History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the War in Vietnam, 1969–1970 by Willard J. Webb. Office of Joint History, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for sale by the US Government Printing Office (http://www.gpoaccess.gov/index.html), 732 N. Capitol Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20401, 2002, 380 pages, $46.00 (hardcover).
Willard Webb’s The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the War in Vietnam, 1969–1970 is one of the first volumes published as part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) official history of the Vietnam War. That history serves as a companion series to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy series. The years 1969–70 were pivotal during the war. Although devoid of high-profile events such as the Tet offensive, they marked the new administration’s promotion of Vietnamization, accelerated pacification, and expansion of the war while simultaneously advancing the Paris negotiations. The JCS played an important role in the development of all of these issues.
Given the importance of this period, it is surprising that the Office of Joint History published this work essentially as Webb wrote it nearly 30 years ago. With the exception of some additional information taken from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s memoirs regarding the Paris negotiations, this volume does not take advantage of any subsequent research or scholarly publications. Instead, the Office of Joint History wanted to "convey the attitudes of senior policymakers without the benefit of hindsight." But the integration of recent scholarship, as well as other archival data, is not inimical to conveying the attitudes of decision makers while they were in the process of developing policy. Too often the work simply states that it is unknown whether or not a memorandum or concept prepared by the JCS had any impact on the development of policy. Consequently, in those instances the reader has no basis for evaluating the true role of the joint chiefs.
Furthermore, although it is well documented that the JCS has differing views on a variety of force-structure, budget, and policy issues, only rarely does the volume discuss these differences. This tendency creates the impression of artificial unanimity and imparts to the book the sterility of a chronology as opposed to the insight of true history.
Notwithstanding these problems, one clearly discerns a number of very interesting issues—the debate over limits placed upon military power, for example. It is also informative to see how the joint chiefs responded to budget cuts imposed by the Nixon administration. From the JCS perspective, decisions such as determining the number of air sorties to be flown should be based on military requirements rather than budgetary or political matters.
Although its subject offered more potential than the volume realized, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the War in Vietnam, 1969–1970 nevertheless remains an important starting point for researchers. The book clearly delineates the issues that confronted the JCS, and its footnotes alone establish an important foundation for future archival research.
John C. Binkley
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.