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Disaster in the Making

by Mackubin Thomas Owens

Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam, by Lewis Sorley (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 416 pp., $30)

When General William Westmoreland died in July 2005, I wrote on National Review Online that he had been “an honorable man and a noble soldier,” but unfortunately “not a great soldier.” I said he shared responsibility with Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara for the defeat in Vietnam: “He implemented an operational approach to the war that was destined to fail.” In his new book, Westmoreland, Lewis Sorley validates my offhand observation, offering a scathing critique of Westmoreland’s generalship and making clear the way in which Westmoreland was absolutely the wrong man for the job in Vietnam.

Sorley, a career Army officer who also earned a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, is the author of two other highly regarded biographies of Army generals — Creighton Abrams, Westmoreland’s successor in Vietnam, and Harold Johnson, the Army chief of staff from 1964 until 1968 — as well as A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam (1999), a pathbreaking study of Abrams’s conduct of the war.

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