Prados, John 1951–
Prados, John 1951–
CAREER: National Security Archive, George Washington University, Washington, DC, senior analyst and research fellow on national security, 1997–; freelance writer, 1972–; Senior research fellow, International Center for Advanced Studies, New York University, 2001–2002. Game designer, 1972–, including "Year of the Rat," Simulations Publications, 1972, "The Rise and Decline of the Third Reich," Avalon Hill Game Co., 1974, "Vicksburg: The War for the West, 1862–1863," Rand Game Associates, 1975, "Von Manstein: Battles for the Ukraine, 1941–1944," Rand Game Associates, 1975, "Last Days at Saigon," 1975, "Pearl Harbor: The War against Japan, 1941–1945," Game Designers Workshop, 1977, "Panzerkrieg: Von Manstein in the Ukraine, 1941–1944," Operational Studies Group, 1978, "The Battle of Cassino: Assaulting the Gustav Line, 1944," Simulations Publications, 1978, "Campaigns of Napoleon: Bonaparte against Europe, 1800–1815," West End Games, 1980, "Kanev: Parachutes across the Dnepr," People's War Games, 1981, "Spies," Simulations Publications, 1981, "Campaigns of Robert E. Lee," Clash of Arms Games, 1988, "John Prados' Third Reich: The Second World War in Europe, 1939–1945," Avalanche Games, 2001, "Khe Sanh, 1968," LPS Games, 2002, "Fortress Berlin," LPS Games, 2004.
MEMBER: Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations, Society for Military History, Association of Former Intelligence Officers.
AWARDS, HONORS: Charles R. Roberts Award from Awards Academy of Adventure Gaming, 1975, best game of the year award from Campaign, 1976, and best game of all time awards, 1977 and 1978, all for "The Rise and Decline of the Third Reich"; Game Designers' Guild Select Award, 1982, for "Spies"; Annual Book Prize, National Intelligence Study Center, 1983 for The Soviet Estimate; Annual Book Award, New York Military Affairs Symposium, 1996, for Combined Fleet Decoded; Charles R. Roberts Award for Best Magazine Game, Awards Academy of Adventure Gaming, 2003, "Khe Sanh," 2005, for "Fortress Berlin"; two Pulitzer Prize nominations.
The Soviet Estimate, Dial Press (New York, NY), 1982.
The Sky Would Fall: Operation Vulture: The U.S. Bombing Mission in Indochina, 1954, Dial Press (New York, NY), 1983.
Pentagon Games: Wargames and the American Military, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1987.
Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.
(With Ray W. Stubbe) Valley of Decision: The Siege of the Khe Sanh, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1991.
Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 1995.
(Editor and author of introduction) America Confronts Terrorism: Understanding the Danger and How to Think about It: A Documentary Record, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 2002.
Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.
(Compiler and author of commentary) The White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on the President, New Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War, New Press (New York, NY), 2004.
(Editor, with Margaret Pratt Porter) Inside the Pentagon Papers, University Press of Kansas (Lawrence, KS), 2004.
Also writer of role-playing game supplements Top Secret: S.I., volumes 1 and 2.
Contributor to numerous books and reference works, including U.S. Military Involvement in Southern Africa, South End Press, 1978, International Military and Defense Encyclopedia, Brassey's, 1992, The Oxford Companion to Military History, Oxford University Press, 1999, America, the Vietnam War and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, 2003, and The Cold War: A Military History, Random House, 2005. Contributor to magazines and periodicals, including Diplomatic History, Intelligence and National Security, Scientific American, Military History Quarterly, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Survival, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Strategy and Tactics, Indochina Chronicle, Bridge, Little Wars, VVA Veteran, and Moves. Author of monthly columns "Simulation Corner," for Dragon, 1980–82, and "Boardgame Talk," for Adventure Gaming, 1981–. Contributing editor, Battle Plan, 1975–76, Fire and Movement, 1976–, Wargamer, 1980–, and MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, 1993–.
