General Maxwell Davenport Taylor (August 26, 1901 - April 19, 1987) was an American soldier and diplomat of the mid-twentieth century. During his military career, he was responsible for determining policy in the midst of various conflicts, including World War II and the Vietnam War. He served as superintendent of West Point, U.S. and UN commander in the Far East, a leading general during the Korean War, army chief-of-staff, leader of the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff, and ambassador to South Vietnam. He helped to organize the first airborne divisions and was influential in bolstering U.S. support for South Vietnam. He is remembered for his many years of service to the U.S. military and for the vital decisions that he formulated in the midst of various major American conflicts that played out during his long tenure.
Taylor was born in Keytesville, Missouri. He went to school in Kansas City as a youth and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1922.
World War II
Taylor's rise to the highest echelons of U.S. government began under the tutelage of General Matthew B. Ridgway in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division when Ridgway commanded the division in the early part of World War II. In 1943, his diplomatic and language skills resulted in his secret mission to Rome to coordinate an 82nd air drop with Italian forces. He met with the new Italian Prime Minister, Marshal Pietro Badoglio. The air drop near Rome to capture the city was called off at the last minute, when Taylor realized that it was too late. German forces were already moving in to cover the intended drop zones. Transport planes were already in the air when Taylor's message canceled the drop, preventing the suicide mission. These efforts behind enemy lines got Taylor noticed at the highest levels of the Allied command.
After the campaigns in the Mediterranean, Taylor was assigned to command the 101st Airborne Division, which was training in England, after the 101st's first commander Major General Bill Lee suffered a heart attack.
Taylor jumped into Normandy on June 6, 1944, with his men. He was the first Allied general to land in France on D-Day. He commanded the 101st Airborne Division for the rest of the war, but missed out leading the division during its most famous conflict, the Battle of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, because he was attending a staff conference in the United States. The Division Artillery commander, Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, exercised command in his absence. Some of the paratroopers resented Taylor for this later. General Taylor called the defense of Bastogne the 101st Airborne Division's "finest hour" of the war and stated that his absence there was one of his greatest disappointments in World War II.1
From 1945 to 1949, he was superintendent of West Point; afterwards, he was the commander of allied troops in Berlin from 1949 to 1951.
In 1953, he was sent to the Korean War. From 1955 to 1959, he was the Army Chief of Staff, succeeding his former mentor, Matthew B. Ridgway. During his tenure as Army Chief of Staff, Taylor attempted to guide the service into the age of nuclear weapons by restructuring the infantry division. Observers such as Colonel David Hackworth have written that the effort gutted the role of U.S. Army company and field grade officers, rendering it unable to adapt to the dynamics of combat in Vietnam.
During 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered General Taylor to deploy 1,000 troops from the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce Federal court orders to desegregate Central High School during the Little Rock Crisis.
As Army Chief of Staff, Taylor was an outspoken critic of the Eisenhower Administration's "New Look" defense policy, which he viewed as dangerously over-reliant on nuclear arms and neglectful of conventional forces; he also criticized the inadequacies of the Joint Chiefs of Staff system. Frustrated with the administration's failure to heed his arguments, General Taylor retired from active service in July of 1959. He campaigned publicly against the "New Look," culminating in the publication in January 1960, of a highly critical book entitled, The Uncertain Trumpet.
Return to duty
As the 1960 presidential campaign unfolded, Democratic nominee John Kennedy criticized Eisenhower's defense policy and championed a muscular "flexible response" policy intentionally aligned with Taylor's views as described in The Uncertain Trumpet. After the April 1961 failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy, who felt the Joint Chiefs of Staff had failed to provide him with satisfactory military advice, appointed Taylor to head a task force to investigate the failure of the invasion.
Both President Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had immense regard for Taylor, whom they saw as a man of unquestionable integrity, sincerity, intelligence, and diplomacy. The Cuba Study Group met for six weeks from April to May 1961, to perform an "autopsy" on the disastrous events surrounding the Bay of Pigs invasion. In the course of their work together, Taylor developed a deep regard and a personal affection for Robert F. Kennedy, a friendship which was wholly mutual and which remained firm until Kennedy's assassination in 1968.
Taylor spoke of Robert Kennedy glowingly, "He is always on the lookout for a 'snow job,' impatient with evasion and imprecision, and relentless in his determination to get at the truth." Robert Kennedy named one of his sons Matthew Maxwell Taylor Kennedy (better known as an adult as "Max").
