Robert Komer, Vietnam, and American Cold War Strategy
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Published:March 15, 2013
By Frank Leith Jones (Author)

FRANK JONES, author of BLOWTORCH, is the recipient of the 


for the best book written in English on U.S. military history, 2015

as awarded by the U.S. Commision on Military History

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.

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Product Details
  • Subject: Vietnam War
  • Hardback : 416 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (March 15, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1612512283
  • ISBN-13: 9781612512280
  • Product Dimensions: 6 X 9 in
  • Shipping Weight: 0 lb
  • Blowtorch is a fine addition to the historiography of U.S. grand strategy during the Cold War and a model for scholars seeking to tease out the larger significance of individual lives in the biographical format.”—Army History
  • "Blowtorch is valuable for those interested in counterinsurgency, aspiring strategists, and Cold War historians. Jones' book also provides an insider's view into Komer's efforts to make and implement strategy throughout the Cold War. Finally, Blowtorch contributes to the historical record of the Cold War by discussing Komer's formative years, and more importantly, his efforts after Vietnam."—Military Review
  • “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
  • "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
  • “At last, in Jones’ Blowtorch, we have a full-dress study of 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 policymakers, military officers, academics and graduate students.” — Anthony James Joes, author of Victorious Insurgencies: Four Rebellions that Shaped Our World
  • “Blowtorch provides a revealing look into the hitherto unexamined role played for three decades by cold war strategist Komer. Those looking to understand counterinsurgency theory will be especially drawn to Jones’ illuminating discussion in Komer’s leadership of CORDS.” —LARRY BERMAN, author of Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr.

  • “In this splendid biography, 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

  • “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, president of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue

  • “Jones’ superb study of 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

  • “Jones delivers more than an excellent biography of an exceptional civil servant, strategist, and statesman. 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 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

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.

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