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Robert S. McNamara -- His Words, Your Forum

It would be hard to think of a more controversial figure from the Vietnam War era than Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara who died this morning. He was the longest-serving defense secretary in the U.S. He was one of the original Whiz Kids, a corporate chieftain and later World Bank president, but his identity is tied inextricably to Vietnam.

In his 1995 memoir of the war, McNamara said he and his senior colleagues were "wrong, terribly wrong" to pursue the war as they did. He acknowledged that he failed to force the military to produce a rigorous justification for its strategy and tactics, misunderstood Asia in general and Vietnam in particular, and kept the war going long after he realized it was futile because he lacked the courage or the ability to turn President Johnson around.

Once again McNamara was vilified by critics who said he should have spoken up when it might have made a difference and accused him of salving his conscience with a last-minute conversion. A 2004, Oscar-Award-winning film, "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara," addressed what he learned from the war.

He left a note for his wife, Diana, who read it to the Washington Post's chairman and chief executive, Donald Graham:

"I leave this earth believing that I have been blessed with a wife, children and friends who have brought me love and happiness beyond compare. Heaven, for me, will be to remain in their hearts and memories as warm and close as we were in life.
"I will hope as well to see others continuing to pursue the objectives which I have sought (very imperfectly at times) to move the world toward peace among peoples and nations and to accelerate economic and social progress for the least advantaged among us."

Tell us how you see him.

By Patricia Sullivan  |  July 6, 2009; 9:10 AM ET
Categories:  Military , Washington DC-area people  
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Next: Spotlight: Allen Klein


Why on Earth would you have a section about such a controversial man, where people will only post vile comments? If you know it in advance, why even have it????

Posted by: MajorConfusion | July 6, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Why do people who's bad decisions cut the lives of so many others so short, live to be so old. WHY!

Posted by: johng1 | July 6, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I will never forgive McNamara for, years later, admitting he didn't believe the Viet Nam war was winnable, while at the time, he kept his silence.

I happened to see him just after his 1995 apologia. He was sitting on a bench in Layfayette Park, which fronts the White House. He was by himself, reading a book.

I felt like telling him that I thought him a coward. I had served two tours in Viet Nam and had friends who'd died there. "My friends," I would have told McNamara, "did their jobs. You didn't do yours. They believed. You didn't."

But I walked on past. Past an old man reading his book.

An old man, I hoped, who would be be-deviled forever by the ghosts of Americans he'd betrayed.

Posted by: rollomoss2 | July 6, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I wish I would have moved to Canada when I had the chance. I guess I was too naive to think America could really stink as bad as it does. McNamara's war was the beginning of the end of this country, it's been all downhill from there... our standard of living, our government, our families, our health, the middle class, the whole ball of wax.

There used to be a bumper sticker; "America, Love it or Leave It". I liked the T-shirt better: "America, Fix it or F*ck It".


Posted by: WWWexler | July 6, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Strange (McNamara's middle name), but the only person posting on here so far, MajorConfusion, anticipates people posting only vile comments. Perhaps he knows what people really think of McNamara.

Posted by: gce1356 | July 6, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

I remember Bob McNamara well from the World Bank, where I worked for some 30 years. He was a passionate leader who transformed the institution dramatically. I lived a block away from him on Tracy place in DC. He would walk to the Bank every morning and walk up 13 flights of stairs to his office at the top of the building on 19th street. At the 1970 Bank annual meeting in Copenhagen, he had to be transported from his hotel to the conference center in a rented truck, because of protestors, Vietnam still fresh in their minds. McNamara was undeterred. Among other things, he vastly enlarged the Bank's involvement in African development, including the first health project -- elimination of river blindness in the Volta river basin, one of the most successful interventions by the institution in that continent.

Posted by: tblinkhorn1 | July 6, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

A disgraceful performance apropos Vietnam, and an even more digraceful refusal to talk about it for years. had he voiced his concerns, lives would have been saved. A moral coward of the first water, and the archetype of the deluded civilian theorists, appointees, and politicians who think war can be done on the cheap. We seem to have learned nothing.

USMC Lt.Col(Ret)
RVN 1969-1970

Posted by: F-4Phantom | July 6, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

He like Kissinger has had a long life unlike the 50,000 dead American soliders and the hundreds of thousands of Viernamese lives. The man was a war criminal. Had he done to our country what he did to others we would be celebrating, but I am incapable of celebrating any person's death, but I can sigh with relief.

Posted by: DLN1 | July 6, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

I honestly don't know how you--and many others--could even tolerate being in the presence of McNamara. I'm amazed that someone hasn't just walked up and killed him in the last 40 years.

Posted by: gce1356 | July 6, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Good Riddance! Hannah Arendt wrote of the "banality of evil" and McNamara and the other bureaucrats who ran the machinery of death are the very personification of her insight--JUST LIKE THOSE RUNNING THE WARS BASED ON LIES, LIES AND NOTHING BUT LIES TODAY!!

Millions have died because of well-mannered, articulant, intelligent technocrats like Robert McNamara. Bury him deep!

Posted by: Prinzowhales | July 6, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Good riddance! Should have happened a long, long time ago.

Posted by: GordonShumway | July 6, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

The passing of Secretary MacNamara indeed marks a closing of a sad chapter in our history. His handling of the Vietnam war was inexcusable. If, as your article stated, he realized in 1965 that the war was "unwinnable", then he should have resigned in protest. Hindsight is a wonderful luxury, and his mistakes are now obvious. His reluctance to confront the President is his greatest failing. If he knew we were not winning, the obvious answer is to determine how to turn it around, something he never did. His "Body Count" approach was flawed from the beginning. Questions remain. Why did he insist on the ridiculous "rules of engagement" that we had; why were we not allowed to take the war to the North's heartland? Why didn't he let the Miitary fight the war with both hands free, instead of tying one hand behind our back? Why did he let the Persident and his other advisors pick and choose targets for our Air Forces, in spite of the fact that our Airmen continually complained that these efforts were simply worthless? These are just four of the questions. His arrogance in thinking that his way was the only way was his biggest failing. If as you said he realized the futility of our efforts, then he should have done the honorable and brave thing - go public and resign. He didn't, and this to his everlasting shame.

Posted by: jhbpm981 | July 6, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Frankly, I didn't even know he was still alive.

Posted by: TalkingHead1 | July 6, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

He was okay at Ford . I didn't care for his book . Your government did not want to appear to be an imperialist super power beating up on a small communist country . All the politicians at the time lacked the courage to completely blockade harbors and engage targets with Naval artillary and surface to ground missiles . Nearly all the air causualties and POW torment was avoidable and these guys knew it . Without the supplies there was no need for the efforts on the Ho Chi Minh trail , no Tet offensive , no Cambodia bombing , no Lam Son 719 , just a police action in the south . Yes it is that simple .

Posted by: borntoraisehogs | July 6, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Presumably, Robert Strange McNamara died peacefully in his sleep. That's a lot more than can be said about the 58,000 or more American troops who perished in his ill-advised and unnecessary war in Vietnam. Strange was his middle name and strange was his political philosophy. What a waste of American lives & American resources in Vietnam. And for what? Imagine the good that could have been done with all those resources, say in aid to the Third World. Who was it who said that it is a far greater achievement to conquer oneself than to conquer a city or a nation? If I were an American I'd probably find it impossible to forgive McNamara and the other Vietnam War hawks in the Johnson & Nixon Administations. Unfortunately, little or nothing was learned from the debacle of the war in Vietnam, as demonstrated by the unnecessary, ill-advised & perhaps illegal war in Iraq.

Posted by: hughmcfadden1 | July 6, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

58,209 DEAD Americans.

303,635 WOUNDED Americans.

1,948 American MIAs.

More than 4,000,000 civilians KILLED.

What a legacy ! !


Posted by: swanieaz | July 6, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

So we have people who question the reason to have this area to comment because they object to the negative comments that could be made about this man. I supposed those who engineered war and those who still suffer from its injuries, their families and those whose lives were cut short at the late teens or twenty-something are supposed to be sympathetic to his death. He and his cohorts were monsters that destroyed a generation as the Bush family and their cheerleaders are currently taxing its volunteer armed forces and destroying the financial system of this nation. To have anything less than contempt and dislike toward this man with his arrogance is not out of line. While he may have assisted the African continent he ignored his obligation to assist his own country and its people when he continued even after he knew the War in Vietnam could not be won. His focus then was to make the military contractors rich while destroying the youth and forcing the public to be divided on the issue of the war to satisfy his own ego. He was a divisive, manipulating, arrogant and vile person who should burn in hell for what he left in his wake. People of his ilk will not be missed. I hope he suffered with his decisions every day of his 93 years the same way those still alive and the families of the dead suffer from his debacle every day of their lives without their loved ones or in pain from their wounds. I hope his legacy shall follow his family members who lived a good life from his earnings while others paid the price with their lives both lost and shattered.

