Robert S. McNamara

From dKosopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Robert Strange McNamara (born June 9, 1916) is an American business executive and a former United States Secretary of Defense. McNamara served as Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968. He resigned that position to become President of the World Bank (19681981). Many observers see a parallel between that resignation and appointment as the resignation of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and his appointment as President of the World Bank. Both men bore unusually heavy responsibilities for taking America into unwinnable wars, McNamara in Vietnam and Wolfowitz in Iraq.


Early life and career

Robert McNamara was born in San Francisco, where his father was sales manager of a wholesale shoe firm. Driven to be an over-achiever all his life, McNamara was an Eagle Scout, and graduated in 1937 from the University of California, Berkeley with a BA degree in economics, doing well (phi beta kappa) and earning a varsity letter in crew. He was a member of the UC Berkeley Golden Bear Battallion, Army ROTC. He then earned a master's degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration in 1939.

After receiving his MBA, McNamara worked a year for the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse in San Francisco. Then in August 1940 he returned to academia to teach in the Harvard Business School and became the highest paid Assistant Professor at the time. Following his involvement there in a program to teach the analytical approaches used in business adminsitration to officers of the United States Army Air Corps, he entered the Army as a captain in early 1943, serving under Col. Curtis LeMay. One major responsibility was the analysis of U.S. bombers' efficiency and effectiveness, which he was able to greatly increase, largely thanks to reducing the number of aborted missions. During this period, McNamara helped to plan the 1945 fire bombing of Tokyo which was estimated to have killed 100,000 people. He left active duty in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In 1946 McNamara joined Ford Motor Company, due to the influence of a Colonel he worked under named Charles "Tex" Thornton. Thornton had read an article in Life magazine which reported that the company was in dire need of reform. He was one of ten former WW II officers known as the "Whiz Kids", who helped the company to stop its losses and administrative chaos by implementing modern planning, organization, and management control systems. Starting as manager of planning and financial analysis, he advanced rapidly through a series of top-level management positions. McNamara opposed Ford's planned Edsel automobile and worked to stop the program even before the first car rolled off the assembly line. He eventually succeeded in ending the program in November 1960. McNamara also came close to terminating Lincoln, forcing product planners to reinvent the car for 1961. On 9 November 1960 McNamara became the first president of Ford from outside the family of Henry Ford. McNamara received substantial credit for Ford's expansion and success in the postwar period.

Secretary of Defense

President-elect John F. Kennedy first offered the post of secretary of defense to former secretary Robert A. Lovett. Lovett declined but recommended McNamara; Kennedy had him approached by Sargent Shriver (regarding either the Treasury or the Defense cabinet post), less than five weeks after becoming president at Ford. At first McNamara turned down the Treasury position, but eventually after discussions with his family, McNamara accepted Kennedy's invitation to serve as Secretary of Defense.

Although not especially knowledgeable about defense matters, McNamara immersed himself in the subject, learned quickly, and soon began to apply an "active role" management philosophy, in his own words "providing aggressive leadership questioning, suggesting alternatives, proposing objectives and stimulating progress." He rejected radical organizational changes, such as those proposed by a group Kennedy appointed, headed by Sen. W. Stuart Symington, which would have abolished the military departments, replaced the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) with a single chief of staff, and established three functional unified commands. McNamara accepted the need for separate services but argued that "at the end we must have one defense policy, not three conflicting defense policies. And it is the job of the Secretary and his staff to make sure that this is the case."

Initially the basic policies outlined by President Kennedy in a message to Congress on March 28, 1961 guided McNamara in the reorientation of the defense program. Kennedy rejected the concept of first-strike attack and emphasized the need for adequate strategic arms and defense to deter nuclear attack on the United States and its allies. U.S. arms, he maintained, must constantly be under civilian command and control, and the nation's defense posture had to be "designed to reduce the danger of irrational or unpremeditated general war." The primary mission of U.S. overseas forces, in cooperation with allies, was "to prevent the steady erosion of the Free World through limited wars." Kennedy and McNamara rejected massive retaliation for a posture of flexible response. The United States wanted choices in an emergency other than "inglorious retreat or unlimited retaliation," as the president put it. Out of a major review of the military challenges confronting the United States initiated by McNamara in 1961 came a decision to increase the nation's limited warfare capabilities. These moves were significant because McNamara was abandoning Eisenhower's policy of massive retaliation in favor of a flexible response strategy that relied on increased U.S. capacity to conduct limited, non-nuclear warfare.

