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John Newman's Preamble to 2017 edition of JFK and Vietnam

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This was posted on Facebook today by John Newman:


Coming in mid-January is the sequel to JFK and Vietnam. I have never written a preamble to a book, but this time I decided to do so:


Brigadier General Joseph A. McChristian was the intelligence chief of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), during General William Westmoreland’s command of MACV (1964-1968).

McChristian’s insistence on telling the truth about the size and determination of the Viet Cong caused a premature end to his tour at MACV in June 1967. He was perhaps the army’s most distinguished intelligence officer. He had served as General Patton’s intelligence chief in the breakout from Normandy in WWII. After MACV, McChristian became the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (ACSI), at Headquarters, U.S. Army.

I met McChristian during my assignment at Fort Huachuca in 1988, when he was inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of fame. We spoke privately for more than an hour. When he learned the topic of my PhD dissertation was about Kennedy and Vietnam, he opened up to me, not only about what had happened to him in Vietnam, but also about what happened afterward. He told me that many of his records at the Army Center for Military History had been surreptitiously removed. He encouraged me to go forward with the project, and to find the officers who had been in Vietnam during the 1961-1963 period and interview them. McChristian was happy to find out that Don Blascak and Sam Adams were going to help me do just that.

I decided to write this short preamble about a profound comment that General McChristian once made, and that I had quoted in the original manuscript of this book. Unfortunately, my editor at Warner Books—who held a very senior position at that publishing house—told me I needed to remove it. She said that nobody would be able to understand what the comment meant. Reluctantly, I went along with her wish, and I have regretted it ever since. So, rather than just reinserting it in its original location at the end of Chapter Thirteen, I want to put it up front here. I want to frame it. I want to call it out, so that those among our citizenry who have not served in a military uniform can understand the kind of general officer we need the most.

The comment by McChristian to which I refer, took place on camera as CBS was producing its famous documentary on General Westmoreland and MACV: “CBS Reports, the Uncounted Enemy—A Vietnam Deception.” In Westmoreland’s lawsuit afterward, the prosecution deposed McChristian on the question of whether or not Westmoreland had lied. They regretted doing that, as the intelligence chief, under oath, told the truth, and said that lying about the enemy violated the West Point motto—duty, honor, country. For the first time in history, one West Point graduate accused another of doing something “dishonorable.”

But the comment I am thinking about took place during the production of the CBS documentary. In that on camera setting, McChristian refused to answer whether or not Westmoreland had lied. He agreed, however, to address the issue if the question was posed to him in this way: producer George Crile asked, “What does it mean to lie about the enemy in a time of war?” This was McChristian’s answer: “It jeopardizes not only the lives of the soldiers on the battlefield, but also the future liberty of your people at home.” It is my heartfelt hope that my editor was wrong, and that I do not have to explain the meaning and eloquence of McChristian’s response.

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I am looking forward to this revision of what i consider still the best book on the subject of Kennedy and Vietnam.


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