Vietnam, Iraq, and a Preface to The Best and the Brightest

If you are like me and still have not read the 1972 book by David Halberstram, check this this:

Kennedy’s aides “carried with them an exciting sense of American elitism, a sense that the best men had been summoned forth from the country” to bring “a new, strong, dynamic spirit to our historic role in world affairs, not necessarily to bring the American dream to reality here at home, but to bring it to reality elsewhere in the world.” This was “heady stuff,” Halberstam writes, and it came to grief. The term “best and brightest” has become an insult, not an accolade, thanks largely to Halberstam’s magnificent, scabrous epic about the policymaking blunders that swept the United States into Vietnam. This classic work is part of the Vietnam canon, but it is not really about Vietnam; it is very much a Washington book, focused on the surety of the hawks stateside rather than the misery and warfare in Indochina … The final reason for rereading The Best and the Brightest ought almost to go without saying: It’s simply impossible to open the thing today and not hear the echoes of Iraq. To take just one example, when the State Department’s George Ball warned JFK that Washington would soon have 300,000 troops in Vietnam, the president laughed and said, “George, you’re crazier than hell.”

But check out the preface:

It was a shameful thing to ask men to suffer and die, to persevere through god-awful afflictions and heartache, to endure the dehumanizing experiences that are unavoidable in combat, for a cause that the country wouldn’t support over time and that our leaders so wrongly believed could be achieved at a smaller cost than our enemy was prepared to make us pay. No other national endeavor requires as much unshakable resolve as war. If the nation and the government lack that resolve, it is criminal to expect men in the field to carry it alone.

Who would have thunk that this was written by John McCain?