Maxwell Taylor

maxwell taylor

Maxwell Taylor (1901-1987) was an American military officer and the United States ambassador to South Vietnam in 1964-65.

Taylor was born in Missouri, graduated from high school and passed entrance exams to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He served as an engineering and artillery officer before retraining in linguistics.

An intelligent, well spoken and diplomatic officer, Taylor obtained rapid promotions during World War II, rising from major to brigadier general in less than three years. He spent most of the war in the US but also served in Italy and during the D Day landings. 

After World War II, Taylor served as superintendent at West Point, Allied commander in West Berlin and commander of the Eighth Army in the Korean War. From 1955 to his first retirement in 1959, Taylor was US Army Chief of Staff.

In 1960, Taylor published The Uncertain Trumpet, outlining his views on US military strategy during the Cold War. Incoming US president John F. Kennedy was impressed by Taylor’s ideas and recalled him to service as an advisor.

In October 1961 Kennedy sent Taylor to South Vietnam to investigate and appraise the situation there. Taylor returned urging the deployment of an 8,000-strong US combat force, a proposal Kennedy ignored. Like others before and after him, Taylor overestimated the capacity of Ngo Dinh Diem and his government, while underestimating the strength and resolve of the Viet Cong.

Taylor made three more visits to Vietnam, each with defence secretary Robert McNamara. By 1964 Taylor was recommending stronger action to new president Lyndon Johnson, urging a campaign of bombing against North Vietnam.

In July 1964, Taylor again retired from the military and was appointed US ambassador to South Vietnam, replacing Henry Cabot Lodge. It was a strange appointment, given Taylor’s lack of diplomatic experience and poor understanding of South Vietnamese politics.

With the situation in Vietnam deteriorating, Taylor opposed the deployment of American combat troops, believing it would draw the US into a long and difficult ground war. Taylor lost the argument to General William Westmoreland and resigned the ambassadorship in July 1965.

Citation information
Title: “Maxwell Taylor”
Authors: Jennifer Llewellyn, Jim Southey, Steve Thompson
Publisher: Alpha History
Date published: March 23, 2018
Date accessed: May 30, 2023
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