Posted by: arclight69 | July 6, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Funny, I read he was considered brilliant, a technocrat using the latest statistics and social science models to run Vietnam, yet my take is he didn't have a CLUE what he was doing.

EFFECTIVE social science models must incorporate humanism, too, toward an innocent civilian population, understanding how our actions toward them create another unconsidered social science model, one which some military kooks never understood or took into account while scientifically determing strategy (lol).

We're not God, despite our weapons, we're just another reactant in the chemical equation.

Some still don't get it.

Cheney's Pentaton made the EXACT SAME mistakes with Iraq.

Maybe Gates' Pentagon is a bit brighter with Afghanistan.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | July 6, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

The Donald Rumsfeld of my time...except he killed more people than Rumsfeld. Love to be there when he faces St. Peter. Even St. Peter will have a hard time keeping from spitting in McNamara's face...

Posted by: nadinem | July 6, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

...and let's not forget that this vile fellow went on to head the World Bank-- Usury Central--the boss of bosses of all of the "economic hit men" who have caused so much misery in the world. The international bankers who control this organization have been behind all of wars in the last century and the current crop of wars in the southern tier of Asia.

While fighting in SEA to enrich the banks and big business, we were at the very same time supporting the USSR with technology transfers and trade. See the Hoover Institute's multi-volume study by Anthony Sutton.

"Man will never be free until the last politician is strangled with the entrails of the last banker."...To paraphrase Wayne Madsen's paraphrase of Diderot.

Posted by: Prinzowhales | July 6, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Contrary to most of the comments, I think McNamara was a genuinely good man. Who, still, was largely responsible for one of the greatest tragedies in human history. I think it would be a major mistake not to try to understand his life, without bringing vitriol into play.

McNamara ended his term crying into his curtains. I don't think Rumsfeld ever had that sort of perspective.

Posted by: asher721 | July 6, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

The blame for Vietnam lies with LBJ. He is the one who engineered the Gulf of Tonkin incident which got us into the Vietnam war.

McNamara's legacy is that he was a "numbers" man. He relied too heavily on statistics and body counts and bomb tonnage dropped from the sky by B-52s. He presented himself as the smartest sob in government. That was his hubris and he suffered for decades because of it. I only feel pity for this man who was too smart for his own good.

Posted by: alance | July 6, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I'm just so sorry that my friend Mike R (USMC) from Mobile, Alabama didn't live to see this day.

Posted by: Tomcat3 | July 6, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

I would like to share my memories and thoughts.

I made a point of viewing the "Fog of War" upon its cinema release.
I looked upon it as a confession of sorts and thank Mr. M. for being forthright and (if I might say) humble and honest.

At least he made an attempt to set the record straight instead of perpetuating falsehood and myth.

I also would like those with strong opinion of the Vietnam "Police Action" (I believe it was initially a "Police Action" rather than a war) to take a moment and review the pretext of the
Tonkin Gulf "attacks." The word fabrication rather than justification comes to mind.

As for Mr. M. I would like to extend my condolences.
Yet, there is a wall with 58+ thousand names and multitudes
of wounded Americans that come to mind. I would also counsel those who think clearly on this matter there are also millions of Vietnamese and South East Asians who were killed. And millions wounded.

All for nothing. For no tangible gain of any measure. Though the concept of for domestic profit (yes, for that) comes to mind.

He passed away from old age. And I am glad he lived a long life. I am glad longevity allowed him to reflect upon what he did during his Washington years of domestic service and its affect upon scores of millions of lives. Not much of it for the good.

I was born in 1947. I still have letters my father wrote to me, in 1964 and 1965 critiquing the false premise of his, yes...his... catastrophic, deadly and divisive decisions.

I am fortunate. I was not maimed, remain alive and have never visited Southeast Asia. Perhaps at some time I'll take the trip via commercial airline. Till now I was too ashamed to visit. For a person of my generation I felt it disrespectful to be a tourist in a land where such injustice was inflicted upon innocent people.

Fortunately, the nature of the people, international trade and time have healed some wounds. I feel a bit better about it now.

As for those who still perceive the Southeast Asia War as just or valuable to "freedom" or whatever words you choose; I suggest you get the dvd of "Fog of War" and also read an article published by the United States Naval Institute in their Naval History magazine that accurately details the fraudulent Gulf of Tonkin fabrication.

Educate yourselves toward the truth of that defining and terrible war.

And grieve for your comrades whose lives were callously wasted.

I am glad he stood up and admitted that what he did was wrong.
It won't bring anyone back, won't rebuild shattered and disrupted lives and probably won't be heeded by some.

Yet, he lived long, was able to reflect, and held out his hand toward those he wronged in an admission of wrongdoing.

It made me feel a bit better. Those years impacted my life for quite some time and not in a good way. It left scars.

I hope he has a measure of peace.

Posted by: jato11 | July 6, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

At some point one truly hopes that Kissinger, McNamara, Johnson, Nixon, Kennedy, Westmoreland and the gutless Congress will have to answer to all of those they killed in the quest to satisfy their ego's. I served three tours in Vietnam and even after 40 years have a hard understanding what, except to destroy, was accomplished there. If there was anything to be remembered is that we see the same stuff going on in Iraq and now Afghanistan by people who said never again. We see the resurrection of body counts, villages destroyed and making people hate us who just want us out.

Posted by: KBlit | July 6, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Death of a Vietnam War Hawk

Strange was his name and
strange was his nature:
the late Robert Strange
McNamara, who
has died in his sleep
aged 93 years:
that’s a great deal more
than can be said for
Americans who
died in Vietnam
in McNamara’s
insane, napalm and
Agent Orange, war…

not to even mention
the Vietnamese.

Hugh McFadden
6th July, 2009

Posted by: hughmcfadden1 | July 6, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

As a postscript to my earlier post, in response to and acknowledgement of the postings of those who suffered so much harm from the Viet Nam War, I would add that my own family, similarly, was torn apart and still suffers from the wounds of the intergenerational conflict generated (in part) by the Viet Nam War. (And this even though none in our immediate family was actually killed in the war.)

And yet, even so, I believe that McNamnara's legacy should be judged in the context of his education and generation, with a strong acknowledgement of the systemic problems inherent in the workings of Weberian Bureaucracies like the federal government, the defense department, the military, even the popular news media....

Posted by: TQWoods | July 6, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I guess my longer, earlier post, was too sophisticated or too controversial in its praise of McNamara despite his mistakes to get past the censors.

Posted by: TQWoods | July 6, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Masters of War [by Bob Dylan]

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

Posted by: medogsbstfrnd | July 6, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

McNamara was a traitor and war criminal for his involvement in the USS Liberty attack. He was also involved in fostering the gulf of Tonkin lie, which got us into a war for profit, that cost the lives of 50,000 American soldiers. The world is a better place without him, and he died far better than he deserved.

Posted by: TRACIETHEDOLPHIN | July 6, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

"Whiz kid" LOL

Vietnam was a failure.

As world bank president, he loaned money to third world countries that couldn't pay it back. US taxpayers were stuck with the bill.

The problem with smart people is they are not as smart as they think they are.

Posted by: win_harrington | July 6, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

He knew he would be vilified for his role in Vietnam, and rightly so. Besides the great "Fog of War," the other movie to see is the extraordinary HBO production, "The Path to War." Alec Baldwin plays McNamara. Compelling, brilliant, one of the best movies I have ever seen.

Posted by: faygokid | July 6, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

When all of the strong emotions come back, it is difficult to remain quiet and rational.
H. L. Mencken said of Calvin Coolidge on his passing 'He had no ideas and he was not a nuisance'. God save us from the folly of brilliant men.

Posted by: johnnymarsh20051 | July 6, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

A truly remarkable and conflicted man. I'm reminded of the von Clauswitz quote that said "War is politics by other means". And sadly, it took our leaders some time to realize how poorly we understood the politics of Vietnam. We were paid back for that lack of understanding in KIA's. I'd be relieved if we'd learned our lesson, but we're still taking casualties in Iraq.

Historians may begin their treatises now.

