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Lewis Sorley

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Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Sorley, USA (ret.) “is a third-generation West Point graduate who served in Vietnam as executive officer of a tank battalion. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1956. He earned his MA at Pennsylvania State University and his Ph.D. at John Hopkins University. During his military career Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Sorley an instructor at West Point, an Executive Officer in Vietnam and the command of the 2nd Tank Battalion, 37th Armor.


Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Sorley is the author of Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Times; A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam; Honor Bright: History and Origins of the West Point Honor Code and System; Honorable Warrior: General Harold K. Johnson and the Ethics of Command; Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972; Reflections: South Vietnam's Generals Assess Their War; Arms Transfers under Nixon: A Policy Analysis; and, The Central Intelligence Agency: An Overview.


According to the book description of Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972, “During the four years General Creighton W. Abrams was commander in Vietnam, he and his staff made more than 455 tape recordings of briefings and meetings. In 1994, with government approval, Lewis Sorley began transcribing and analyzing the tapes. Sorley’s laborious, time-consuming effort has produced a picture of the senior U.S. commander in Vietnam and his associates working to prosecute a complex and challenging military campaign in an equally complex and difficult political context.

The concept of the nature of the war and the way it was conducted changed during Abrams’s command. The progressive buildup of U.S. forces was reversed, and Abrams became responsible for turning the war back to the South Vietnamese. The edited transcriptions in this volume clearly reflect those changes in policy and strategy. They include briefings called the Weekly Intelligence Estimate Updates as well as meetings with such visitors as the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other high-ranking officials. In Vietnam Chronicles we see, for the first time, the difficult task that Creighton Abrams accomplished with tact and skill.”


According to the book description of Honorable Warrior: General Harold K. Johnson and the Ethics of Command, “A man of extraordinary inner strength and patriotic devotion, General Harold K. Johnson was a soldier's officer, loved by his men and admired by his peers for his leadership, courage, and moral convictions. Lewis Sorley's biography provides a fitting testament to this remarkable man, who rose from obscurity to become LBJ's Army Chief of Staff during the Vietnam War. A native of North Dakota, Johnson survived more than three grueling years as a POW under the Japanese during World War II before serving brilliantly as a field commander in the Korean War, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for "extraordinary heroism." These experiences led to a series of high-level positions culminating in his appointment as Army chief in 1964 and were the subject of a cover story in Time magazine.”


What followed should have been the most rewarding period of Johnson's military career. Instead, it proved to be a nightmare, as he quickly became mired in the politics and ordeal of a very misguided war.  Johnson fundamentally disagreed with the three men running our war in Vietnam: LBJ, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and General William Westmoreland. He was sharply critical of LBJ's piecemeal policy of gradual escalation and failure to mobilize the national will or call up the reserves. He was equally despondent over Westmoreland's now infamous search-and-destroy tactics and reliance on body counts to measure success in Vietnam.


By contrast, Johnson advocated greater emphasis on cutting the North's supply lines, helping the South Vietnamese provide for their own internal defenses, and sustaining a legitimate government in the South. Unheeded, he nevertheless continued to work behind the scenes to correct the flawed approach of the United States to the war. Sorley's study adds immeasurably to our understanding of the Vietnam War. It also provides an inspiring account of principled leadership at a time when the American military is seeking to recover the kind of moral values exemplified by Harold K. Johnson. As such, it presents a profound morality tale for our own era.”


Publisher’s Weekly said of Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Times, “Abrams (1914-1974) made a name for himself during WW II's Battle of the Bulge when he led his tank battalion in relief of an encircled American division at Bastogne. A quarter century later, having replaced Gen. William Westmoreland as MAC-V (Military Assistance Command-Vietnam) commander in Saigon, he supervised the process of preparing the South Vietnamese government to take over the war while American forces withdrew. Abrams's reputation for competence and uncompromising integrity was intact when he returned to the U.S. in 1972 ("Abe never talks about ethics," said a colleague quoted here, "he just examples it"). Appointed Army chief of staff, Abrams now faced the greatest challenge of his career: reforming the demoralized Army. Sorley, who has taught at West Point and the Army War College, provides a detailed account of how Abrams initiated such a turnaround in the post-Vietnam days. This anecdote-rich biography captures the essence of a great but little-known general who was an important military transitional figure.”