He also created the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Defense Supply Agency.


The Kennedy administration placed particular emphasis on improving ability to counter communist "wars of national liberation," in which the enemy avoided head-on military confrontation and resorted to political subversion and guerrilla tactics. As McNamara said in his 1962 annual report, "The military tactics are those of the sniper, the ambush, and the raid. The political tactics are terror, extortion, and assassination." In practical terms, this meant training and equipping U.S. military personnel, as well as such allies as South Vietnam, for counterinsurgency operations.

Increased attention to conventional strength complemented these special forces preparations. In this instance he called up reserves and also proceeded to expand the regular armed forces. Whereas active duty strength had declined from approximately 3,555,000 to 2,483,000 between 1953 (the end of the Korean conflict) and 1961, it increased to nearly 2,808,000 by 30 June 1962. Then the forces leveled off at around 2,700,000 until the Vietnam military buildup began in 1965, reaching a peak of nearly 3,550,000 by mid-1968, just after McNamara left office.


In the broad arena of national security affairs, McNamara played a principal part under both Presidents Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, especially during international crises. The first of these occurred in April 1961, when a Cuban exile group with some support from the United States attempted to overthrow the Castro regime. The disastrous failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, carried through by the Kennedy administration based on planning begun under Eisenhower, proved a great embarrassment. When McNamara left office in 1968, he told reporters that his principal regret was his recommendation to Kennedy to proceed with the Bay of Pigs operation, something that "could have been recognized as an error at the time."

More successful from McNamara's point of view was his participation in the Executive Committee, a small group of advisers who counseled Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. McNamara supported the president's decision to quarantine Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from bringing in more offensive weapons. During the crisis the Pentagon placed U.S. military forces on alert, ready to back up the administration's demand that the Soviet Union withdraw its offensive missiles from Cuba. McNamara believed that the outcome of the missile crisis "demonstrated the readiness of our armed forces to meet a sudden emergency" and "highlighted the importance of maintaining a properly balanced Defense establishment." Similarly, McNamara regarded the use of nearly 24,000 U.S. troops and several dozen naval vessels to stabilize a revolutionary situation in the Dominican Republic in April 1965 as another successful test of the "readiness and capabilities of the U.S. defense establishment to support our foreign policy."

McNamara's principal goal was deterrence — convincing Moscow that a nuclear attack against the Western allies would trigger U.S. retaliation against Soviet forces, thereby eliminating Moscow's ability to pursue further military action. McNamara also wanted to provide the Russians with an incentive to refrain from attacking cities. "The very strength and nature of the Alliance forces," he said in the Ann Arbor speech, "make it possible for us to retain, even in the face of a massive surprise attack, sufficient reserve striking power to destroy an enemy society if driven to it."

McNamara soon deemphasized the no-cities approach, for several reasons: public fear that planning to use nuclear weapons in limited ways would make nuclear war seem more feasible; increased Air Force requirements, after identifying additional targets under the no-cities strategy, for more nuclear weapons; the assumption that such a policy would require major air and missile defense, necessitating a vastly expanded budget; and negative reactions from the Soviets and NATO allies. McNamara turned to "assured destruction," which he characterized as the capability "to deter deliberate nuclear attack upon the United States and its allies by maintaining a highly reliable ability to inflict an unacceptable degree of damage upon any single aggressor, or combination of aggressors, even after absorbing a surprise first strike." As defined by McNamara, assured destruction meant that the United States would be able to destroy in retaliation 20 to 25 percent of the Soviet Union's population and 50 percent of its industrial capacity. Later the term Mutual Assured Destruction meant the capacity of each side to inflict sufficient damage on the other to constitute an effective deterrent. In conjunction with assured destruction McNamara stressed the importance of damage limitation, the use of strategic forces to limit damage to the nation's population and industrial capacity by attacking and diminishing the enemy's strategic offensive forces.

