Monday, July 6, 2009

Robert McNamara (6/9/1916 - 7/6/09)

Robert McNamara got his B.A. at the University of California, Berkeley, and his Masters Degree from the Harvard Business School. After serving in the military during World War II, he went to work at Ford and later became President of that company.

McNamara was asked to join the cabinet of John F. Kennedy, Jr., where he served as Secretary of the Defense. He applied a business model approach to defense issues and to war. When the U.S. escalated its involvement in Vietnam, in 1965, by sending in massive numbers of troops (reaching over 500,000 very quickly) and implementing a blanket bombing campaign in the North, that is attributed to McNamara's advice and analysis of how the U.S. must proceed in order to "win" the U.S. War on Vietnam.

McNamara is often called the "prime architect" of the U.S. War Against Vietnam and held responsible by many for the over 2 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans who died in that war, as well as for the decision by the U.S. to use chemical warfare on the ground, including Agent Orange, which later caused birth defects, cancer, and deaths of many U.S. veterans and their families and continues to cause high rates of birth defects and cancer in the people in Vietnam.

McNamara applied his business school approach to the war, and implemented the infamous "Body Count" (number of VietCong claimed to have been killed) as the proper measurement for the success of his plans. In 1967, with the war escalating and no end in sight, and anti-war activities increasing, McNamara "resigned" from his position as Secretary of Defense. Some say he was pushed out. He was given the position of President of the World Bank. (Just like that sleazy Wolfowitz.)

In 2003, filmmaker Errol Morris released his documentary titled "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara." It features McNamara talking about his life and mostly his involvement with war, his thoughts on the subject, his perspective long-removed from his original involvement. It is a fascinating film. Some critics rejected it as a belated effort by an old man to repair his bloody image. I thought it was a brilliant film. It won an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Excerpt below.


  1. I believe the man ran the war in Vietnam just like a business because that is what he knew how to do. I am a Vietnam Vet, 1968-69, I Corp, Hue and Phu Bai. He did a great job at what he knew, a better choice could have been made by the President for the job. No knocks against this man.
    R Star*

  2. History reports and records the "great men," the leaders and those who surround them, and primarily focuses on wars and how they ran them. But the personal effects of war are not covered so well, maybe because it's impossible to really describe the effect on a family, or a town, of having so many of their young men sent to war and returning dead.

    What I remember is that the oldest son of the family next-door to my parents' house, immediately to their left, went to Vietnam and died. And the only child and only son in the family directly across the street went to war and died.

    I'm glad you made it back.