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Shame and Humiliation

Presidential Decision Making on Vietnam

by Blema S. Steinberg

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list price: $34.95
also available: Hardcover eBook
published: 1996

Steinberg focuses on the narcissistic personality, identifying it as intensely self-involved and preoccupied with success and recognition as a substitute for parental love. She asserts that narcissistic leaders are most likely to use force when they fear being humiliated for failing to act and when they need to restore their diminished sense of self-worth. Providing case studies of Johnson, Nixon, and Eisenhower, Steinberg describes the childhood, maturation, and career of each president, documenting key personality attributes, and then discusses each one's Vietnam policy in light of these traits. She contends that Johnson authorized the bombing of Vietnam in part because he feared the humiliation that would come from inaction, and that Nixon escalated U.S. intervention in Cambodia in part because of his low sense of self-esteem. Steinberg contrasts these two presidents with Eisenhower, who was psychologically secure and was, therefore, able to carry out a careful and thoughtful analysis of the problem he faced in Indochina. Shame and Humiliation reveals how personality traits affect our perception of reality and offers a powerful demonstration of the impact of psychodynamics on presidential decision making.

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Editorial Review

"Steinberg's perceptive analysis of the ways in which the personalities of three presidents have affected some of their most crucial decisions in these wars will be especially rewarding for all of those puzzled by their irrationality." George McT. Kahin is professor emeritus of international studies, Centre for Advanced Research on Southeast Asia, Cornell University. "Extremely impressive. Steinberg's study succeeds where so many other psychobiographies have failed. Drawing on the disciplines of political science and psychodynamic theory, Shame and Humiliation illustrates the value of comparative analysis of leaders who do (LBJ and Nixon) and who do not (Eisenhower) exhibit the so-called 'malignant' narcissistic character. Steinberg's position regarding the role of narcissistic personality factors, drawn from Kohutian theory, is carefully stated and circumscribed so that she avoids the familiar pitfall of psychological reductionism." Alexander George, Department of Political Science, Stanford University. "Steinberg makes an impressive case that presidential decision making may be influenced not only by cognitive mind-sets and beliefs, but also by psychodynamic variables. Shame and Humiliation is innovative in its interpretation, carefully argued, well researched, and engaging to read." Janice Stein, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto. "Steinberg meticulously studies political events and convincingly illustrates how a leader's internal and external worlds often intertwine to give directions to historical developments. This work is an original and significant addition to literature on leadership and decision making that will provoke healthy interdisciplinary discussion about the usefulness of personality studies in political science and history." Vamik D. Volkan, Director of the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction, University of Virginia.

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About the Author

Blema S. Steinberg

Blema Steinberg is professor emeritus, McGill University, the author of Shame and Humiliation: Presidential Decision Making on Vietnam, a member of the Canadian Psychoanalytic Society, and a practicing psychoanalyst.
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