“Hawks as Doves: Military Dissent in Vietnam and Iraq”
Colonel John B. McKinney Lecture
University of Tennessee, 21 September 2006
Robert Buzzanco, University of Houston
"I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-crooked fingers out of the
business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of
That they design and want.
That they fight and work for.
[Not one] crammed down
their throats by Americans."
Those are not the words of Abbie Hoffman, George McGovern, Martin Luther King, an
SDS activist or a random “hippie” in the 1960s, but of David Monroe Shoup, a Marine General
and Commandant of the Corps between 1960 and 1963.1
Shoup’s words speak to a crucial yet
underrepresented, if not ignored, element in studying modern wars, the dissent of unmistakable
and respected military leaders while conflicts are in progress.
In the two most recent big wars,
Vietnam and Iraq, significant numbers of military leaders–experienced, distinguished, and
prominent–have broken ranks and publicly criticized American leaders and the policies they have
From the outset of these conflicts onward, various officers have warned against
intervention, advocated different courses of action, challenged official optimism, called for
political leaders to be held accountable for likely failures, or called for withdrawal.
Consequently, when these conflicts turned badly–in the later 1960s in Vietnam and almost
immediately after the war in Iraq was launched in 2003–their views were already in the public
record and have to be reckoned with now as we try to make sense of disasters in both Southeast
Asia and the Middle East.
Vietnam: Roots of Involvement, Roots of Dissent
U.S. military officials, who had some direct knowledge of Southeast Asia and would be
responsible for any warfare in that area, offered candid and usually negative appraisals of
possible interventions into Vietnam as soon as American policymakers began considering their
role in that part of the world after World War II.
During and right after the war, American
officers attached to the Office of Strategic Services [OSS] worked with Ho Chi Minh and the
Viet Minh and took away positive impressions, with Major Allison Thomas of the OSS lobbying
for more contacts with Ho and sympathizing with his nationalist ambitions, while General Philip
Gallagher, the U.S. advisor to Chinese occupation forces in northern Vietnam, wished that the
Viet Minh “could be given their independence.”2
General George Marshall, who served as both
Secretary of State and Defense, lamented that the Indochina war "will remain a grievously costly