SIDELIGHTS: John Prados is a military and government historian whose many works cover topics such as the Vietnam War, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), national intelligence and security, the day-to-day business of presidents, and terrorism and the war in Iraq. In his The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, Prados "offers a rare fresh look at the war in Southeast Asia," noted a contributor to Publishers Weekly. He carefully analyzes many of the key incidents of the war itself and the events leading up to the war. He recounts Lyndon Johnson's role in the Dien Bien Phu crisis in 1954, provides a detailed explanation of the political characteristics of the South Vietnamese army, and looks at a number of the more controversial elements of the war. Among the latter is the South Vietnamese Phoenix program, which supported the assassination of Viet Cong leaders, and he suggests that the program ultimately amounted to nothing more than a massive violation of Vietnamese civil rights. Prados, furthermore, reveals how General William Westmoreland feared that U.S. support for the war would drop even further if accurate statistics, particularly the size of the enemy force, were made public. Domestic political issues are examined as well, including President Richard Nixon's attempts to discredit veteran's groups that were opposed to the war. Prados does much to address the image of Vietnam as an easy victory against a weak and inferior force. "Prados has made a real contribution to analyzing the Vietnam War by peeling apart the 'visions of victory' that dominated policy-making then and many perspectives now," commented Len Auckland in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Some of Prados's work also examines in depth specific battles that shaped the course and outcome of the Vietnam War. In Valley of Decision: The Siege of the Khe Sanh he and coauthor Ray W. Stubbe, who served as a Marine chaplain in Vietnam, describe the American combat base established in Khe Sanh and the bitter, contentious battles against the North Vietnamese who sought to drive the American forces out. Prados carefully examines the political elements of the Khe Sanh siege and the thinking of the American administration in Washington, the communist leaders in Hanoi, and prominent military commanders on both sides of the conflict. In addition, Prados and Stubbe cover the existence of Khe Sanh from its origins as a village in 1918 to its abandonment in 1968. They also offer firsthand accounts and other background derived from interviews, correspondence, oral histories, and other material. Reviewer Henry Zeybel, writing in Air Power History, called Valley of Decision "a book that gives both command- and foxhole-level views of a pivotal and bloody part of the Vietnam War." A Publishers Weekly reviewer asserted: "Here is the definitive history of Khe Sanh."
Inside the Pentagon Papers documents the tremendous controversies surrounding the leak and eventual publication of the Pentagon Papers, a series of documents that exhaustively documented America's involvement in Vietnam. The study, commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967 and conducted by the U.S. Defense Department, amounted to forty-seven volumes of material, much of it extremely sensitive and highly classified. Even President Lyndon Johnson was not among the people who received one of the fifteen copies of the report. In 1970 a disgruntled government employee, Daniel Ellsberg, leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, which began publishing parts of the documents on June 13, 1971, much to the government's displeasure. The government sought restraining orders to keep the material from being published. The New York Times strongly objected, and the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case about two weeks later. Ultimately, the Supreme Court decided that freedom of the press and the public's right to know outweighed the government's desire to suppress the content of the Pentagon Papers. The publication of this material "crystallized public and congressional opposition to continuing the war in Vietnam; it pierced the veil of government secrecy and diminished public trust in government; it turned those opposing the war into media heroes; and it rejected the notion of government restraints on publication even when classified information was compromised," reported Thomas W. McShane in Parameters. Ultimately, McShane concluded, the story of the Pentagon Papers is "an important story that needs to be told to new generations," especially because of government secrecy, attempts to stifle information access, and other developments in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America and the war in Iraq.
Prados remains aware of the bitter lessons of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers as he looks at the war in Iraq. He is particularly critical of the Bush administration in Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War. Prados critically and exhaustively analyzes the arguments, justifications, and reasons that President George W. Bush presented for launching the United States into war with Iraq, and in each case he finds that the reasons were flawed, imprecise, and on many occasions simply wrong. "Prados does a superb job of detailing not only the major false statements, but also the many subtle, yet critical misdirections" perpetuated by key administration members and organizations, observed Joseph Cirincione in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The author points out arguments such as the administration's contention that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and how any such assertion otherwise has proven to be false. Prados also shows that the Bush administration had decided very early to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but it had to provide reasons to convince Congress and the American people that doing so was a good idea. Finally, he explains how the justification provided by the government was based either on bad judgment and incompetence or deliberate fabrications and falsifications of intelligence.
"Not one of the dozens of claims they made about Iraq's alleged stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, missiles, unmanned drones, or most importantly, Iraq's nuclear weapons and ties to Al Qaeda, were true," Cirincione reported. Yet as of late 2005, "no one in the administration has been held accountable for the hundreds of false statements or—if you believe they made the statements in good faith—for their faulty judgments and incompetence." Hoodwinked "is hard to read without becoming infuriated, but it is worth it," Cirincione continued. "One cannot read this book without feeling shame over the performance of the American political and public information system, nor can one avoid admiration for the great skill with which the Bush administration pursued its aims," commented Robert Jervis in Political Science Quarterly. Jervis concluded that "as a meticulous analysis of the flaws in the arguments the administration made to pull the country into war, it is of lasting value."
