The Experts: How Hubris Sent 58,307 Americans to Their Deaths in Vietnam

by Clyde Edwin Petit

Long out of print, The Experts is Clyde Edwin Pettit’s masterful selection of self-damning words from the men who led America into a disastrous war in Vietnam, and who kept it going for a decade with vague assurances and stale imagery about tides turning and lights at ends of tunnels. Arranged chronologically, it amounts to an implicit narrative of mounting horror and increasingly tortuous self-delusion.

Pettit insisted that The Experts should be read cover to cover. “Most people pick it up and flip through it randomly looking for Top Secret reports,” he said. “Or they look in the index to find themselves. But the whole point is that you’re supposed to read it straight through, from front to back.”

Blending public pronouncements with diplomatic cables and internal U.S. government memoranda, the book illustrates hard human truths that each generation must relearn for itself. As Pettit put it in his original Foreword, “The Vietnam War is a textbook example of history’s lessons: that there is a tendency in all political systems for public servants to metamorphose into public masters, surfeited with unchecked power and privilege and increasingly overpaid to misgovern.”

When it was first published in 1975, The Experts was called “macabre,” “Kafka and Vonnegut rewritten by the Marx Brothers,” and “subversive to the very idea of government and leadership itself.” Today it reads like an all too freshly relevant cautionary tale.

This special 2016 republication of The Experts also includes the full text of Clyde Edwin Pettit’s prescient January 1966 letter from Bangkok to U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, which Fulbright read into the Congressional Record and credited with compelling him to reverse his position on the war.

Read Ethan Casey’s introduction to the 2016 edition of The Experts 

Purchase the new edition of The Experts, with additional material including Pettit’s historic January 1966 letter to Senator J. William Fulbright, for $18.95 plus $3.95 shipping: