Blowtorch: Robert Komer, Vietnam, and American Cold War Strategy. By Frank Leith Jones. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2013. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xi, 401. : $52.95 ISBN: 978-1-61251-228-0
Former Department of Defense (DoD) policy and strategic planner Frank Jones is Professor of Security Studies at the Army War College and holds the General Dwight D. Eisenhower Chair of National Security. In this work, he has carefully detailed the professional life of Robert Komer from his initial employment by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) through a career that eventually culminated as a high-ranking DoD official in the Carter administration. More than anything else, Komer is best remembered as the architect of President Lyndon Johnson's ill-fated program--"pacification" it was called in the mid 1960s--to woo the hearts and minds of South Vietnamese peasants away from the Communist Viet Cong.
Part One deals with Komer's career before representing Johnson in Vietnam; Part Two covers his experiences in Vietnam, and Part Three discusses his career after Vietnam.
Komer served as historian with the U.S. Fifth Army at Anzio, the hard-pressed Allied beachhead on the west coast of Italy, before completing his master's degree in business from Harvard after the war. After that, he moved on to the newly organized CIA where he helped prepare national intelligence estimates as a strategic analyst. He then joined President Eisenhower's National Security Council (NSC) staff. President John Kennedy retained Komer after taking office in 1961. In those years, Komer focused on building better relations with Egypt and India and refining U.S. foreign-aid policy.
Johnson asked Komer to remain on the NSC staff following the Kennedy assassination. Working with other high-ranking officials in the second half of 1966, Komer formulated a policy for gaining the initiative against the Viet Cong under the overall auspices of Military...