Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Robert Strange McNamara, Butcher of Vietnam, Is Dead

He was so utterly reviled in his time that a meek hippie artist from Martha's Vineyard tried to kill him and nearly succeeded. The architect of the Vietnam war died with the knowledge that every attempt he made at redemption was met with ferocious pushback from those who had witnessed the ghoulish consequences of his folly. They would not permit him to rewrite the history of the men and women and children who perished in Vietnam. There would be no whitewash. And no sympathy for a broken, delusional apparatchik.

The commentary (excerpted below) by Joseph Galloway is an eloquent reminder that the strong feelings McNamara provoked in those who witnessed his role as the architect of America's tragedy in Vietnam have not diminished over the years, nor on the occasion of his death:

Reading an obit with great pleasure

Joseph L. Galloway | McClatchy Newspapers

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." —Clarence Darrow (1857–1938)

Well, the aptly named Robert Strange McNamara has finally shuffled off to join LBJ and Dick Nixon in the 7th level of Hell.

McNamara was the original bean-counter — a man who knew the cost of everything but the worth of nothing.

Back in 1990 I had a series of strange phone conversations with McNamara while doing research for my book We Were Soldiers Once And Young. McNamara prefaced every conversation with this: "I do not want to comment on the record for fear that I might distort history in the process." Then he would proceed to talk for an hour, doing precisely that with answers that were disingenuous in the extreme — when they were not bald-faced lies.

Upon hanging up I would call Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam and run McNamara's comments past them for deconstruction and the addition of the truth.

The only disagreement I ever had with Dave Halberstam was over the question of which of us hated him the most. In retrospect, it was Halberstam.


Anonymous said...

Robert McNamara was demonized by the hawks and the doves during the Vietnam era. The left saw him as a heartless technocrat, the right saw him as timid and insufficiently committal. During WWII McNamara helped Curtis Lemay design one of the most murderous bombing campaigns in history by firebombing cities across Japan. Why does the piece not call him the butcher of Japan?

McNamara has noted that Curtis Lemay once said of the massive civilian bombing campaigns of WWII (approximately) – “`if we’d have lost the war we would have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And he was right, we were behaving as war criminals. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?”

Carlos said...

The title is meant to reflect McNamara’s primary responsibility and power second only to the president’s, as the longest serving sec. of defense and overlord of the Pentagon, for making America’s wartime policy in Vietnam.

Anonymous said...

Butcher is fair, I'm only saying he cut his teeth butchering Asians when it was popular, and he failed to understand the difference when it became unpopular. He was a soldier put into impossible dilemmas through the short-sitedness of Presidents Johnson and Kennedy. I wonder how David Halberstam would have done if he was tasked with winning the Vietnam war. mg.