Posted by: tschmidt | July 6, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

The greatest thing about McNamara's Vietnam War is that this country didn't learn a damn thing from it.

Posted by: tony_in_Durham_NC | July 6, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

McNamara, Johnson, and later Bush and Cheney, can all shake hands and congratulate each other in HELL.

Posted by: mongolovesheriff | July 6, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Shortly after McNamara admitted he'd lied to us during Vietnam I wrote a song about people who do ugly, evil $#!t to others they know have no choice but to swallow it. It contained the following verse and refrain:

The war was over and two countries were laid waste
Thousands mourned here and millions on the other side
He tried to forget how he robbed a nation of its faith
Twenty years later he finally admits that he lied.
And as he stands over the bodies of those that he killed
The victims of My Lai and Hamburger Hill
And yesterday's drive-by, he asks,
"Will you please forgive me?"

I'm in your debt, here's an IOU
I'll be dead long before it's due
I'm in your debt, here's an IOU
Take it or leave it.

Posted by: treetopflyer | July 6, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I am part of the generation whose lives were changed forever because of McNamara and the Vietnam war and the social upheaval that the war brought with it. I served in the same unit that Lyndon Johnson's son-in-law Pat Nugent belonged. Our unit was sent to Vietnam for 13 months but somehow Mr. Nugent went home a few months after he arrived and we stayed the full tour.

Besides the obvious waste of lives what is really sad is that if you compare McNamara's career and Donald Rumsfeld, the two look very similar. Both brilliant business people with great organizational skills that made them so successful in business but were a total disaster in applying the same tactics to the Department of Defense yet America let it happen in Iraq just like it happened in Vietnam.

Posted by: acohen1 | July 6, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Let's see, a fawning press helps elect a young testosterone laden administration by highlighting a nonexistent "missile gap" allegedly created by a doddering old fool of an ex-general president. After stealing the election, they then proceed to doom a Cuban invasion, launch an arms race, spin a missile crisis into a "victory", and wage the most unsuccessfull war in American history.

As far as the World Bank goes, it too seems to be a monument to "New Frontier" hubris. Mr. McNamera was the embodiment of that hubris.

Posted by: maxtel1910 | July 6, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

How can the same people who have such hated for McNamara hold John F. Kennedy in such high esteem?

McNamara is the technocrat who implemented the policy, BUT it was JFK who formulated the beginnings of the Vietnam War. JFK & LBJ are ultimately responsible for the WAR in Vietnam. It's unfortunate the Kennedy's used McNamara as their scapegoat.

Posted by: johnnyapplewhite123 | July 6, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Another mass murderer dies in bed and is then feted in the WaPo.

Does this country have no bottom?

Posted by: member5 | July 6, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

He was indeed a complex man, and no one is purely good or purely bad. But the saddest thing about McNamara's life, from this generation's perspective, was how utterly and completely AMERICA failed to learn the lessons of his experience with Vietnam. We absolutely repeated them in almost every single respect, in Iraq. How could there be such a learning-disabled country as this one? How?

Posted by: B2O2 | July 6, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I wonder whether journalist Bill Moyers had McNamara in mind when he made his PBS special about the former slave trader who wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace?

Posted by: TQWoods | July 6, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Someone once told me that forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past. As a disabled veteran of the Vietnam War I can testify to the wisdom of that. I cannot forgive on others' behalf, but I can on my own, and so I choose to do with respect to Mr. McNamara, whether anyone else, including he himself, might think it necessary.

I willingly partook of that war because I believed what I was told: that "aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed." To me that has always seemed to be an unarguable truth, though nowadays I think that the challenge need not be reciprocated aggression.

Thanks for the obit. I appreciated learning more about McNamara. The more I know, the easier it is to digest and live out the law of love, to the point of loving even enemies. The French got it right when one of them said "Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner." "To understand everything is to forgive everything."

RIP, Bob

Posted by: MingtheMerciless | July 6, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Brief exerpts from today's NY Times:

1. "By then he wore the expression of a haunted man. He could be seen in the streets of Washington — stooped, his shirttail flapping in the wind — walking to and from his office a few blocks from the White House, wearing frayed running shoes and a thousand-yard stare."

2. " “We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo — men, women and children,” Mr. McNamara recalled; some 900,000 Japanese civilians died in all. “LeMay said, ‘If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He — and I’d say I — were behaving as war criminals.” "

It's of no tangible relief to the still suffering families and individuals; yet for what it's worth at some time in his life
the man developed a conscience.

Conscience has consequence.

I do not believe the bunch of the previous administration, who repeated almost line for line the behavior of this man, will lose
a moments sleep over their unacknowledged and unpunished crimes.

Perhaps if they are held accountable in a public forum those who are not yet granted power will act with prudence, wisdom, responsibility and still uphold the national interest.

There are salutary effects to punishment.

Walking around DC with a shirt hanging out of ones pants and wearing worn sneakers is indicative of remorse. However, it lacks the powerful affect of a jail sentence.

Letting this contemporary bunch walk away without accountability is but another invitation to abuse of power.

They should receive what a measure of Germans received in 1945/46. That would serve to temper irresponsible and self serving public behavior that literally swathes itself in the flag as justification for and explanation of irresponsible, self serving self righteous and homicidal actions activity posed as in the "National Interest."

No amount of parsing the nuances of case law, various interpretations of "The Federalist" and obtuse interpretation of
Constitutional readings can revoke the solid evidence of deceit, misrepresentation, heavy handed threat, forgery and treachery
that is documented and preserved in archives as evidence of illegal activity.

If we are stupid, I can think of no other word, to turn ourselves from this public responsibility and at the least perpetuate a standard of public hypocrisy, than we are deserving of the full range of consequence that will inevitably occu in generation to follow.

Posted by: jato11 | July 6, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Lessons learned in Vietnam are forgotten as we again attempt to prove that technological weaponry will defeat a war of ideology.

Posted by: whocares666 | July 6, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Though I marched many times against the war and McNamara, my clearest memory of him is more benign. While he served as Secretary of Defense, McNamara owned property on the south shore of Chilmark, Martha's Vineyard. He often could be seen in the late afternoon, walking along the beach, not barefoot as were others, but in golf shirt, shorts and immaculate white sneakers with socks pulled up to his calf. What an extraordinary closing it must have been when he sold that property to the "less tidy" John Belushi and his wife Judy.

Posted by: Hola2 | July 6, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

johnnyapplewhite123 - you took the words right out of my mouth.

"How can the same people who have such hated for McNamara hold John F. Kennedy in such high esteem?

McNamara is the technocrat who implemented the policy, BUT it was JFK who formulated the beginnings of the Vietnam War. JFK & LBJ are ultimately responsible for the WAR in Vietnam. It's unfortunate the Kennedy's used McNamara as their scapegoat."

Posted by: johnnyapplewhite123 | July 6, 2009 12:23 PM

Posted by: TPS1 | July 6, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

The saddest part of Robert McNamara's legacy is not that he and the "best and brightest" of his generation got it so tragically wrong in Vietnam. It's that the privileged bozos who followed started another unnecessary war in Iraq.

Posted by: zephyr99 | July 6, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

If there is a "Hell" McNamara and Rumsfeld should be there together! McNamara is a moral coward as Cheney is a draft dodging coward! McNamara prosecuted a war he didn't believe we could win, a war of attrition that we certainly could not win, a war that destroyed this country, destroyed and distorted its faith in its government which will never be restored. McNamara belongs on list of history's War Criminals as do Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Rice and the American Enterprise Institute, War Criminals All! Vietnam Veterans should get together and pxxs on McNamara's grave!

Posted by: kemcb | July 6, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Now why couldn't he have croaked at 50 and Billy Mays been given another 43 years ? Would we be better off ? HELL YES .

Posted by: borntoraisehogs | July 6, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

The difference between Robert McNamera and Donald Rumsfeld is that Robert McNamera eventually admitted his was wrong. Don't expect Rumsfeld to ever humble himself with a similar admission. Which is why Rumsfeld should be reviled more than McNamera.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | July 6, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Why was he allowed to get away with it and live a long life, while every year on Memorial Day, Viet Nam veterans had to morn their fallen comeraded at the WALL...fallen for nothing, but misguided beliefs.

Posted by: jeanlucca | July 6, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

He sent 58,000 of our brothers and sisters to die tragically in the jungles of south east Asia. Thousands more scarred for life. To this day no one knows why!

