On The Perils of Intelligence Without Wisdom

My head thunderstruck with wine, I was struck by this highlight I’d made in The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam, over a year before (I’d only ever read the introduction…), while perusing my bookshelf waiting to sober up. Regarding Kennedy’s cabinet, the smartest men in Washington DC, the ones who conceived of the Vietnam War:

Among those dazzled by the Administration team was Vice-President Lyndon Johnson. After attending his first Cabinet meeting he went back to his mentor Sam Rayburn and told hum with great enthusiasm how extraordinary they were, each brighter than the next, and that the smartest of them all was that fellow with the Stacomb on his hair from the Ford Motor Company, McNamara. “Well, Lyndon,” Mister Sam answered, “you may be right and they may be every bit as intelligent as you say, but I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.” It is my favorite story in the book, for it underlines the weakness of the Kennedy team, the difference between intelligence and wisdom, between the abstract quickness and verbal fluency which the team exuded, and the true wisdom, which is the product of hard-won, often bitter experience. Wisdom for a few of them came after Vietnam.”

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