To make this strategy credible, McNamara sped up the modernization and expansion of weapon and delivery systems. He accelerated production and deployment of the solid-fuel Minuteman ICBMs and Polaris SLBMs and by FY 1966 had removed from operational status all of the older liquid-fuel Atlas and Titan I missiles. By the end of McNamara's tenure, the United States had deployed 54 Titan II and 1,000 Minuteman missiles on land, and 656 Polaris missiles on 41 nuclear submarines. The size of this long-range strategic missile force remained stable until the 1980s, although the number of warheads increased significantly as the MIRV (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle) system emerged in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

Other steps

McNamara took other steps to improve U.S. deterrence posture and military capabilities. He raised the portion of SAC strategic bombers on 15-minute ground alert from 25 percent to 50 percent, thus lessening their vulnerability to missile attack. In December 1961 he established the Strike Command (STRICOM). Authorized to draw forces when needed from the Strategic Army Corps (STRAC), the Tactical Air Command, and the airlift units of the Military Air Transport Service and the military services, Strike Command had the mission "to respond swiftly and with whatever force necessary to threats against the peace in any part of the world, reinforcing unified commands or… carrying out separate contingency operations." McNamara also increased long-range airlift and sealift capabilities and funds for space research and development. After reviewing the separate and often uncoordinated service efforts in intelligence and communications, McNamara in 1961 consolidated these functions in the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Defense Communications Agency (the latter originally established by Secretary Gates in 1960), having both report to the secretary of defense through the JCS. The end effect was to remove the Intelligence function from the control of the military and to put it under the absolute control of the Secretary of Defense. In the same year, he set up the Defense Supply Agency to work toward unified supply procurement, distribution, and inventory management under the control of the Secretary of Defense rather than the uniformed military.

McNamara's institution of systems analysis as a basis for making key decisions on force requirements, weapon systems, and other matters occasioned much debate. Two of its main practitioners during the McNamara era, Alain C. Enthoven and K. Wayne Smith, described the concept as follows: "First, the word 'systems' indicates that every decision should be considered in as broad a context as necessary… The word 'analysis' emphasizes the need to reduce a complex problem to its component parts for better understanding. Systems analysis takes a complex problem and sorts out the tangle of significant factors so that each can be studied by the method most appropriate to it." Enthoven and Smith said they used mainly civilians as systems analysts because they could apply independent points of view to force planning. McNamara's tendency to take military advice into account less than had previous secretaries and to override military opinions contributed to his unpopularity with service leaders. It was also generally thought that Systems Analysis, rather than being objective, was tailored by the civilians to support decisions that McNamara had already made.

The most notable example of systems analysis was the Planning, Programming and Budgeting System (PPBS) instituted by United States Department of Defense Comptroller Charles J. Hitch. McNamara directed Hitch to analyze defense requirements systematically and produce a long-term, program-oriented Defense budget. PPBS evolved to become the heart of the McNamara management program. According to Enthoven and Smith, the basic ideas of PPBS were: "the attempt to put defense program issues into a broader context and to search for explicit measures of national need and adequacy"; "consideration of military needs and costs together"; "explicit consideration of alternatives at the top decision level"; "the active use of an analytical staff at the top policymaking levels"; "a plan combining both forces and costs which projected into the future the foreseeable implications of current decisions"; and "open and explicit analysis, that is, each analysis should be made available to all interested parties, so that they can examine the calculations, data, and assumptions and retrace the steps leading to the conclusions." In practice, the data produced by the analysis was so large and so complex that while it was available to all interested parties, none of them could challenge the conclusions.

Among the management tools developed to implement PPBS were the Five Year Defense Plan (FYDP), the Draft Presidential Memorandum (DPM), the Readiness, Information and Control Tables, and the Development Concept Paper (DCP). The annual FYDP was a series of tables projecting forces for eight years and costs and manpower for five years in mission-oriented, rather than individual service, programs. By 1968, the FYDP covered 10 military areas: strategic forces, general purpose forces, intelligence and communications, airlift and sealift, guard and reserve forces, research and development, central supply and maintenance, training and medical services, administration and related activities, and support of other nations.

The DPM, intended for the White House and usually prepared by the systems analysis office, was a method to study and analyze major Defense issues. Sixteen DPMs appeared between 1961 and 1968 on such topics as strategic offensive and defensive forces, NATO strategy and force structure, military assistance, and tactical air forces. OSD sent the DPMs to the services and the JCS for comment; in making decisions, McNamara included in the DPM a statement of alternative approaches, force levels, and other factors. The DPM in its final form became a decision document. The DPM was hated by the JCS and uniformed military in that it cut their ability to communicate directly to the White House. The DPMs were also disliked because the systems analysis process was so heavyweight that it was impossible for any service to effectively challenge its conclusions.