Posted by: Woodstocknative | July 6, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Today the NYT report that the Bush library intends to display Saddam Hussein's gun as a trophy. I prefer the rational scientific method of McNamara to the tribal ways of the Bush clan. After all, the tribal Bush clan just viewed the military as their personal tool.

Why do the NYT and Post still give McNamara's War more criticism than Bush's War? Aren't they committing the same cowardness they are accusing McNamara of committing?

Posted by: elena2 | July 6, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

McNamara is the technocrat who implemented the policy, BUT it was JFK who formulated the beginnings of the Vietnam War. JFK & LBJ are ultimately responsible for the WAR in Vietnam. It's unfortunate the Kennedy's used McNamara as their scapegoat."

Compare and contrast.


Any 8th grader in America could answer that question intelligently -- but apparently not our neocons and those who think like them in matters of warfare.

Which may explain the war disasters, time after time.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | July 6, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I'm so glad he got to live a full, long life. Unlike the 58,000 he sent to their too-young-to -die deaths. Good riddance.

Posted by: jckdoors | July 6, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

like a lot of other old salts you see around DC, Gene McCarthy, George McGovern, Ralph Nader, it's hard to envision them as the young and vital men they once were. I thought of him running a car company or dating Kay Graham more than being tortured over Vietnam, it didn't seem to faze him.

Posted by: rufkd | July 6, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Maybe in part you fought Vietnam to, in the long run, keep Americans safe from more McNamaras and more Rumsfelds.

I mean, it's not perfect, but the ability to speak up here and criticize so truthfully might keep the kooks in check, forcing them to find another way, affecting their behavior towards others in the next war.

Their thinking, their war models don't work, and in the end, the Pentagon has to know it can't support what loses.

We face enemies, we always will, there will always be war, but fighting them intelligently helps to save lives.

And you're not only dealing with a guy like McNamara -- his models reflected a whole generation of thinking in regard to warfare.

We saw some those same failed ideas in Iraq, didn't we?

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | July 6, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Post world war II certain Americans and Russians became sick with power...
Police the world, start and create financial institutions to take advantage of third world nations- the IMF the world bank etc.
From this paradigm came men of centralized political power who advocated fascist policies to undermine the world with war. To them diplomacy was a weakness not a strength. through them the US, their native sons, the nations greatness were pawns. McNamara was such a man... "we need to stop communism before it destroys our nation etc. etc.
The same familiar crap Bush spewed from his foul mouth! Their ideology was wrong then as it is today!

What have we learned- that men such as Cheney, McNamara and Bush are driven by one thing only- money and power. Look up the meaning of fascist you will find their names there!

Posted by: rubenlruiz | July 6, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | July 6, 2009 1:00 PM

Compare and contrast.


Any 8th grader in America could answer that question intelligently -- but apparently not our neocons and those who think like them in matters of warfare.

Which may explain the war disasters, time after time.


Bush & Cheney -- Responsible for Iraq

JFK & LBJ -- Responsible for Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs

If only the Kennedy followers would except the True, and not try rewrite history.

Posted by: johnnyapplewhite123 | July 6, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

A brilliant man with the courage of his convictions.

Posted by: JAtheDJ1 | July 6, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

i'm not sure mcnamara was to blame for the war. he certainly didn't start it, as the eisenhower admin was intimately involved; and it is certain that some in the truman admin were. don't hate the player, hate the game. secdef don't make policy on WHO, just on how. he may have input into who, as true believers always do, but mcnamara may only have been a supremely qualified team player. KENNEDY, on the other hand, was a solid supporter from the very beginning who felt his 'legacy' was connected with victory in vietnam. johnson either believed the same, or may have just been dragged into it and not known how to get out. the issue is not always WHAT someone did/does, but WHY. the fault lies in the continuing --less so NOW-- belief that america's MONEY will eventually conquer all resistance. this is a stupid and unthinking strategy. and simply shows that our mid to late 20th century rulers lived in a WW2 time vacuum and continued to believe their press clippings long after their true abililty to score a touchdown over a dogged opponent had passed. it was a simple case of mistaken identity. of an old man believing (or simply trying) to handle a vibrant young woman. supreme arrogance (or stupidity). even in the sight of clear and continuing illustrations that our troops and our proxies did not possess 'the right stuff.' barack obviously understands the politics, but may not be able to overcome the past.

BTW i am a 1960s 4-yr veteran.

Posted by: dcjazzman | July 6, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

JFK & LBJ -- Responsible for Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs

If only the Kennedy followers would except the True, and not tr
Kennedy died in '63, how was he responsible for the decision to bomb Cambodia?

We're done, btw, you can't discuss this intelligently.


Kennedy's diplomatic strategy toward the Russians -- pursue peace but make sure it's understood we will defend -- how is this negated through his early Vietnam polcies?

Kenndy was highly intelligent, as such was able to call a mistake and correct course -- would he have done this with his early decisions in regard to the communist threat in Asia?

Who knows?

You never even considered such basic points before labeling his responsible for Vietnam.


Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | July 6, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Wow, the "rule of three" continues...what relics of the 60s and 70s will be next?

1) Dead, the integrity of the Washington Post
2) Dead, Robert McNamara
3) ?

Has anyone heard yet when Quinn and Weymouth will be resigning?

Posted by: SoCali | July 6, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Excise Me Sir,

Were not done.

If you look at American involvement and strategy for Vietnam, it was drawn up post 1963.

It is indisputable that the first substantive force were put into Vietnam by JFK.

But that's OK, continue living in a fancess view of history.

Posted by: johnnyapplewhite123 | July 6, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

"In his 1995 memoir of the war, "In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam," McNamara said he and his senior colleagues were "wrong, terribly wrong" to pursue the war as they did. He acknowledged that he failed to force the military to produce a rigorous justification for its strategy and tactics, misunderstood Asia in general and Vietnam in particular, and kept the war going long after he realized it was futile because he lacked the courage or the ability to turn Johnson around. "
Personally, I will shed no tear for McNamara. What he did for this country by pursuing the Vietnam war was unconscionable and wasted not only the lives of over 50,000 Americans, but devastated our ideas of the military for over a generation. His negative impact on this country is incalculable.

However, all that being said, the above quote from the article is particularly striking since it appears to be a replay of the mess we find ourselves in Iraq. Only this time, it is Donald Rumsfeld who played the McNamara role and George W. Bush as Lyndon Johnson (a fellow Texan, is there more than coincidence here?). If there ever was proof for the principle that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them, the Bush Administration certainly is a classic example.

Posted by: RedRat | July 6, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

This rotten pig died 50 years too late.

My sincerest wish is he never had a good night's sleep, was constantly haunted by those whose deaths and injuries he was responsible and he died a slow and agonizing death.

One more thing. On the outside chance there is a hell, I hope he's burning in the napalm room.

Posted by: rcubedkc | July 6, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

These lonely thoughts of war we dread

Are haunted by the souls of dead;

Who stand among the shadows where

They look with cold judgmental stares.

What is it in their glance we see

That they would want from you or me?

A moment’s past decision then

Had cost the lives of many men,

And left us with such guilt to bear

Beneath our own condemning stares.

The years ahead may not be kind Because of those we left behind.

The fact that we came home again

Has left us little peace within,

And so around us we have built

The Walls we mortared without guilt;

That seems to darken evermore

The light of hope we had before.

We look for answers but find doubt;

Uncertain then what life’s about;

Perhaps regretting after all

Our names weren't written on the Wall.

And so we ask the question, “Why?

Some men live while others die?”

And find no long enduring peace

When endless battles never cease.

Where we condemn ourselves because

We could not change the way it was.

The question always seems to be,

“What is our course in destiny?”

We know someday we'll join them there,

Among the shadows where they stare,

And then we'll have to face each one

Explain to them what wasn't done

And why we simply did not taste

Life’s fullest cup, we chose to waste,

While dying men with trembling lips,

Had been denied just one more sip.

So if they have had the chance to give

Would they have had the will to live?

Or would they ask the question “Why?

Some men live while others die?”

There is no way that we can see

The right or wrong of what could be.

So if our names exchanged with them

It would not change what happened then,

For no one knows where futures lie Except,

that someday, we will die.

The lives we live must now create

A deeper meaning for their fates,

Or else the guilt we wear inside

Will haunt forever ‘till we've died.

The death of those succumbing first

Should not deny the lives we thirst,

But rather savor from the vine Each day for them,

life’s sweetest wine.

We are their living legacy,

The last of mortal breath to be,

That speaks about what happened then

So it will not occur again.

We must not carry such a load

So let the walls of guilt erode,

Accept the fact that we should “live”

And then perhaps ourselves forgive,

And truly live their legacy

Denying death its victory.

