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Robert Komer, Vietnam, and American Cold War Strategy
  • ISBN/SKU: 9781612512280
  • Binding: Hardcover & eBook Coming Soon
  • Era: 20th Century
  • Number of Pages: 416
  • Subject: Vietnam War
  • Date Available: March 2013
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$52.95 List Price
$31.77 Member Price
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BOOK NEWS: Blowtorch: Robert Komer, Vietnam, and American Cold War Strategy by Naval Institute Press


History has not been kind to Robert Komer, a casualty of bad historical analysis and inaccurate information.  A Cold War national security policy and strategy adviser to three presidents, Komer was one of the most influential national security professionals of the era. The book begins with a review of his early life that helped shape his worldview. It then examines Komer’s influence as a National Security Council staff member during the Kennedy administration, where he helped set its activist course regarding the Third World.  Upon Kennedy’s death, Lyndon Johnson named Komer his “point man” for Vietnam pacification policy, and later General Westmoreland’s operational deputy in Vietnam.

The author highlights Komer’s activities during the three years he strove to fulfill the president’s vision that Communism could be repelled from Southeast Asia by economic and social development along with military force.  Known as “Blowtorch” for his abrasive personality and disdain for bureaucratic foot dragging, Komer came to be seen as the right person for managing that effort, and in 1968 was rewarded with an ambassadorship to Turkey. The book analyzes Komer’s work during the Carter administration as special adviser to Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and credits him for reenergizing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s conventional capability and forging the military instrument that implemented the Carter Doctrine in the Persian Gulf—the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force.  It also explores his final role as a defense intellectual and critic of the Reagan administration’s defense policies. The book concludes with a useful summary of Komer’s impact on American policy and strategy and his contributions to counterinsurgency practices, a legacy now recognized for its importance in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Frank L. Jones is professor of security studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he holds the General Dwight D. Eisenhower Chair of National Security.  A retired member of the Senior Executive Service, he served in several high-level policy and strategy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and is the recipient of several civilian awards. He lives in Carlisle, PA.

Blowtorch: Robert Komer, Vietnam and American Cold War Strategy by Naval Institute Press

~ Praise for Blowtorch~

“Blowtorch deserves a wide readership; anyone interested in global strategy, the Vietnam War, the Cold War in the 1960s, or institutional history should find it enlightening.”


"The book should be required reading in security studies courses."

The Washington Times

"Jones correctly highlights a significant gap in the historiography of U.S. policymaking during the Vietnam War: the under-treatment of those “second-echelon” officials who had considerable impact on policymaking. The author’s impressive command of archival material, his trenchant analysis, and his fluid prose make Blowtorch essential reading for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Vietnam decision-making."

– War on the Rocks blog

"A fresh look at counterinsurgency theory, Jones explains how to develop and implement strategies today to ensure national security and protect vital interests."

The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies

"An important addition to the volume of information relating broadly to Vietnam."

Australian Defence Force Journal

“Jones has succeeded in the task he set himself. We now know that Komer, not just during the Vietnam War but later in Carter’s Department of Defense, acted as very few had—as a master strategist who understood the national interest and how to develop means to achieve it within the limits of resources and reality. To convey this sophisticated, complex story to readers is no  mean feat and Jones has done it admirably.”

Journal of Military History

“Komer has found a worthy biographer in Frank Leith Jones. Jones provides a highly readable and balanced account of his subject’s years in government. He also does a credible job at the more difficult task of demonstrating Komer’s intellectual influence as a critic while out of office. The resulting biography offers the reader a broad overview of the many problems of the Cold War, reminding us of the interlocking complexity of issues that today are often viewed in sterile isolation. Blowtorch also provides numerous insights into the difficulties of implementing policy in large organizations."

Proceedings, July 2013

"Blowtorch is a valuable addition to the history of the Cold War. The book covers his three decades of public service — as a National Security Council staffer and Carter administration policy adviser, among much else — but his few years of involvement with Vietnam serve as the centerpiece. As Mr. Jones explains, no other period of Komer's career compares in importance.”

The Wall Street Journal

“Blowtorch provides a revealing look into the hitherto unexamined role played for three decades by cold war strategist Robert Komer.  Those looking to understand counterinsurgency theory will be especially drawn to Jones' illuminating discussion in Komer's leadership of CORDS.”

—Professor Larry Berman, author of Zumwalt:  The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell "Bud" Zumwalt, Jr.

“Frank Jones delivers more than an excellent biography of an exceptional civil servant, strategist, and statesman. It is also more than a window into a pivotal period in American history.  Blowtorch is a particularly important book because, read critically, it sheds light on how to develop and implement strategies to ensure national security and protect vital interests.  Geopolitical dynamics of the period appear comparable to today's; the problems of national security seem analogous; and Robert Komer's manner of thinking about those problems is relevant and instructive.”

—H.R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty:  Robert McNamara, Lyndon Johnson, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam

“The product of impressive research and insight into top-level policymaking, Blowtorch analyzes the crusade of a senior government professional to cause our leaders to think and act strategically.  It is compelling reading for those who want to move beyond problem-solving and crisis management to designing purposeful change.”

—Harold H. Saunders, former National Security Council Staff member and assistant secretary of state, now president of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue

“For too long, Robert Komer's career has been overshadowed by his involvement in the Vietnam War.  In this splendid biography, Frank Jones provides a comprehensive, deft, and nuanced portrait of an often complicated and misunderstood figure.  Wonderfully written and impressively researched, Blowtorch not only sheds new light on Komer and Vietnam, it is an incisive and original history of America's grand strategy in the Cold War.”

—Andrew Preston, author of The War Council:  McGeorge Bundy, the NSC, and Vietnam

“Frank Jones’ superb study of Robert Komer performs an invaluable service, assessing the career of an influential Cold War strategist, who was more than an innovative thinker.  Komer had the rare ability to transform ideas into viable policies, helping to reorient U.S. Vietnam War strategy during Johnson’s administration and to reinvigorate NATO during Carter’s. Highly recommended.”

—Richard A. Hunt, author of Pacification:  The American Struggle for Vietnam’s Hearts and Minds

“At last, in Frank Jones’s Blowtorch, we have a full-dress study of Robert Komer, a remarkably influential yet unaccountably neglected figure in America’s Vietnam ordeal.  This carefully–researched and clearly–written study deserves an appreciative audience among policy-makers, military officers, academics and graduate students.”

—Anthony James Joes, author of Victorious Insurgencies:  Four Rebellions that Shaped Our World and Resisting Rebellion:  The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency

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