Synopses & Reviews
“In this magnificent book we have another of Sorley’s powerful, authoritative studies, this time the most stunning portrait of General Westmoreland—who he was, how he fought his war, and why. It is a masterful analysis, sure to stand alone and dominate the current and past writing on Vietnam. Himself a soldier, Sorley is sympathetic where he ought to be, but relentless where the whole truth must be known. In the mountains of good and bad considerations of the war, Sorley has given us something we did not have: a deep understanding of this most complex man, his extraordinary life, and how his decisions affected us all.” — General John R. Galvin, U.S. Army (ret.), Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (1987–1992)
“Lewis Sorley’s brilliant portrait of General Westmoreland also helps us understand why our war lasted so long and ended as it did. This is biography at its finest.” — Bui Diem, Republic of Vietnam Ambassador to the United States (1967–1972)
“A terrific book, lively and brisk and surprisingly interesting . . . This will be the definitive book on Westmoreland, and a must-read for anyone who tries to understand the Vietnam War.” — Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco and The Gamble
“To understand the Vietnam War in its totality one must logically try to understand General Westmoreland. Lewis Sorley has made an enormous contribution by revealing Westmoreland’s complex personality and the role it played in U.S. foreign policy.” — Melvin R. Laird, Secretary of Defense (1969–1973)
“Eye-opening and sometimes maddening, Sorley’s Westmoreland is not to be missed.” — John Prados, author of The History of an Unwinnable War
"This is a terrific book, lively and brisk, and surprisingly interesting. How could this deeply flawed, limited man rise so high in the U.S. Army? This will be the definitive book on Westmoreland, and a must read for anyone who tries to understand the Vietnam War."
-Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco and The Gamble
" Lewis Sorley's brilliant portrait of General Westmoreland helps us understand why our war lasted so long and ended as it did. This is biography at its finest."
- Bui Diem, South Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States (1967-1972)
"A riveting history of how ambition corrupted soldierly virtues and led to slyness, hubris and national disaster. A scorching indictment of how generals covered up for each other." -Bing West, author of THE WRONG WAR: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan "To understand the Vietnam War in its totality one must logically try to understand General Westmoreland. Dr. Lewis Sorley has made an enormous contribution by revealing General Westmorelands complex personality and the role it played in U.S. foreign policy." -Melvin R. Laird, former Secretary of Defense and nine-term Member of Congress "Reaching beyond the surface to penetrate the enigma of General William C. Westmoreland, Lewis Sorley gathers the recollections of Westys Army colleagues, the mans personal papers, and official records to tell the story of a general who has remained opaque despite the many debates over his role in the Vietnam war. Eye-opening and sometimes maddening, Sorleys Westmoreland is not to be missed." -John Prados, author of Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War
"Scalding . . . Sorley, a West Point graduate and retired Army lieutenant colonel, is unsparing in his analysis of Westmoreland." — Los Angeles Times
"The subtitle says it all: ‘The General Who Lost Vietnam . . . Sorley has stripped away Westmoreland's after-the-fact mythologizing, leaving us with a deeply unflattering portrait of an army careerist who unintentionally did much damage to an institution — and a country — that he loved dearly. Westmoreland
is a valuable addition to the growing ‘revisionist literature that shows the Vietnam War was winnable if we had fought differently." — Max Boot, Wall Street Journal
"Sweeping . . . [Sorley] pillories the hapless general for what are now seen as horrendous gaffes of counterinsurgency." — TIME
"A first-rate biography of a second-rate soldier." — Washington Times
"No American general has ever been more vilified than William C. Westmoreland, our senior military commander in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968 and the only American general to lose a war . . . Lewis Sorley, a distinguished military historian and Vietnam veteran himself, offers a stinging assessment . . . Napoleon supposedly said, ‘Don't give me good generals, give me lucky ones. This well-researched, engrossing, and hard-hitting biography demonstrates that its subject was neither." — Cleveland Plain Dealer
"An important contribution to the literature of the Vietnam War . . . The research is meticulous and the writing fascinating." — Proceedings
"A military historians harsh take on the career of the general most associated with Americas most controversial war . . . The generals defenders will have their hands full answering Sorleys blistering indictment." — Kirkus Reviews
"An engrossing portrait and analysis of how the decisions of one military leader could impact the lives of so many." — Library Journal
"Sorley's book is as important a reexamination of the operational course of the war as Robert McNamara's In Retrospect is of the conflict's moral and political history."and#151;Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"An extraordinary piece of work that is bound to become a valuable part of historical documentation about the war in Vietnam. The first to set the record straight concerning the outcome of that conflict."and#151;H. Norman Schwarzkopf, General, U.S. Army, Retired
A biography of Vietnam general William Westmoreland by the author of A BETTER WAR.