We cannot let the years slip by

In search of answers to the “Why”

For time and tide will wait for none

Then suddenly our journey's done.

And so without lifelong regret

We do not owe death any debt,

Except to be, then after all,

The Living Spirit of the Wall.

By Lawrence A. White Served in Viet Nam 1969-1971 Taken out of the book Voices from the Wal

Posted by: rcubedkc | July 6, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

absolute madness to think that fighting a war is like building a car. His micromangement of the military helped create an unwinnable war.

Posted by: pwaa | July 6, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

He doesn't even deserve this wake of anguish!

Posted by: johng1 | July 6, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I was going to add yet another vilifying comment to the many here.

I will just say that I hold him responsible for destroying my life when I was 24. Because of VN I have been disabled and unable to find even a decent job.

And yes I hold a great deal of animosity coupled with the same feeling that our country has slipped downhill from there. I have told many people, even here on the blog, that my motivations for being a grunt in Nam were to insure that those that followed me would have the same freedom I had as a kid.

I would like to say something nice but the rotting bodies of 58,000 of my brothers in arms prevent me from doing so. So I will just say I hope that in whatever afterlife you get it involves personally explaining to each of these brave dead soldiers why you should not have a bullet in your skull.

100% disabled vet
C Company 2/502 101st Airborne

Posted by: RetCombatVet | July 6, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

You young people will never truly know how horrible this guy McNamara was. He along with LBJ were responsible for over 56,000 American soldiers dying in Vietnam. How many untold thousands of VietNamese died. For what? For nothing but the pride,hubris,and ego of McNamara,LBJ,and Kissinger. And add Nixon to that list.
McNamara is an example of the worst kind of ugly American. And then to years later try and say he changed his mind is adding insult to injury. I wont mourn for this egomaniac. And that is putting it mildly.

Posted by: joebstewart | July 6, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

THE BURDEN OF HISTORY: The man never fully owned up to his responsibility for keeping the machine of the Indochina War on track even when he privately knew the damn thing would derail. And the burden of that history, that personal stake in a doomed enterprise, was graven into his face and made all the more grueling by his stoic refusal to "go there" and give an unflinching account of his actions or his private thoughts.

I suppose in the end he didn't expiate his sins because the expiation was there, on his face, in the unseen but crushing millstone around his neck that accompanied him the rest of his days. Culpability, responsibility, grief - whatever that millstone was, it was there for all to see.


Posted by: spotter_tx | July 6, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

I met McNamara in 1965, in Vietnam. He was arrogant, opinionated and ignorant about the problems we faced. At the time, we in the Air Force were short of gravity bombs, a fact, surprisingly, reported in the Times weekly magazine. When asked about it, McNamara said the article was full of lies. Here he was denying the truth of the article which we knew without doubt reflected the problems we faced. It was true; we knew it to be true. However, Mcnamara looked us in the eye and denied it. What candor, what leadership, what crap!

Posted by: Diogenes | July 6, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

The last domino just fell.

Posted by: joebstewart | July 6, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

"He acknowledged that he failed to force the military to produce a rigorous justification for its strategy and tactics,..."
He remained wrong and a lied even in death. At no time was the military given the opportunity to develop a strategy or tactics. While a Forward Air Controller (FAC) I was not allowed to attack the enemy without first asking McNamara and the "leadership" in Washington. How dare he continue to blame a military that did it's duty and responded to its civilian leadership. I walked out on him with all my brothers who wore the Vietnam Service Medal, he never deserved our respect. I stand before the Black Wall and see the names of high school and college friends and squadron brothers who did not make it home. I will never, never mourn his loss.

Posted by: staterighter | July 6, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I served in VN in 1968-69. I don't agree with all McNamara did, but he does not deserve to be the whipping boy he has turned into. He was WRONG about the war being unwinnable -- it was very winnable. No, his later recantation does not make all you aging hippies right. You were wrong then and wrong now. The MSM never mentions Dean Rusk, who was SecState when McNamara was SecDef, and who went to his grave insisting that the VN war was a noble cause and fought by decent honorable people among whom I am proud to count myself.

Posted by: DorothyfromColumbus | July 6, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

To all you McNamara-haters, you have to give LBJ his fair share of blame. Like a recent president, he lied to the American people and brought us into an intractable war that killed hundreds and hundreds of thousands, maybe more.

Posted by: enaughton27 | July 6, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

My contempt for this guy - and Westmoreland - is beyond my ability to express. I Corp, RVN 1967 - 1968

Posted by: smallcage | July 6, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I was a combat medic (and not a conscientious objector) with both the 1st Infantry Division "Dr. Delta" (Ben Cat), and 1/61st 5th Mechanized Infantry Division (LZ Sharon/Quang Tri) in Vietnam (1968-69). Three of my best friends are listed on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Capt. Marvin Roberts, Baton Rouge, LA, Sp.4 Michael H. Flood, Toledo, IL, PFC John E. Lutze, Flint, MI).

Combined, Robert McNamara was able to out live them by at least six decades each. He was able to live off his government earnings for all those years; attend special events; write a book; vacation every year; move around the Country at will; and live a full life without ever once having to pick up a rifle in a hostile situation and feel that sheer moment of terror at which it is time to kill or be killed. Yet, Robert McNamara will forever go down in American History as the man who sent at least 58,269 men (including eight women who died) and over 100,000 who were seriously injured into harms' way for 16 years (America's longest war), while fully aware that this was not a war of purpose, but a war of economics and profits.

Only God knows the heart and soul of both Robert S. McNamara and Lyndon Baines Johnson, the rest of us are left to pray that God will allow Mr. McNamara to make his peace with those who have been patiently waiting for this day. At one time I used to hate this man; later in life, after his book, I only felt pity for him. Now, may God, and my friends, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for this Nation, have mercy on his weary soul.

As for me, the Vietnam War has never left my mind, heart, and soul alone; not even for one day since the day I returned home. I loved being an American soldier. I held up under the most hostile of situations as a soldier must to survive, but to find years later that my ideals of "Under God, Indivisible, with Liberty, and Justice for All" were not the principles of Americanism shared by those we entrusted with our very lives, was a National disgrace to American veterans of all wars in the past, and even now.

Yes, Mr. McNamara, Hell is not just a place of philosophical value of the after world; hell is also a state of mind for those of us left behind on earth to suffer with your personal regrets. Did I purchase your book? No. Just as I will never visit your humble grave to pay my respects.

Posted by: Douglas_Haney52 | July 6, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Let's not forget all who called young Americans names, either for serving or not serving. There is plenty of blame to go around for Vietnam just like now with IRaq, banking. Wall Street, housing market, derivatives, breaking our economy, wrld finaical system, trillions we owe, & lets not forget all the lives sacrificed for all the wrong reasons.

If we would old those responsible, maybe we wouldn't have to go trough it again like we are now with Iraq, banking, recession, depression, & all we face.

We just celebrated Independence day, not long ago Memorial Day, & some people atill think we stopped communism from spreading to Vietnam? That is what one mtomlin suggests & he was there, a major in the military? Tomlin writes for political grouop, GOP no doubt, was all over the Idaho Statesman blog just before the election to run down naysayers of the Bush, failed GOP.

I tried to explain we weren't fighting communism in Vietnam but financing it but people just don't get it, think government is being honest with US? how many billions or trillions of $ went to commuinst countries buyig weapons used to killed 58,000 Americans?

Now what were we doing in Iraq? Our representation is a failure at our expense. Our mis-representatives take money & make decisions costing US $, lives, freedom, & country before they will be finished.

We expect safety, pursuit of happiness, & all that but do nothing but go along with the lies costing US trillions. Campaign finance is killing US & has been since Vietnam.

When will someone do a documentary on US & tell the truth? We the People, government of, for, & by the people, elect representatives who take campaign finance & sell US out to the tune of trillions & we still celebrate Independence Day. The people in education teach US all we need to know about math, economics, war, civics, & we still go for the lies costing US trillions & teachers still beg for wages.

Maybe if they thought a second about what they teach they would be getting paid better. Don't just teac US to add but to uise our minds. Make decisions based on educated facts & we wouldn't be trillion sin debt, in war, broke, & lied to by our mis-representatives.

What's so great about education if the educators are so foolish they can't even see the lie we've become as a nation. If math teachers can't teach math, we're trillions in debt, history teachers can't teach history, it seems to be repeating itself, civics can't teach civics, taxation without representation =revolutution, & all education is so worthless educators have to beg for more money while kids can't afford college or get a job that pays a living age so they have to sign up as merc.s in our military, what good is education?

