President Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser is well-known in military circles, not only for his accomplishments in the field but also for his provocative book that faulted the Joint Chiefs of Staff for not standing up to the White House during the Vietnam War.
The book, “Dereliction of Duty,” was honed from his doctoral dissertation at UNC-Chapel Hill, where Herbert Raymond McMaster – he goes by “H.R.” – earned advanced degrees in the early and mid-1990s.
The three-star general is remembered in Chapel Hill as a motivated “soldier scholar.”
“He is a straight shooter,” Michael Hunt, a UNC professor who was on McMaster’s dissertation committee, said Wednesday. “He can listen, he can argue, he’s analytically sharp. He was just really on fire.”
He is a straight shooter. He can listen, he can argue, he’s analytically sharp.
UNC professor Michael Hunt
McMaster was one of a handful of military officers from places like West Point enrolled each year in the post-graduate military history program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Hunt recalls McMaster moved through the program quickly, and his dissertation was published by a commercial press surprisingly soon after it was completed.
The book posited that the failure of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to resist President Lyndon Johnson and his secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, over military strategy of gradual involvement in Vietnam unnecessarily extended the war.
McMaster exhaustively dug into newly released transcripts and other records of important meetings in the archives of the senior military leaders who make up the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1964 and 1965. Hunt says no one else had done so much research on the joint chiefs in that era.
“I told him there was so much detail the reader could get lost and forget what the argument was,” he said.
Hunt says he didn’t foresee that the dissertation would attract such notoriety as a book.
“Not really, because I disagreed with some of it,” he said. “H.R. and I had long discussions about these issues. … If the JCS had stood up to the president he wouldn’t have gone into Vietnam: I don’t find that plausible. There is no evidence any particular strategy would have succeeded.”
He said it was in line with other post-war writings “that speak to a military still in anguish over the loss of Vietnam.”
So he writes the book while teaching a full load at West Point, staying up until 2 a.m. every night writing, and the book turned out perfect.
Criticizing the brass
McMaster, 54, is also known among the military for criticizing President George W. Bush’s approach to the war in Iraq, and he was credited with showing how a counterinsurgency strategy could work in that country, The New York Times reported.
A piece in Politico by a defense expert quoted a United Press International war correspondent and author, Joseph Galloway, who said McMaster sought his advice on turning his dissertation into a book. Galloway said he worried the manuscript would damage his Army career for criticizing the brass.
“So he writes the book while teaching a full load at West Point, staying up until 2 a.m. every night writing, and the book turned out perfect,” Galloway wrote.
McMaster replaces Michael Flynn, who was forced out after revelations about his communications with a Russian diplomat.
Hunt says McMaster’s challenge will be fitting his military background into the political world of the Trump White House.
“That’s what civilian control of the military involves,” Hunt said. “The civilians decide how much they want to listen to the military. He’ll be in some very interesting waters.”