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Monday, July 06, 2009

Robert Strange McNamara 1916 - 2009

Robert McNamara died today at his home in Washington D.C. He was 93.
Born in Oakland California, McNamara took a BA in economics from Berkeley and an MBA from Harvard. He was a Harvard professor in 1943 when he joined the army and put his statistical analysis skills to work designing bombing missions for General Curtis E. LeMay.

LeMay was the original man from Mars, an innovator in the field of strategic bombing, the man who famously wanted to “bomb Viet Nam back into the stone age.” LeMay built and presided over the Strategic Air Command. For years he controlled the US nuclear arsenal, and was prevented by the executive branch from using it on numerous occasions. When McNamara became Secretary of Defense in 1961 General LeMay told him that he was not authorized to see the nuclear weapons plan.

In Errol Morris’s 2004 film “The Fog of War,” McNamara said that if the Japanese had won World War II that he and LeMay would have been tried as war criminals over the 100,000 civilians killed in the firebombing of Japanese cities.

After World War II, McNamara went to work at the Ford Motor Company, one of the “whiz kids” that re-organized the then-ailing company. McNamara helped kill the Edsel, and developed the Ford Falcon. (Lee Iacocca developed the Mustang) In 1960 he became the first non family member to run Ford. He soon left to become Secretary of Defense under JFK and LBJ.

McNamara was excoriated by many of the two million American Viet Nam veterans who considered him the architect of our hopeless war strategy, a liar who put their lives on the line behind his lies.

This view is substantiated in General H.R. McMaster’s book “Dereliction of Duty” in which the author maintains that McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff ill-served the country by going along with LBJ’s escalation of the war.

By 1967 McNamara became convinced that the Viet Nam War was unwinnable, and urged Johnson to find a way out. Johnson responded by awarding him the Medal of Freedom (sound familiar?) and either firing him or accepting his resignation, McNamara himself was unsure which.

In 1968, McNamara and McGeorge Bundy approached then-presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey and offered him support should he run on a platform of ending the war. Humphrey said that he would have to meet with LBJ first, and when Johnson kept him waiting for hours, Humphrey lost his nerve and declined the offer. Americans continued to fight and die in Viet Nam for seven more years.

Late in life McNamara said that he was proud of his accomplishments and sorry for his mistakes. When asked about the 58,000 Americans who died in Viet Nam he said that the question is what would we learn from it.

Errol Morris told NPR today that McNamara opposed the Iraq War too, but never went public with his misgivings. Apparently the lessons of Viet Nam were lost on him.


At 4:41 AM , Blogger Lulu Maude said...

That Medal of Freedom is one fishy award. Like an albatross about the neck.


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