Posted by: greyghost1 | July 6, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Other than my parents, he affected my life more than any other person. I always admired his brilliance and his manners. The pillage and plunder was not his alone. Those were tortured years for all. I forgave him because he finally voiced to the public that he had been wrong about the war. To my knowledge, no one else in leadership admitted as much. No matter whats else is said, that is a man. May God have mercy on his soul.

Posted by: Jobsdonne | July 6, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Just tell me where the murderous sob is buried so I can dance on his grave.

Let us never forget: while that man equivocated and oozed cowardice, knowing privately that 'Nam was an unwinnable catastrophe even as he continued to send young men off to die, the U.S. casualty rate in SE Asia jumped from 7,000 to more than 100 thousand.

Posted by: loulor | July 6, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse

I take exception to "F-4Phantom", who does not understand the history of Vietnam and McNamara.

My first experience McNamara-wise was at Edwards AFB in 1966, working occasionally on the ill-fated TFX, changed to F-111A, his version of "commonality" - one airframe for all services. The Crew Chiefs did not like it, because of the terrible workmanship by General Dynamics in our first four prototypes. But commonality did not make sense because of the differing roles and constraints, and the Conrad cartoon was everywhere of LBJ and McNamara together, bumping down the runway to get airborne, in a plane marked TFX with an Edsel grill in the nose. It was a time when he should have listened to the military.

When I left Edwards it was to help form the basis of Igloo White, the electronic battlefield envisioned by McNamara as real-time intelligence to aid on interdiction. It was criticized as expensive, but militarily allowed the Army to use the Marines at Khe Sanh as bait in a massive killing field. Using over 350 sensors and overhead air cover continuously, we blasted and murdered those poor NVA conscripts by the hundreds, by the thousands. Those remaining were barely human, stunned by the shock.

My complicity in that turned me against the war early in my tour.

McNamara also opined much later that he was on the staff of Curtis LeMay in WW II when they developed the strategy of horrendous firebombings of major Japanese cities such as Tokyo, resulting in incineration of hundreds of thousands of living persons. He mused that if we had lost the war, it would be he who would be tried for war crimes.

McNamara wanted to do good, but was unable to stop being used. I think his compassion was genuine in his other jobs, and he was just one of those poor tortured souls, used for bad purpose. He never learned the lesson that more important than doing things right, is doing the RIGHT THINGS!

Posted by: gkam | July 6, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

McNamara knew by the end of 1965 that the "war of attrition" strategy wasn't going to work, but he made few attempts, and they were weak attempts, to change US strategy before finally resigning two years later, two years too late.

Posted by: parkerjere | July 6, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

If you demand perfection in all it will be easy to cast stones at Robert McNamara. I prefere to honor his service and his dedication to finding the truth. I still find fault with his conclusions, but that is where we differ - not where he was wrong. Who else would have had the courage to go to Hanoi seeking truth? Or have the ability to report so well on the conversation.

Yes, the war was a mistake. The Vietnamese saw the French returned and we saw another version of Germany taking over the world. Buy the time we sorted it all, too many had died or been wounded.

But it was never an evil endeavor.

We will honor all by moving to a new and better relationship with Vietnam.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | July 6, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse


You've flat got it wrong. Bobby Kennedy showed McNamara how to apologize when he said publicly in 1967 that he advised his brother in the early days of that war and that both he and JFK had been WRONG. He then apologized.

My intractable grievance with McNamara is that he watched while Bobby tried to make amends, and then stood silent for another three decades.

McNamara's silence in the '60s cost thousands of American lives, and ruined thousands more.

Posted by: loulor | July 6, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

In 1969 I remember a neighbor who was drafted as a clean cut high school graduate, who returned from Vietnam a stoned hippie in an army uniform. He told me he'd murdered men, women and children & didn't care about life any more. Never did find out what happened to him.

McNamara was a self-centered geek who believed computers could solve anything, and put the lives of our citizens on the line to prove his point. Today we have computers literally trillions of times more powerful than those McNamara used, and we still can't accurately predict the outcome of most conflicts. Computers have transformed the battlefield, but it still comes down to the soldiers and population.

Posted by: bob59 | July 6, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

He left this world at age 93, a very long life by most standards. Millions of people--Americans and SE Asians--never got that opportunity because of McNamara.

I only hope we don't have to wait another 16 years for Donald Rumsfeld (now 77) to die. Or Dick Cheney or Paul Wolfowitz, for that matter.

Posted by: gce1356 | July 6, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Rot in hell, you SOB, I hope you( and the rest of your evil cabal) never enjoyed a peaceful nights sleep after what you did!

Posted by: innis57 | July 6, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Many of those who find fault here, should remember that the President and Congress made the policy that McNamara followed. Aside from his role in meetings, his work was to follow orders - not to make policy. Perhaps they expected more from him. But I can not fault him for doing his duty. He left the situation where President Nixon and his aid Kissinger could negotiate a settlement and withdraw our troops - much the same as we had done in Korea. That was an honorable way to end the war. Without his effort it would have been impossible.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | July 6, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

May McNamara rot in Hell, and soon be joined by Donald Rumsfeld.

Posted by: pierredubois | July 6, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

A typical "best and brightest" Ivy Leaguer. Only difference between he and Rumdum was he proved he couldn't build a car either. Typical beltliner...LSS...lying sack of s**t.

Posted by: CMEBARK | July 6, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

There seems but one comment with a full sense of the history of the VietNam War: dcjazzman touched upon its beginnings, but let's look at its real start-up. After WWII the Truman administration produced "the Marshall Plan"--the American taxpayer was to hand western Europe our cash to rebuild its destroyed infrastructure: western Europe owed us for what America had done with our men and materiel to defeat the German/Italian fascists, but instead we gave western Europe much more of our cash to begin anew. The French leadership had decided that "The French Empire" was the most important "national treasure", and negotiated with Truman to receive only war-materiel, via the Marshall Plan, so that France could continue French rule in both "French Indo-China" and north Africa. As Ho Chi Minh was trying to lead to the independence of what became VietNam the French had its "Foreign Legion"--in large part composed of convicted felons who'd opted to "serve their time" by making up an "alternate French army", rather than behind bars--killing native Vietnamese who were battling France in order to become independent, instead of a French vassal-state. When the French lost a 1954 major battle at Dien Bien Phu, Dwight Eisenhower was about to step into the U.S. presidency. Ike had the Dulles brothers: John as head of the State Dept. and Allen, head of the C.I.A. These two convinced Ike that it was necessary to stop the communists from advancing their Asia-agenda, by having the U.S. take over the "war against communism" from the failed French empire-mongers: the "domino-theory" was part of the Dulles brothers' poorly evolved thought-processes, and the rest followed from there. JFK inherited VietNam from Truman, Eisenhower/the Dulles brothers, and (especially) Charles de Gaulle, who'd sat safely in England through most of WWII, suffering rather well from his delusions of grandeur. That Strange Robert wouldn't butt heads with a megalo-maniacal LBJ isn't too surprising--few did. The U.S. fought in VietNam for 20 years--hopefully it'll be less than half that in Iraq/Afghanistan, and at least there's now a Sec. of Defense who knows both the issues and realities.

Posted by: marc85 | July 6, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

The facts are actually quite simple, GaryEMasters. McNamara knew in '65 that the war was unwinnable and a vast mistake.

Despite his knowledge, he continued to endorse and manage the slaughter for another two years.

To insist that his work during that time was simply "to follow orders" is a thoroughly discredited argument right out of Nuremburg.

He was obliged to quit in '65 and he didn't. Had he the courage to do the right thing, he may well have saved countless lives, both American and Vietnamese.

Posted by: loulor | July 6, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

To call this man the "Architect" of the Vietnam War is to ascribe far too much blame to him. He no doubt had his fingerprints all over the war, but there are complex reasons of how this war originated and then escalated...others have there fingerprints on it,too.

Posted by: johnkomalley | July 6, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps we each need to look deeply into our own souls to see how the lessons of McNamara apply to ourselves. Here was one in billions, in intellect, background and drive. Who among us has as much positive potential? One who went on later to do many extremely positive things especially with the World Bank... And YET one who is recommended to Hell with gusto by many. How might all this speak to those of us with more ordinary, more hidden, impacts? I suggest a main lesson is: be not blinded by the human stars around you now. Their star power is by itself NO guarantee. Another lesson: we need our stars to be people willing and able to examine their most basic assumptions even in the heat of action. I believe Obama and his team to be such people.

