The Life and Work of General Andrew J. Goodpaster

The Life and Work of General Andrew J. Goodpaster

Best Practices in National Security Affairs

C. Richard Nelson

Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2016, 300 pages

Book Review published on: June 23, 2017

It is unusual when a book’s subtitle and main title could be reversed. In the same way that Robert Caro’s multivolume study of Lyndon Johnson is more about political power than a generic biography, C. Richard Nelson’s work on Gen. Andrew Goodpaster is also an examination of the national security decision-making process, its evolution, structure, and practices over a forty-plus year time span. Throughout this period, the fingerprints of Goodpaster are present: from service on the staff of Gen. George Marshall; work for Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon; and as a member and advisor of countless boards and panels afterward. He was intimately involved in virtually every crisis and international event of the day. Beyond this, he spent extensive time formulating and revising nuclear weapons strategy and doctrine for the military and executive.

Goodpaster commanded an engineering battalion in World War II, gaining combat experience in the brutal Italian mountains. After being wounded, he was assigned to the staff of Marshall. Following the war and over the objections of his branch, he obtained a doctorate in international relations from Princeton University. His time in command of troops for the balance of his career, at least his first one, was limited. Away from the field for seventeen years, he became assistant division commander of the 3rd Infantry Division before taking command of the 8th Infantry Division. After a year, he was recalled to the Pentagon by Gen. Maxwell Taylor, who had been brought out of retirement to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He rounded out his field command experience with short service in Vietnam as the deputy to Gen. Creighton Abrams and as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

Goodpaster worked for Taylor as his primary assistant and spent extensive time formulating Vietnam strategy, and this work is well covered. However, H. R. McMaster, in his seminal work Dereliction of Duty, goes further in assessing Goodpaster’s role, describing him as almost a deputy chairman. However, absent from Nelson’s narrative is how Taylor attempted to formalize such a role for Goodpaster, officially proposing it to Johnson. With strong opposition from the service chiefs, it was not successful.

A perhaps underappreciated impact on long-term national security and the Army as a whole, but thoroughly reported here, is Goodpaster’s second military career. Recalled to active duty in 1976, he was appointed commandant of West Point following a widespread cheating scandal. Over the next four years, he substantially changed and reformed the education process at West Point using the collaborative methodology he was noted for in his national security work.

Nelson does an excellent job demonstrating that international crises are not experienced in isolation. While difficult to describe Goodpaster’s philosophy in a few words, Nelson manages to do this in a broad sense writing “… the essence of national security affairs was the ongoing process of correlating purpose and power.”

In combining the theme of biography with a broader study on decision making at the highest levels, Nelson emphasizes that Goodpaster was not formulaic or rigid in analyzing issues. Although rigorous and systematic, he thought steps further beyond the original problem. He was not impulsive but at the same time was decisive. This is an excellent work for decision makers in all fields and levels, and it deserves a featured spot on any professional’s bookshelf.

Book Review written by: Gary Ryman, Scott Township, Pennsylvania