The Best And The Brightest is a book written by the Pulitzer Prize winning author David Halberstam.
The book is not a novel so if you are looking for excitement stop right here. It is written like a documentary. The book was published in in 1972, had started as a article to be written for Harper's Weekly magazine and became the deep study eclipsing what the weekly could offer.
The process starts with the selection of the team of advisers and cabinet secretaries that John F. Kennedy was assembling during his Presidential campaign. The Senator had been seen in professional circles as an moderately intelligent man with a nondescript records in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. His image as a young conservative Democrat, participation in Massachusetts politics, substantial financial resources and Harvard connections made the President-Elect's offers of public service very attractive to renowned scholars and leaders of industry.
The first team that he assembled was made of men we still remember today.
- Dean Rusk as Secretary of State, a Georgia man, born to meager means. Rusk became a scholar by a less prestigious route that his contemporaries. An education completed at Oxford and UC Berkeley. Rusk was a an extremely loyal secretary, who had doubts about the build up in Vietnam. He, learned during his time in the Truman administration, and did his best to discern what the President's wishes were and to support that position. As a southerner, Dean Rusk manages to survive in office through the end of Lyndon Johnson's term.
- Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defense. McNamara was an industry man, plucked out of the Ford Motor Corporation. A man with excellent industrial credentials and a penchant for applying operations analysis problem solving to system control. McNamara was staunch advocate for the Vietnam War effort, in public, for the President's team approach, for both Kennedy and Johnson. Over time he developed personal opinions otherwise, that subtlety expressed led to a firing by Johnson.
- McGeorge Bundy was Special Assistant for National Security Affairs. Bundy was the prize of Kennedy's team. He was hired away from his position of Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. He had been named to that post at the age of thirty-four, making him the youngest dean in the school's history. Bundy served a a filter for both Kennedy and Johnson, but as being primarily interested European issues managed to hold the Vietnam issues at arms length.
- Maxwell Taylor was military adviser to President Kennedy. He came to the team from being Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Taylor was thought of as a politician's general, very popular. His experience with large ground scale wars in WWII and Korea led him to advise poorly on the build up and execution of the war. Later as things began to unravel Taylor acted in obstructive way.
World War II ended with Truman as POTUS. Policies were continuing as Roosevelt had established until Joe McCarthy's Red Scare. The Communist hunts put the Democrats in the unenviable position of having been in power when most of the accused were active in government.
This led to the elections of Eisenhower many Republicans. During this eight year long administration, there was monetary and equipment support given to the French fighting in Southeast Asia.
Enter the Democrats and John F. Kennedy, smarting from eight years on the outside and fearing being labelled as soft on Communism. They were World War II veterans and intended to show the world how tough they were. They assembled team described was convinced that they were the smartest politicians of their time. To start, they jumped irrationally into Cuba, against expert advise and gotten their asses spanked. Then they managed to be manipulated by Nikita Khrushchev in Europe. They were in a mood to be assertive when the cries for assistance were arriving from South Vietnam. Advisers were sent, reports were scrubbed by Taylor's officers. The situation for years did not improve, decisions were made to bomb North Vietnam in hopes of softening it's position, it failed.
President Johnson sent ground troops which the Army continually sought to increase in size. This team failed to use for critical decision making were intelligence reports and advice that North Vietnam was not being seriously hurt by the bombing and the North Vietnamese population of draft ready men was larger by two times the most men the United States ever had in country. Every time the US added men to the force the North Vietnamese just sent more men down trails.
By 1966, the Congress and public were on to President Johnson's stealthy build up, his administration was doomed.
There are many parallels to what we see of politicians today.
- They are arrogant.
- They ignore history.
- They filter truth to fit leadership objectives.
- They lie to the public.
I liked to book very much, it is full of of character interaction and dynamics.