Posted by: TomHartman100 | July 6, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I think the Post has done a good job of reminding us of our national mistakes in VN. Not many men who have been SecDef would ever look back on such a debacle and call it a mistake.

What is rarely noted is how long we knew it was a mistake, how long we had the VN problem identified to us as a civil war. To few times so we hear about Paris 1919 when those who won WWI were asked to get the French colonialists out of VN. It was ignored, but by 1954 the French were trapped and lost.

We need to remind ourselves that it was at Paris in 1919 when Iraq was created, mainly by the Brits, and the damage to us is not close to ending.

Please do a more historic job on VN and Iraq, tell the world how long the Brits have been after that oil and what it means to ignore colonialism which is still the force that we dealt with here in 1776 and 1812 but never saw it in VN, not even after 1954.

Posted by: brooktrout1 | July 6, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

jfk,lbj and this guy put this country on the path to disaster ,along with their fellow travellers. this has been repeated by the bushes and now obie. dems/rep pols are all the same.

Posted by: pofinpa | July 6, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

I am a VietNam era vet. I couldn't stomach LBJ and McNamara and Nixon and Kissinger and Westmoreland and Zumwalt......all of them.

It wasn't about my own hardships. It's just that they were all in some kind of altered and detached state. Unlike spotting someone who is greedy, you usually can't decipher wanton ambivalence to the senseless death of tens of thousands.....for no conceivable prize other than pride. That's not supposed to happen.

Recall Ike's final warning about the military-industrial complex. He had Korea as a sampling of the post WWII capitalistic urge to keep stoking the defense industrial machine. McNamara was a key cog in the wheel of that machine. To keep it moving, it had to be used and renewed.

Cheyney was another player in the military-industrial playbook. Thankfully, his tenure only cost 7% of the total dead soldiers of VietNam. So far.

As with the Depression-like meltdown of today, America keeps getting "surprised".....despite making the same blunders over and over....inattention to history.

Ike knew what he was talking about.

Posted by: bandcyuk | July 6, 2009 6:08 PM | Report abuse

I know McNamara created the Ford Falcon. What a crappy car. It took Iacocca to develop the Mustang. McNamara was a brilliant idiot. He never could figure out what people wanted; instead he performed cost/benefit analysis to the nth degree. He lived way too long. Good riddance!

Posted by: sperrico | July 6, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

One day I might get around to thinking about the possibility of forgiving him for the part he played in the devastation that was (and continues to be) the Viet Nam War experience. is not that day. Decades from now isn't looking particularly good either.

Posted by: overhereontheleft | July 6, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't/won't matter what McNamara said or did following his time as Sec Def, he was primarily responsible for leading Johnson toward the disaster in Vietnam, taking into account Johnson's political needs in order to get re-elected in 1968, and purposely suppressing the opinions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. McNamara ran the show, and the political ambition of Johnson and McNamara's outright deriliction of duty led the US into a war with 58,000 deaths and thousands more ruined lives.

Posted by: Reactive1 | July 6, 2009 6:52 PM | Report abuse

LTC Dan Graham was at MACV HQ Saigon.
GEN Westmoreland through subordinates ordered MACV LTC Gaines Hawkins to change the Order of Battle figures harvested each night at USARV HQ "before they arrived at MACV IO for edit" and then read at Fried's Follies JUSPAO by MAJ Len Henry and others. This would make it possible to tell LBJ and MacNamara that MACV received unaltered data. COL John Meacham USARV IO refused that order. I delivered those unaltered numbers to MACVIO after the Westmoreland order was given and all hell broke loose.
LBJ was lied to about the number of ememy combatants by Westmoreland's MACV. Hence, The "60 Minutes" --"Vietnam Conspiracy" trial which was settled out of court after Westmoreland admitted his culpability in court records. MACV IO Order of Battle was admitting half the enemy's real strength. COL Hawkins and Meacham were greater heroes than Daniel Ellsberg and Michael Snepp ever imagined themselves.
I asked a member of LBJ's Whitehouse staff if MacNamara and LBJ knew that Graham and Westmoreland were lying to them.
"I'll get back to you on that,"he said. Like MacNamara, he couldn't come clean. Emphasis on "couldn't".
The issue, unlike the perps, will never die.

Posted by: le-idiot | July 6, 2009 7:05 PM | Report abuse

It started with Kennedy, Vietnam was HIS way to prove to the Soviets he could take a stand. It came from his FAILURE in Paris. MacNamara implemented his policies like an accountant. LBJ and MacNamara tied the hands of the military, the force they sent into Vietnam. Nothing could be done without their total approval. Ground forces and airman were lost as they attempted to engage in conflict beyond either of their abilites.

Have the guts to look at the real cause and esclation of this conflict. Blame the people responsible.

Camelot, with lots of cross's

Posted by: arizona1215 | July 6, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Too bad Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush, and their many fans never learned anything from McNamara. Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Posted by: Alexis3 | July 6, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Was he maybe a little bit like Albert Speer? A brilliant man, a sensational organizer/administrator, focused on doing his job well, not thinking overmuch about what the job was--until Nuremberg gave him a little nudge?

Posted by: Alexis3 | July 6, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Could we all please remember what no one has stated yet -- McNamara WAS A DEMOCRAT who served under DEMOCRAT PRESIDENTS!

Posted by: DorothyfromColumbus | July 6, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

My friends died in Vietnam, my life was changed forever. I've often wondered what happened to the kid and all his dreams.

Still today I struggle with a feeling that something is missing.

I hated McNamara, Nixon, Kissinger, I wished them dead so many times for the games they played.

But my hate only hurt me. After so many years, I just wanted to be happy again. I didn't and still don't have higher ambition than that. To be happy, to love and be loved.

McNamara's death has an old, old man is not something I'll celebrate. I believe he lived these many years carrying the burden of Vietnam and young wasted lives with him.

He does not need my hate, I do not need my hate.

Posted by: Topper2u | July 6, 2009 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Four dead in O-HI-O: lest we forget.

Posted by: DarylAtamanyk | July 6, 2009 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Let's not forget also that Kissinger is still alive and is "innocent until proven guilty": and has many war crimes and crimes against humanity for which he has not yet been tried in a court of international law. Get off your ass America and do the right thing, before he also dies.

Posted by: DarylAtamanyk | July 6, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

McNamarea was a war criminal who managed to kill some 50K Americans and some 1 million Vietnamese just because his arrogance prevented him from stopping the illegal Vietnam war.

A war for which this war criminal sits on the board of washington post.

The Vietnam war like the Iraq war was an illegal war. But the suited criminals sitting on top had no problems.

The Vietnam war cost the deaths of 50K US/1M Vietnamese along with $500 Billion.

Posted by: rhusa | July 6, 2009 9:55 PM | Report abuse

Aftermath of the Vietnam War
US government with a policy of waging aggressive war was stopped.
The Vietnam war cost 346.7 billion dollars, 58K+ US dead, 153K+ US injured in battle.
It cost the Vietnamese people more than 3-4 Million dead and wounded, Property damage in the trillions.
Even after the war stopped there was no accountability in the US.
No investigation was done either in the media or in congress on how our nation got involved in the Vietnam war.
No one accepted responsibility for the death of 50,000+ US soldiers.
No one was assigned responsibility for starting the Vietnam war.
No one accepted blame
No one was blamed
No one resigned for leading the nation into the Vietnam war.
No one was fired for starting the Vietnam war.

Posted by: rhusa | July 6, 2009 10:01 PM | Report abuse

We learned nothing from McNamara and his successors. He was the classic example of what Gen. Eisenhower warned us about. One of a never ending line of civilian executives running a rogue Military-Inustrial complex that has ruled Anerica's foreign policy since the end of WWII and has kept us in endless foreign interventions with Wars for profit we never intend to win but rather prolong. He takes with him a whole generation of our youth and millions of civilians dead and more than 300,000 maimed, mentally and physically. Now that we are bankrupt financially, morally and politically we can look back and see what our modern-day Sparta Economy has done to our Consitution and our spirit. All we make in America now is weapons, Military and Naval vehicles and War. But the beat goes on-with this Defense establishment taking more than a Trillion a year off our Budget table with the complicity of a Congress in perpetual incumbency without term limits to shake off the temptation of all the wealth more than 35,000 lobbyists bring to Wash, DC. Of all the Nations of the Western World we must be the dumbdest, to keep voting these false representatives of the people in year after year. We have become insulated from the ravages of War-it is now at the very core of our National personna.