General William Westmoreland should have been a superb choice to command U.S. forces in Vietnam. He had the credentials: from Eagle Scout at fifteen, he had rocketed up the ranks, becoming, briefly, the Armys youngest lieutenant general. But as commander, Westmoreland was a disaster, failing to grasp the wars complexities and holding firm to a flawed strategy in spite of all evidence and opposition. In this honest but searing portrait of a military man promoted beyond his capabilities, Sorley "makes mincemeat of [the] myth" (Wall Street Journal) that politicians, the media, or the American public should take the blame for our military failure in Vietnam. For anyone who seeks to understand what happened to us in Vietnam and why, this "blistering indictment" (Kirkus) is essential reading.
is a great book, a classic by an author who knows his subject well and tells the story without hesitation.” — General Donn A. Starry, U.S. Army (ret.), Commander, Army Training and Doctrine Command (1977-1981)
Is it possible that the riddle of Americas military failure in Vietnam has a one-word, one-man answer?
Unless and until we understand General William Westmoreland, we will never understand what went wrong in Vietnam. An Eagle Scout at fifteen, First Captain of his West Point class, Westmoreland fought in two wars and became Superintendent at West Point. Then he was chosen to lead the war effort in Vietnam for four crucial years.
He proved a disaster. He could not think creatively about unconventional warfare, chose an unavailing strategy, stuck to it in the face of all opposition, and stood accused of fudging the results when it mattered most. In this definitive portrait, Lewis Sorley makes a plausible case that the war could have been won were it not for Westmoreland. The tragedy of William Westmoreland carries lessons not just for Vietnam, but for the future of American leadership.
Westmoreland is essential reading from a masterly historian.
“Engrossing and hard-hitting.” — Cleveland Plain Dealer
In this searing and authoritative biography, Lewis Sorley makes the case that Americas military failure in Vietnam could have been avoided were it not for one man. General William Westmoreland had the credentials to be a superb leader: from First Captain of his West Point class, he rocketed up the ranks, becoming for a time the armys youngest lieutenant general. But as commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, Westmoreland was a disaster, failing to grasp the wars complexities and holding firm to a flawed strategy in spite of all evidence and opposition. The definitive portrait of a military man promoted beyond his capabilities, Westmoreland is essential reading from a master historian.
“A terrific book, lively and brisk . . . and a must-read for anyone who tries to understand the Vietnam War.” — Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco and The Gamble
Winner of the Army Historical Foundations Distinguished Writing Award
Neglected by scholars and journalists alike, the years of conflict in Vietnam from 1968 to 1975 offer surprises not only about how the war was fought, but about what was achieved. Drawing on authoritative materials not previously available, including thousands of hours of tape-recorded allied councils of war, award-winning military historian Lewis Sorley has given us what has long been needed-an insightful, factual, and superbly documented history of these important years. Among his findings is that the war was being won on the ground even as it was being lost at the peace table and in the U.S. Congress. The story is a great human drama of purposeful and principled service in the face of an agonizing succession of lost opportunities, told with uncommon understanding and compassion. Sorley documents the dramatic differences in conception, conduct, and-at least for a time-results between the early and the later war. Meticulously researched and movingly told, A Better War is sure to stimulate controversy as it sheds brilliant new light on the war in Vietnam.
About the Author
A third-generation graduate of West Point, Lewis Sorley also holds a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. He has served in the U.S. Army, on staff at the Pentagon, and later as a senior civilian official in the Central Intelligence Agency. He is the author of Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Times, an excerpt of which won the 1991 Harold Peterson Prize as the year's best scholarly article on American military history, and of Honorable Warrior: General Harold K. Johnson and the Ethics of Command. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
Table of Contents
1. ORIGINS 1
2. EARLY SERVICE 9
3. WORLD WAR II 14
4. AIRBORNE DUTY 25
5. JAPAN AND KOREA 31
6. PENTAGON 41
7. DIVISION COMMAND 48
8. SUPERINTENDENT 56
9. VIETNAM 65
10. FORCES BUILDUP 77
11. SEARCH AND DESTROY 91
12. ATMOSPHERICS 108
13. BODY COUNT 121
14. M-16 RIFLES 131
15. PROGRESS OFFENSIVE 143
16. ORDER OF BATTLE 159
17. KHE SANH 168
18. TET 1968 174
19. TROOP REQUEST 189
20. HEADING HOME 198
21. CHIEF OF STAFF 206
22. SHAPING THE RECORD 225
23. VOLUNTEER ARMY 233
24. VIETNAM DRAWDOWN 241
25. DEPARTURE 247
26. IN RETIREMENT 251
27. MEMOIRS 259
28. CAMPAIGNER 267
29. PLAINTIFF 278
30. DUSK 295
Glossary of Acronyms and Abbreviations 310
Selected Bibliography 356