Shortly after the investigation concluded, the Kennedys' warm feelings for Taylor and the president's lack of confidence in the Joint Chiefs of Staff led John Kennedy to recall Taylor to active duty and install him in the newly-created post of "Military Representative to the President." His close personal relationship with the President and White House access effectively made Taylor the president's primary military adviser, cutting out the Joint Chiefs. On October 1, 1962, Kennedy ended this uncomfortable arrangement by appointing Taylor as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a position in which he served until 1964.
The Vietnam War
Taylor was of crucial importance during the first weeks and months of the Vietnam War. Whereas initially President Kennedy had told Taylor that "the independence of South Vietnam rests with the people and government of that country," Taylor was soon to recommend that 8,000 American combat troops be sent to the region at once. After making his report to the Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff, Taylor was to reflect on the decision to send troops to South Vietnam that, "I don't recall anyone who was strongly against, except one man, and that was the President. The President just didn't want to be convinced that this was the right thing to do… . It was really the President's personal conviction that U.S. ground troops shouldn't go in" (Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy: His Life and Times).
Taylor received fierce criticism in Maj. (now Col.) H.R. McMaster's book, Dereliction of Duty. Specifically, Gen. Taylor was accused of intentionally misrepresenting the views of the Joint Chiefs to Secretary of Defense McNamara, and cutting the Joint Chiefs out of the decision making process.2 Whereas the Chiefs felt that it was their duty to offer unqualified assessments and recommendations on military matters, Gen. Taylor was of the firm belief that the Chairman should not only support the President's decisions but also be a true believer in them. This discrepancy manifested itself during the early planning phases of the war while it was still being decided what the nature of American involvement should be. McNamara and the civilians of the Office of the Secretary of Defense were firmly behind the idea of graduated pressure; that is, to escalate pressure slowly against North Vietnam in order to demonstrate U.S. resolve. The Joint Chiefs, however, strenuously disagreed with this and believed that if the U.S. got involved further in Vietnam, it should be with the clear intention of winning and through the use of overwhelming force. Using a variety of political maneuvering, including liberal use of outright deception, McMaster contends that Gen. Taylor succeeded in keeping the Joint Chief's opinions away from the President and helped set the stage for McNamara to begin to dominate systematically the U.S. decision making process on Vietnam.
He again retired and became Ambassador to South Vietnam from 1964 to 1965, succeeding Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. He was Special Consultant to the President and Chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (1965-1969) and President of the Institute for Defense Analyses (1966-1969).
General Taylor died in Washington, D.C. on April 19, 1987, of Lou Gehrig's Disease. He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Taylor was a noted general during his lifetime. He helped determine policy throughout World War II, the Vietnam Era, and beyond. Taylor helped to initially organize airborne divisions. He was the first to land at the Normandy D-Day invasion in command of the 101st Airborne Division. Taylor also held the posts of superintendent of West Point, U.S. and UN commander in the Far East, Eighth Army commander during the Korean War, army chief-of-staff, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff during his lifetime. He had an active role in convincing presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to escalate support to South Vietnam while serving as ambassador to that country.3
- Taylor was portrayed by Paul Maxwell in A Bridge Too Far and by Bill Smitrovich in Thirteen Days.
- The 1965 Simon and Garfunkel song, "A Simple Desultory Phillipic (or How I Was Robert MacNamara'd Into Submission)," mentions Maxwell Taylor.
- Robert F. Kennedy's son, Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, was named after Taylor.
- ↑ Cole C. Kingseed, Review of An American Soldier: The Wars of General Maxwell Taylor, Infantry Magazine. Retrieved December 12, 2007.
- ↑ H.R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam (New York: Harper Collins, 1997), 63.
- ↑ A&E Television Networks, Maxwell D(avenport) Taylor Biography (1901-87). Retrieved December 20, 2007.
- A&E Television Networks. Maxwell D(avenport) Taylor Biography (1901-87). Retrieved December 20, 2007.
- Cole, Ronald H., Lorna S. Jaffe, Walter S. Poole, and Willard J. Webb. The Chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Washington, DC: Joint History Office, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1995.
- Kingseed, Cole C. Review of An American Soldier: the Wars of General Maxwell Taylor, by John M. Taylor. Infantry Magazine. Retrieved December 12, 2007.
- McMaster, H.R. Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam. New York: Harper Collins, 1997.
- Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. Robert F. Kennedy and His Times. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978.
- Taylor, John M. An American Soldier: the Wars of General Maxwell Taylor. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1989.