Posted by: lionelroger | July 6, 2009 11:00 PM | Report abuse

On balance, I believe that Mr. McNamara lived a good life. His good work at the World Bank and the candor of his writing balance his role as an architect of the Vietnam war. Yes, McNamara employed his formidable intellect to promote the war's expansion, but he did indeed see the light and attempt to reverse course. Much of his life was devoted to waging peace.

None of us is perfect, and I hope that the good done by Mr. McNamara is remembered as a key aspect of his legacy. He is to be admired for trying to overcome his Vietnam legacy and to teach others lessons that might prevent future Vietnams.

Was Vietnam a tragic blunder? Certainly. But at least Mr. McNamara admitted so and went on to do much good in the world.

Posted by: ANetliner | July 6, 2009 11:23 PM | Report abuse

I can't speak to the character of the man but I can speak to the vast amounts of money that he caused us to waste in the Aerospace Industry. I have no reason to believe otherwise than he was doing the best he could with the noblest of intentions. However, using the frequently applicable phrase, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.
By way of explanation, at the macro level, the man was a paper generator extraordinaire; probably one of the pioneers who led the way to assure documentation requirements exceeded needs, common sense and the computer storage capability of the 60’s era. Rather than “work the problem”, “work the paperwork” became the major focus. Then too, the coordinating meetings to create and then review the documentation, resulted in a plethora of meetings with hordes of attendees. As is often the case, the law of cascading effects set in. Hence today multiplicity of paper is the rule and despite the current day digital storage we’ve developed, hard copy backup for each and every potentiality argumentative item has become a necessity. So much for needs and common sense!
At the micro level, how can the above be show as credulous?
One of McNamara’s creations was a rather insidious document called the Contractor Data Requirements List (CDRL). Itself a document that could rival any Michener novel, it spelled out the various documents that were required by the government and the technical management team. The later served as the checkpoint for compliance with the design - - - and of course the reams of paper. Non-compliance with the latter could bring on the wrath of both. The maximum penalty could result in cancellation of the contract.
How did this play out?
Two or three page memos became volumes in themselves as the CDRL not only defined the documents but the precise structure of each. With this rigid an environment, the approval list of signees mushroomed as did the time required to secure their approval. Basic design documentation and sign-off rapidly degenerated to c-y-a multiplicity. At this point in time (the early 60’s), our company decided to investigate the cost of a simple change to a released drawing which would only involve changing the title of said drawing. The answer - - - one hundred dollars. I won’t bother to do the projective math. In terms of 2009 dollars, it’s likely more than ten times as much.
Manpower mushroomed! For the technical area of expertise I was involved in, a project of the same magnitude required a tenfold increase. I’l leave it to the reader to guess what most of them spent their time doing.
And then there were the meetings! What had previously been accomplished by several key people meeting as required, were now fully orchestrated meetings held several times a month. What required several seats on an airliner, expanded to half the plane capacity on half the flights available.

Posted by: chickster | July 6, 2009 11:43 PM | Report abuse

It started with Kennedy, Vietnam was HIS way to prove to the Soviets he could take a stand. It came from his FAILURE in Paris

And it's weird you recast it this way, rather than seek the truth.

At the very least, Kennedy wasn't necessarily vindictive, wouldn't allow immature emotion to cloud his tactical judgement, i.e. Nixon or Cheney.

Certainly he made mistakes, but he knew enough to correct course, unlike Cheney, who isn't smart enough to correct course.

That generation was coming off of WW2 truly believing communism presented a world ending threat, the first leg of the battle in Korea.

But they didn't necessarily know HOW to handle guerilla war or a very real asymmetric offensive via Mao or Stalin's descendents. After a certain point, though, like now in the ME, when the methods of warfare involving civilian death and destruction prove futile, it's time to call it and change it -- or you risk your own country.

McNamara didn't.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | July 7, 2009 12:14 AM | Report abuse

I was the caregiver of a man I loved very much from 1990 to 1992. This hero was exposed to Agent Orange during his tour of duty in Vietnam and almost died in my arms once during a coughing spasm after the cancer that began in his lungs metastasized. I am incapable of forgiving Robert Macnamara for not having stopped the machine while he could. Had he resigned from the administration in protest of the war, many lives might have been saved, including the man I loved. Whatever good Mr. Macnamara did in his later advocacy of Third World rural development cannot displace the horrors he imposed on the many service people and their families who suffered horribly, and forever, as the memories of watching the torture of a loved one will haunt us witnesses for the rest of our lives, and possibly beyond the grave. If justice exists under a loving God, I hope Mr. Macnamara is at last relieved of his cherished objective distance and is now capable of feeling in every aspect what he imposed on others less connected, less protected by status or money or the unearned luck of having been born into families who could help them stay out of the war. Mr. Macnamara, God help you. There is no protective status in heaven, and God cares as much about the suffering of men like my beloved friend as he does about you. Had my boyfriend not been a teenage runaway from an abusive father and then a young draftee, but born into your circumstances, perhaps he would have lived out his life giving of his great courage and strength to those who needed him so much. And I would not be left with the eternal torment of holding him in my arms while he almost died.

Posted by: penomee | July 7, 2009 1:20 AM | Report abuse

I am an Australian who served alongside American troops in Vietnam. I rejoice
at Mcnamara's death and will shortly be having a few beers to celebrate.

Posted by: macca39 | July 7, 2009 2:26 AM | Report abuse

Typical Washington Post commentary elevates
McNamara's legacy to deceive readers in the
same way he lied to America about Vietnam.
While 125 guys a week were getting killed in
Vietnam the devil himself, McNamara, told
America we were right being in Vietnam but
as the Pentagon Papers revealed he secretly
said the war couldn't be won.
This man should have been arrested, tried
and shot for treason 30 years ago.

Posted by: USAchange2009 | July 7, 2009 5:27 AM | Report abuse

i threw up at the WALL of Waste - i puked my guts out early one morning in May 2003...glad no one was around. i threw up because i despise these (sic) Architects of War when it was all an illegal invasion and an illegal occupation for the arms dealers and the Bush's/McCarthys of the USA.
i wish McNamama would have committed Hari Kari along with the his supporters and sycophants...i wish the same for the Cheney's, Rumsfelds, Rove's, Addison's, Yoo's, Bybee's, Bush's, Duke the Crook Cunninghams, & Killer from 30'000 ft spill his guts McCain... all of them should commit Hari Kari.
These Narcissistic Authoritarians are the soul of your Xian Reich Military Industrial Complex - who really needed the Arms manufacturing to continue post WWII and Korea to kill and make Rank; The Arms makes wanted easy money to fill their off shore coffers and needed Killing to make it so ... so they got the CIA to make war on the Vietnamese, then Iraq. What a great country we live in - i proud to be an American thru clenched teeth and hope of seeing the Cheney's of American Politics hung or imprisoned for life.
i threw up at the WALL of Waste because my name was almost on it. Now i puke on the grave(s) of those sick Architects. I hope for the demise of the those current sick architects, the torture architects, architects of illegal invasions, occupations and the Corporate Hegemony heaped on the American and world in general - you shame humanity for this there is Hari Kari. None of these idiots deserves a burial but left to rot for the dogs that they are.
i am a Viet Nam Combat Infantry Drafted WIA (Tet Ofnsv) %40 disabled Veteran.

The real heroes are George Thompson who stopped the Mai Lai massacre, The students who were massacred at Kent State should be on the Wall of Waste.
i just can't believe that some posts actually feel that you can kill hundreds of thousands of innocent ppl and then get a job at the World Bank and be looked as as a hero. My Gawd some of you ppl are beyond sick. This McNamara was truly Spawn of Satan.

Posted by: Darwin26 | July 7, 2009 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I admire him for admitting his tragic mistakes and weakness. We will not see Cheney or Rumsfeld doing that. They will hold to their lies to the end, dividing the country for another generation. The fact that we must re-learn over and over is that American power cannot be projected at will across the world. Since "we" cannot ever admit that, we will continue in Afghanistan and Iraq, and God only knows where else for the foreseeable future.

Teddy Roosevelt said "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Cheney and Co. have perverted that wise saying into "Shut up and come out swinging..."

Posted by: VietVet3 | July 7, 2009 11:17 PM | Report abuse

Just last week I thought of Macnamara and wondered why he wasn't dead. Let's hope that other war criminal Kissinger is next.

Posted by: nearlynormaljim | July 8, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

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