Maxwell Taylor

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Maxwell D. Taylor (1901-1987) was a general in the U.S. Army, Chief of Staff of the Army, special representative to the military under President John F. Kennedy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam (July 14, 1964 — July 30, 1965). While he was an excellent combat leader, he also functioned at a high politicomilitary level.

Early life

Graduating from West Point in 1922, he was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers, usually considered the most intellectually demanding branch, but transferred to Field Artillery and stayed with that branch until becoming a founder of Airborne .

Talented in languages, he taught French and Spanish at West Point, and studied Japanese while attached to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo between 1935 and 1939 while simultaneously serving as a military attache to China.

After graduation from the Army War College, he held both command and Army staff positions before the start of the Second World War.

Second World War and Postwar

Taylor built a solid combat command record with the 82nd Airborne Division in Sicily, then commanding the 101st Airborne Division from the Battle of Normandy onwards, including Operation MARKET-GARDEN.

Far East

He was the last commander of the Eighth United States Army in the Korean War, and then took the U.N. Korean command through 1955.

Army command

Taylor was Chief of Staff of the Army betweenn 30 June 1955 and 30 June 1959. From a strategic standpoint, he opposed the massive retaliation doctrine of the early Eisenhower adminiistration, moving to a "flexible response" approach using more conventional troops. He also directed the reorganization of Army forces into Pentomic divisions, a restructuring intended to let ground forces operate during tactical nuclear warfare, but that proved ineffective.

During his tenure, he dealt with sensitive Army operations both domestically (i.e., the Arkansas) school integration, and opposed dependence upon a massive retaliation doctrine, pushed for an increase in conventional forces to ensure a capability of flexible response, [1]


After retirement from the Army in 1959, he gained the trust of John F. Kennedy and had a unique role of Military Representative of the President in 1961, essentially monitoring the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had lost Presidential confidence over the Bay of Pigs. Kennedy then made him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff between 1962 and 1964.

In September 1961, Kennedy sent Taylor, with Walt Rostow of the National Security Council staff, to assess the situation in Vietnam.[2] They recommended considerable increases in advisers, resources, and possibly combat troops, changing the U.S. role from "advice to partnership". Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara initially supported it, but, after, consultation with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, opposed sending fighting forces; much later, he pointed out that the Taylor-Rostow report, and his own memorandum, failed to ask strategic questons: would Vietnam fall without U.S. forces? Was the fear of the domino effect real? [3]


As a much more trusted general than the Bay of Pigs period chiefs, he was more involved than they were in developing Vietnam policy, especially under Kennedy.

Chairman under Johnson

He was not in Lyndon Johnson's innermost circle. McMaster suggested Taylor wanted to redefine the role of Chairman into a position of much greater authority; while Taylor did not get all he wanted, Johnson strengthened his position enough to gain his loyalty, and effective authority over the other Chiefs.[4] He was the only military officer to attend any of Johnson's strategy sessions.

In 1963, however, he and Robert McNamara were sent to South Vietnam, in the McNamara-Taylor mission, as the final assessors of whether the U.S. should continue to support Ngo Dinh Diem.


After the South Vietnamese Buddhist crisis and coup of 1963, in which Diem was overthrown and killed, he became Ambassador and chief of the United States Mission to the Republic of Vietnam in 1964-1965, replacing Henry Cabot Lodge Jr..

When the initial recommendations were made to send U.S. units to secure air bases, Taylor believed the proposed initial deployments were too small. [5] Nevertheless, the recommendations of GEN William Westmoreland, head of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, were approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, McNamara, and the President.[6]

Taylor was not as close to Johnson as he had been to Kennedy. When Johnson made the basic decision to escalate the American combat presence, Westmoreland proposed the most aggressive strategy of aggressive pursuit of enemy forces. Taylor advised an intermediate course of securing enclaves and expanding control as spreading "oil spots". A mixed group including United States Marine Corps and Central Intelligence Agency senior personnel advocated rural pacification as the highest priority. Johnson chose Westmoreland's recommendations over Taylor's.

Taylor's relations with South Vietnamese generals were not of the smoothest. After the military officers removed the civilian High National Council, he summoned four of the leading military officers, including Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky, and delivered a strong lecture, which was perceived as patronizing in the Vietnamese culture.


After returning from Vietnam, he took an advisory role to the President, including chairing the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, 1965–1969, and heading the not-for-profit Institute of Defense Analysis between 1966 and 1969.


  1. Taylor, Maxwell D., The Uncertain Trumpet
  2. Moyar, Mark (2006), Triumph Forsaken, Cambridge University Press, pp. 135-137
  3. Robert S. McNamara (1995), In Retrospect: the Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, Times Books division of Random House, pp. 38-40
  4. McMaster, H. R. (1997), Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam, Harpercollins, pp. 55-56
  5. PntV3Ch4389-433, EMBTEL (Embassy Telegram) of 22 February 1965
  6. , Chapter 4, "American Troops Enter the Ground War, March-July 1965," Section 1, pp. 389-433, The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3