The roles played by the president's closest advisers - McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, George Ball, Maxwell Taylor, and especially Robert McNamara - in the decisions to escalate American involvement are central to the story. And the reasons behind those decisions - now exposed - challenge McNamara's claim that American policy makers were prisoners of the ideology of the containment of Communism and therefore should be absolved of responsibility for the final outcome. The book also reveals for the first time how the virtual exclusion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the decision-making process exacerbated the problem. The result is an inescapable correction to the prevailing view that an American war in Vietnam was inevitable. The book follows step-by-step the series of developments and secret decisions made in Washington between November 1963 and July 1965 to intensify the American military commitment in Southeast Asia. And it reveals that the disaster that followed was not caused by impersonal forces but by uniquely human failures at the highest levels of the U.S. government: arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self-interest, and above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people. Dereliction of Duty makes a unique, groundbreaking contribution toward clarifying what happened, why, and who was responsible for the decisions that led to direct U.S. military intervention in the Vietnam War. Based on more than five years of painstaking research, it includes startling revelations from previously classified transcripts of crucial meetings, many of which were obtained by the author through the Freedom of Information Act; tapes of private telephone conversations; exclusive access to personal diaries; interviews with participants; and oral histories.