In addition to his many books, Prados is also an accomplished game designer who has created war simulation games involving various military conflicts throughout history, ranging from the Napoleonic Wars to Vietnam. He once told CA: "I enjoy writing and designing games; both kinds of work [history and gam-ing] involve analysis and research, but are completely different as forms of expression. Being able to change from one to the other has helped me to avoid becoming too tired of either."
Prados told CA: "Reading was the key to unlocking a universe of questions. Many of the answers I searched for were just not available in the literature. I began looking for them on my own, and as I discovered things it became natural to want to pass this knowledge along to others. My interests began with history but, propelled by the times through which I have lived, extended to the role of historical arguments in the national debate on the course of my country and nature of its society, and then to the use of claims about the nature of world events in that same context.
"Great Writers have inspired me to write as well as I can, Great Thinkers to the responsibility of all writers to contribute to the marketplace of ideas, the importance of principle and the short shrift it is often given in heated debates over national policy has influenced the urgency, in my view, of bringing fresh perspectives to bear on that debate.
"At any given time I have an inventory of ideas for projects. These move up or down the list, or are replaced by other ones depending on what seems necessary at the moment, on the ripeness of the arguments involved, the availability of source material, and on what has already appeared in print or the media. I typically collect material on several different topics simultaneously but work actively on one, depending on these other considerations. I conceptualize a given project but only outline it in general terms, and I usually write beginning to end, not by jumping around. On game projects the process extends to the need for functional modeling of what I want to make the elements of play in a design, but the general procedure is the same: concept, research, execution.
"Possibly the most surprising thing to discover [as a writer] is that the process is so very personal. Most writers have very different methods, and it is often impossible to adapt elements from someone else's method to one's own writing. However, every so often a technique comes along so appealing it becomes irresistible."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Air Power History, spring, 2003, Richard Florence, review of Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II, p. 52; spring, 2005, Henry Zeybel, review of Valley of Decision: The Siege of Khe Sanh, p. 70.
Armed Forces & Society: An Interdisciplinary Journal, winter, 2000, review of The Blood Road: The Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War, p. 350.
Arms Control Today, June, 2004, review of Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War, p. 48.
Booklist, April 1, 1995, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, p. 1375; November 13, 1998, Jay Freeman, review of The Blood Road, p. 564; February 1, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of Lost Crusader, p. 961; October 15, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of The White House Tapes, p. 386.
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November-December, 1995, Len Auckland, review of The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, p. 66; January-February, 2005, Joseph Cirincione, "Not One Claim Was True," review of Hoodwinked, p. 65.
Foreign Affairs, July-August, 2003, Zachary Karabell, "Two Agents, Two Paths—How the CIA Became a Vital Operation," review of Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby, p. 182; March-April, 2005, Lawrence D. Freedman, review of The Last Valley, p. 155.
History: Review of New Books, summer, 2003, Athan Theoharis, review of Lost Crusader, p. 141.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2002, review of Lost Crusader, p. 1829.
Library Journal, January, 2003, Ed Goedeken, review of Lost Crusader, p. 133; May 1, 2004, Karl Helicher, review of Inside the Pentagon Papers, p. 126.
New Leader, May 20, 1991, John P. Roche, review of Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush, p. 7.
Parameters, summer, 2005, Thomas W. McShane, review of Inside the Pentagon Papers, p. 168.
Political Science Quarterly, winter, 2004, Robert Jervis, review of Hoodwinked, p. 677.
Publishers Weekly, February 22, 1991, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Keepers of the Keys, p. 203; September 27, 1991, review of Valley of Decision: The Siege of Khe Sanh, p. 50; March 27, 1995, review of The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, p. 70; November 9, 1998, review of The Blood Road, p. 67; February 3, 2003, review of Lost Crusader, p. 69; October 27, 2003, review of The White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on the President, p. 58.
Air & Space Power Chronicles Web site, http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/ (December 10, 2005), Chris Anderson, review of The Hidden History of the Vietnam War.
Military Book Review, http://www.themilitarybookreview.com/ (December 10, 2005), Michael Peck, review of Combined Fleet Decoded.