One of the Army’s Best is About to Face His Greatest Challenge

Posted by on Feb 26, 2017 in Perry's Blog | 0 comments

In 1996, I got a call from a friend who is a historian in North Carolina, Dick Kohn. Professor Kohn suggested that I might be able to help a young Army officer who was completing his Ph.D. studies at the University of North Carolina. Kohn was concerned that Major HR McMaster might soon be in big trouble with the senior leadership in the United States Army.

McMaster was about to publish a critical book about the Vietnam War. Professor Kohn remembered the trouble I encountered with my first book: The Air Force Plans for Peace. The top Air Force lawyer came after me.

I contacted McMaster and told him my Air Force story. After reading his manuscript, I recommended that he get his book cleared for publication and that he tone the criticism down a bit. I reminded him of the three super smart Air Force officers, Colonels John Boyd, John Warden and Moody Suter who got knocked down for being very candid and outspoken. These officers made major contributions to Air Force tactical training, strategic planning, and decision analysis. Sadly, none of them were promoted to general.

In our telephone discussions, Major McMaster was very polite but he did not follow my suggestions about toning down his criticism. In my interactions with McMaster it was clear to me that he was extremely smart, very well read, a fine researcher, and a man of strong convictions. Later I predicted his career would suffer. I was wrong.

His book, Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam was published in 1997. It quickly became both best seller and required reading for the top officers in the military.

Since the announcement that McMaster would replace Lieutenant General Mike Flynn as the National Security Advisor, Dereliction of Duty has shot up to number one on the best seller list. Frankly, I do not recommend the book. It is very long and detailed and only takes the reader up to 1965. Also, having lost so many close friends in Vietnam, I found reading it to be a very painful experience.

Those wishing to learn more about the thinking of this truly remarkable man, I suggest you read General McMaster’s address on 11 November, 2014 at Georgetown University. The transcript of his speech can be found on the web site: Also of interest: his interview on the Charlie Rose Show (02/04/2014). It is easy to find on

Here are a few more insights on HR McMaster. He is a graduate of the Valley Forge Military Academy and of West Point. Notable graduates from Valley Forge include J D Salinger and H Norman Schwarzkopf. At West Point, McMaster played on the Rugby team. Upon graduation in 1984 he chose the Armor branch. Soon he would become an expert in tank tactics.

Six and a half years after graduation from West Point, Captain McMaster was involved in intense combat during Operation Desert Storm. In the last great tank battle of the 20th century, Captain McMaster was in command of nine Abrams tanks. In less than an hour, his unit destroyed more than 80 Iraqi armored vehicles None of McMaster’s tanks were destroyed. McMaster earned the Silver Star on 26 February, 1991 in the battle at 73 Easting (covered on Wikipedia).

His greatest contribution as a unit commander took place in the Tal Afar region of Iraq in 2005. McMaster created and implemented probably the best counterinsurgency strategy in the 21st Century.

After promotion to Brigadier General, McMaster attended the Capstone Course at the National Defense University. His classmates gave him the nickname, Moses. He just could not ask a simple question. They joked that each of his questions had at least ten parts.

How will McMaster do in his new job? I cannot think of a better or stronger person to hold that vital position. No one will intimidate McMaster; he will speak up strongly if a tentative decision is unethical or unwise.

The Army’s top soldier/scholar/strategist will soon face his greatest challenge. We should wish him well.

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