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam
Lewis Sorley  More Info
The Central Intelligence Agency: An Overview (The Intelligence Profession Series, Number SIX)
Lewis Sorley  More Info

Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972 (Modern Southeast Asia Series)
Texas Tech University Press  More Info
Arms Transfers Under Nixon: A Policy Analysis
Lewis Sorley  More Info

Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Times
Lewis Sorley  More Info
Reflections: South Vietnam's Generals Assess Their War (Modern Southeast Asia Series)
Texas Tech Univ Pr  More Info

According to the book description of Honor Bright: History and Origins of the West Point Honor Code and System, “Producing leaders of character for the Army has been West Point’s mission since its foundation in 1802. Central to West Point’s success in developing leaders of character is the Cadet Honor Code and System. Developed and refined over two centuries, the honor code is a foundation for a lifelong commitment to doing what’s right. - Honor Bright - chronicles that journey through time.”


One reader of Honor Bright: History and Origins of the West Point Honor Code and System said, “The understanding and interpretation of honor has always held a large degree of subjectivity. Nonetheless, the bedrock values of honor are in the heart, not derived from legalistic wringing. I would say this book studiously evaluates how earnestly cadets have, over the many generations of Pointers, taken seriously the foundational concepts and struggled to keep the code/system "untarn'd through the years." Perfect? No. Still working and valuable? A resounding "Yes!" This is a "must" read for those who teach or who want to learn about ethics in the workplace. Would that the serious attitude toward Honor of West Pointers pervaded more of our society.”


Publisher’s Weekly said of A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam, “Using a host of oral interviews, 455 tape recordings made in Vietnam during the years 1968-1972 and numerous other sources, military historian Sorley has produced a first-rate challenge to the conventional wisdom about American military performance in Vietnam. Essentially, this is a close examination of the years during which General Creighton Abrams was in command, having succeeded William Westmoreland. Sorley contends that Abrams completely transformed the war effort and in the process won the war on the battlefield. The North Vietnamese 1968 Tet offensive was bloodily repulsed, he explains, as was a similar offensive in 1969. Together, the 1970 American incursion into Cambodia and a 1971 Laotian operation succeeded in reducing enemy combat effectiveness. Renewed American bombing of the North and Abrams's use of air power to assist ground operations further reduced Hanoi's ability to wage war. Sorley argues that the combination of anti-war protests in America and a complete misunderstanding of the actual combat situation by the diplomats negotiating the 1973 Paris accords wasted American military victories. In spite of drug use and other problems, Sorley maintains, the army in Vietnam performed capably and efficiently, but in vain, for South Vietnam was sold out by the 1973 cease-fire, America's pullout and the failure of Congress to provide further military assistance to the South. Sure to provoke both passionate and reasoned objection, Sorley's book is as important a reexamination of the operational course of the war as Robert McNamara's In Retrospect is of the conflict's moral and political history.”


One reader of Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Times said, “Creighton Abrams is one of the best soldiers of the American Century, perhaps ranking only behind George C. Marshall in selfless devotion to soldiering. Lewis Sorley's Thunderbolt is both thoroughly researched and well written. Abrams was a true man of virtue, and an inspiration to all who served with him and under his command. I was lead to this book by Sorley's more recent book, A Better War, which focuses more specifically on Abrams's Vietnam years. Anyone who believes that Army values of duty, honor, and country have been corrupted by 20th Century experience should read this objective tribute to a truly great man of humble origins whose tank column liberated Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and who eventually rose to be Chief of Staff of the Army. A biography well worth reading.”

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