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Tempered by war: the military experiences of Vietnam decision-makers

Basha i Novosejt, Aurelie, McNult, Christopher (2023) Tempered by war: the military experiences of Vietnam decision-makers. The International History Review, 45 (1). pp. 152-166. ISSN 0707-5332. (doi:10.1080/07075332.2022.2115528) (KAR id:91116)


The article focuses on three senior decision-makers in the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations that each played a key role in the escalation in Vietnam, namely Walt W. Rostow, Roger Hilsman, and John T. McNaughton. It builds on Andrew Preston’s argument in this journal that the dichotomy between ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’ might caricature Vietnam War advisors to suggest the same for the dichotomy between ‘civilians’ and ‘veterans’. Using new material, most notably McNaughton’s wartime diaries and Hilsman’s OSS files, the article suggests that wartime experience was clearly an important formative experience for civilian advisors but in different ways. First, where political scientists tell us that veterans are more likely to espouse certain views, and in particular resist the use force, these examples suggest that proximity to combat - i.e. how much active combat they experienced - mattered more. Second, there was no uniform ‘military’ experience: these advisors were more likely to support the types of tools – i.e. air power or irregular forces - with which they were familiar and only then, if they had become invested in the underlying bureaucratic project of the agency in which they were deployed. In other words, a process of socialization or indoctrination into the armed services happened unevenly. Put together, the examples suggest that the formative experiences in the Second World War cast a long shadow onto the Vietnam War decisions but did so in complex ways.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/07075332.2022.2115528
Uncontrolled keywords: civil-military relations; Vietnam War; Office of Strategic Services; strategic bombing; John T. McNaughton; Roger Hilsman; Walt W. Rostow; John F. Kennedy
Subjects: E History America
J Political Science
J Political Science > JK Political institutions and public administration (United States)
U Military Science
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Funders: University of Kent (
Depositing User: Aurelie Basha i Novosejt
Date Deposited: 12 Sep 2022 12:16 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Jan 2024 14:28 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Basha i Novosejt, Aurelie.

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