackling the tough problems of the department. The bond of respect between the two men was mutual. McNamara considered Taylor "one of the wisest, most intelligent military men ever to serve." Much to the chagrin of the other Chiefs, Taylor and McNamara formed a partnership. Taylor's overwhelming influence with the secretary of defense and the president made opposition to his views futile. Historian Robert Divine observed that "Vietnam can only be understood in relation to the Cold War." Indeed, Cold War crises during Kennedy's first months as president shaped advisory relationships within his administration and influenced his foreign policy decisions until his assassination in November 1963. Already predisposed to distrust the senior military officers he had inherited from the Eisenhower administration, the Bay of Pigs incident and Laotian crisis motivated the president to seek a changing of the guard in the Pentagon. After the Bay of Pigs, an unsatisfactory diplomatic settlement in Laos, confrontation with the Kremlin over divided Berlin, and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev's bullying rhetoric persuaded Kennedy that the United States needed to make its "power credible." "Vietnam," Kennedy concluded, "is the place." Vietnam, however, loomed in the background while the New Frontiersmen confronted in the Caribbean what would become the best known of Kennedy's Cold War crises.