Cover image for Honorable warrior : General Harold K. Johnson and the ethics of command
Honorable warrior : General Harold K. Johnson and the ethics of command
Sorley, Lewis, 1934-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lawrence, Kan. : University Press of Kansas, [1998]

Physical Description:
x, 364 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Format :


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E745.J65 S67 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A man of extraordinary inner strength and patriotic devotion, General Harold K. Johnson was a soldier's officer, loved by his men and admired by his peers for his leadership, courage, and moral convictions. Lewis Sorley's biography provides a fitting testament to this remarkable man and his dramatic rise from obscurity to become LBJ's Army Chief of Staff during the Vietnam War.

A native of North Dakota, Johnson survived more than three grueling years as a POW under the Japanese during World War II before serving brilliantly as a field commander in the Korean War, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for "extraordinary heroism." The latter experiences led to a series of high-level positions that culminated in his appointment as Army chief in 1964 and a cover story in Time magazine.

What followed should have been the most rewarding period of Johnson's military career. Instead, it proved to be a nightmare, as he quickly became mired in the politics and ordeal of a very misguided war.

Johnson fundamentally disagreed with the three men--LBJ, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and General William Westmoreland--running our war in Vietnam. He was sharply critical of LBJ's piecemeal policy of gradual escalation and his failure to mobilize the national will or call up the reserves. He was equally despondent over Westmoreland's now infamous search-and-destroy tactics and reliance on body counts to measure success in Vietnam.

By contrast, he advocated greater emphasis on cutting the North's supply lines, helping the South Vietnamese provide for their own internal defenses, and sustaining a truly legitimate government in the South. Unheeded, he nevertheless continued to work behind the scenes to correct the nation's flawed approach to the war.

Sorley's study adds immeasurably to our understanding of the Vietnam War. It also provides an inspiring account of principled leadership at a time when the American military is seeking to recover the very kinds of moral values exemplified by Harold K. Johnson. As such, it presents a profound morality tale for our own era.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Sorley (Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Times, Brassey's, 1988), who served in Vietnam as a commander of a tank battalion, follows Gen. Harold Johnson's career from the North Dakota plains to his service in World War II and the Korean War. Johnson distinguished himself during the war on the infamous Bataan death march and spent three years in a Japanese prison camp. His later experience in Korea made him well qualified to be army chief of staff in 1964. Unfortunately, Johnson disagreed with the administration's conduct of the Vietnam War almost from the beginning, advocating the use of long-range patrols and security for rear areas instead of General Westmoreland's "search and destroy" tactics and use of body counts to gauge success. Johnson's greatest ethical challenge came in supporting the war but working behind the scenes to avert disaster. Raising some ethical questions that only the reader will be able to answer, this well-researched and interesting book should appeal to subject specialists and all interested readers.ÄMark E. Ellis, Albany State Univ., GA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.