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Robert McNamara dies: Will books shape his legacy?

Robert McNamaraVietnam War


Robert McNamara, chief architect of the Vietnam War, has died at age 93. As U.S. secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, he was considered both a whiz kid and a lightning rod for antiwar activists. In later years, he turned his attention toward nuclear-arms issues and helping the world's poorest nations.

With his critical role in Vietnam, McNamara garnered the attention of historians and biographers. The 1992 biography "Promise and the Power: The Life and Times of Robert McNamara" by Deborah Shapely set the tone. In a review in Foreign Affairs magazine, Douglas Brinkley wrote:

McNamara's flaws overwhelm a lifetime of achievements, for the portrait that emerges from Shapley's book is of a man who was the primary culprit in America's ill-fated military engagement, a historical assessment that is likely to stick no matter how many nuclear arms reduction speeches and articles he churns out. The McNamara story is one of tragedy, for a dedicated public servant and for America, fueled by our frustration that a man of such promise chose, out of a misguided sense of mission, not to tell the American people what he knew about the dim prospects for victory in the Vietnam War when it might have made a difference.

In its obituary, the Washington Post turns to David Halberstam's assessment of McNamara in his bestselling history, "The Best and the Brightest."

David Halberstam, describing McNamara's trips to Saigon, wrote in "The Best and the Brightest" that McNamara, the ultimate technocrat, was "a prisoner of his own background . . . unable, as indeed was the country which sponsored him, to adapt his values and his terms to Vietnamese realities. Since any real indices and truly factual estimates of the war would immediately have shown its bankruptcy, the McNamara trips became part of a vast unwitting and elaborate charade, the institutionalizing and legitimizing of a hopeless lie."

In Halberstam's judgment, McNamara "did not serve himself or his country well. He was, there is no kinder or gentler word for it, a fool."

McNamara himself decided to weigh in with the 1995 memoir, "In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam." McNamara wrote, "We sought to do the right thing ... but in my judgment hindsight proved us wrong." Today, the N.Y. Times writes, "He published his denunciation of the Vietnam War and his role in it ... for which he was in turn denounced."

In fact, one of those denunciations was written by David Halberstam, who reviewed "In Retrospect" for the L.A. Times.

This is a shallow, mechanistic, immensely disappointing book. Had it been published 25 years ago while the battle itself and the debate over it was still raging -- had McNamara come forth then and said, as he does here, that what had come to be known as "McNamara's War" was "wrong, terribly wrong," it would have been an extremely valuable part of the ongoing debate; indeed, it might have ended the debate then and there....

In this book, much heralded by his publisher as a mea culpa, the agenda is McNamara's, not the reader's.... [H]e not only gets to give the answers he wants but he also gets to choose the questions he asks himself....

This should have been an important book. But it is not. It permits us some insight into McNamara's inability to come to terms with his role and its consequences, and it involuntarily offers a rare insight into the difference between the mind of a truly public man and the mind of a bureaucrat. But that is little recompense. McNamara comes to us now as a sad and greatly diminished figure from a tainted past. The debate has long since passed him by.

With the Vietnam-era decision-makers passing on, only these competing accounts remain. Will Halberstam's be definitive? Or will McNamara have a voice in his own place in history?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: From left, John F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara and Lyndon B. Johnson in 1961. Credit: Henry Burroughs / Associated Press

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The effect of McNamara's legacy can be seen in a voter backlash that led to the election of the two worst presidents in the history of country as well as the second most disastrous foreign policy decision, the Iraq War. Regardless of his spin on the events, his unfortunate and destructive role is undisputable and will haunt this country for as long as we are a nation.

McNamara does not deserve to rest in peace.

If only Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security adviser and Secretary of State, would follow Robert McNamara’s example late in life and confess that he deceived the American people about Vietnam. Declassified Nixon tapes and documents prove that Kissinger realized that:
1. The Vietnamization training program would not make South Vietnam capable of defending itself, and
2. The “peace” terms he negotiated with North Vietnam would destroy South Vietnam following a “decent interval” of a year or two.
To conceal the failure of his strategy of “Vietnamization and negotiation, Nixon (at Kissinger’s urging) prolonged the war into the fourth year of his first term -- long enough to avoid a pre-election collapse of the South Vietnamese government that would show voters he had lost the war.
You can see and hear the evidence here:
The decision to prolong the war for political reasons cost thousands of American lives, and countless more Vietnamese lives as well. No one deserved to die for the sake of Richard Nixon’s or Henry Kissinger’s career.
There are worse things than coming clean too late, like Secretary McNamara, and one of them is to continue to profit from deception, like Secretary Kissinger.

Tthe American public overwhelmingly supported the war in Viet Nam until well into the Seventies, despite the pleas of most young people. The parallels between the wars in Viet Nam and Iraq are too plain to ignore. The weapons of mass destruction that were never found are the precise equivalent of the attacks on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. The U.S. has repeated the same blunder, again with overwhelming public support. The lessons are never learned. The public, docile, fat, ignorant or ill-informed and gullible, permits these tragic blunders.

McNamara assumed that the history of his times would be written by American patriots. He discovered, too late, that it would be written by Russian Jews.

See Fog of War, at lease McNamara admited Vietnam was a huge mistake, so like Iraq thousands died for nothing. When does it soak in that war is a total waste and if you are soldier you are being used. Watch, the nest moron to admit it was a mistake will be Bush.

While this message is not intended to trash the late Robert McNamara on the day of his passing, I couldn't resist sharing an excerpt from one of my dad's letters from the early days of the Vietnam War. (recall that McNamara was an auto industry exec before his appointment as Secretary of Defense and architect of war in SE Asia...)


March 7, 1964

Saigon, South Vietnam - 'Mr. McNamara is coming to Saigon tomorrow. I wonder what tidings of joy he will bring. And also what B.S. he will put out when he gets back. Send me some clippings of the BS in the papers back there - we get a big kick out of them. One guy got a cartoon showing LBJ and McNamara sitting in an Edsel. On the bumper was written "Policy in VietNam."

Johnson is looking at McNamara and saying, "It'll never sell, Bob."'

The policy and the Edsel, were supposed to be 'the best from the brightest' - but proved to be just the opposite.

To his credit, in his final years McNamara admitted his failings. My dad was killed in the war on June 22, 1965.

Apropos: Ramsey Clark was another of the criminals of war who, too late, changed his mind. Yet he prosecuted 4000 to 5000 of us who spent 8000 to 20,000 man-years in prison. But it is not just these men, who were merely being patriots, who still insist the killers who invaded Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan are "heroes." Until ignorant Americans stop believing government/media b.s. they (the mothers, too) will continue to sacrifice sons and daughters of theirs AND real people of those countries invaded to satisfy the gluttony of the richest. Change will only happen once you admit you stole your country and slaughtered its indigenous people just as the Zionists still do to the Palestinians.

Why did McNamara never speak out against the Iraq War (and the lead up to it) when he had already regretted "selling" one war to the American people? Many other former political figures (including prominent Republicans) came out vehemently against the war at some point. Whether you paint him as a conflicted bureaucrat or dismiss him as bellicose and self-glorifying, you certainly can't call him respectable.

Now he sits by Satan's Left Hand......


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