The Development Concept Paper examined performance, schedule, cost estimates, and technical risks to provide a basis for determining whether to begin or continue a research and development program. But in practice, what it proved to be was a cost burden that became a barrier to entry for companies attempting to deal with the military. It aided the trend toward a few large non-competitive defense contractors serving the military. Rather than serving any useful purpose, the overhead necessary to generate information that was often in practice ignored resulted in increased costs throughout the system.

The Readiness, Information, and Control Tables provided data on specific projects, more detailed than in the FYDP, such as the tables for the Southeast Asia Deployment Plan, which recorded by month and quarter the schedule for deployment, consumption rates, and future projections of U.S. forces in Southeast Asia.


Toward the end of his term McNamara also opposed an antiballistic missile (ABM) system proposed for installation in the United States, arguing that it would be too expensive (at least $40 billion) and ultimately ineffective, because the Soviets would increase their offensive capability to offset the defensive advantage of the United States. Under pressure to proceed with the ABM program after it became clear that the Soviets had begun a similar project, McNamara finally agreed to a "thin" system, but he never believed it wise for the United States to move in that direction.

He always believed that the best defense strategy for the US was a parity of mutually assured destruction with the Soviet Union. An ABM system would be an ineffective weapon as compared to an increase in deployed nuclear missile capacity.


Despite serious problems, McNamara initiated and continued the TFX (later General Dynamics F-111) aircraft. He believed that Navy and Air Force requirements for a new tactical fighter could best be met by development of a common aircraft. After extensive study of the recommendations of a joint Air Force–Navy evaluation board, McNamara awarded the TFX contract to General Dynamics. The decision, based on cost-effectiveness and efficiency considerations, irritated the chief of naval operations and the Air Force chief of staff, both of whom preferred separate new fighters for their services and Boeing as the contractor. Because of high cost overruns, trouble in meeting performance objectives, flight test crashes, and difficulties in adapting the plane to Navy use, the TFX's future became more and more uncertain. The Navy dropped its version in 1968. Some of McNamara's critics in the services and Congress labeled the TFX a failure. While versions of the F-111 remained in Air Force service two decades after McNamara decided to produce them, the plane had failed in its goal of being a joint tactical fighter and was considered by many to not be the fighter it might have been had the Air Force been able to design a plane to its requirements alone.

Cost Reductions

McNamara's staff stressed systems analysis as an aid in decision making on weapon development and many other budget issues. The secretary believed that the United States could afford any amount needed for national security, but that "this ability does not excuse us from applying strict standards of effectiveness and efficiency to the way we spend our defense dollars…. You have to make a judgment on how much is enough." Acting on these principles, McNamara instituted a much-publicized cost reduction program, which, he reported, saved $14 billion in the five-year period beginning in 1961. Although he had to withstand a storm of criticism from senators and representatives from affected congressional districts, he closed many military bases and installations that he judged unnecessary to national security. He was equally determined about other cost-saving measures. But in the end, most of the cost savings were illusionary. Every base he closed resulted in a new construction project elsewhere to expand another base, relocation of forces projects and other related spending. The actual cost savings through consolidation of installations was often minimal or in some cases negative.

Because of the nuclear arms race, the Vietnam War buildup, and McNamara's other pet projects, total obligational authority increased greatly during the McNamara years. Fiscal year TOA increased from $48.4 billion in 1962 to $49.5 billion in 1965 (before the major Vietnam increases) to $74.9 billion in 1968, McNamara's last year in office. Not until FY 1984 did DoD's total obligational authority surpass that of FY 1968 in constant dollars.


The Vietnam conflict came to claim most of McNamara's time and energy. The Truman and Eisenhower administrations had committed the United States to support the French and native anti-Communist forces in Vietnam in resisting efforts by the Communists in the North to control the country. The U.S. role, including financial support and military advice, expanded after 1954 when the French withdrew. During the Kennedy administration, the U.S. military advisory group in South Vietnam steadily increased, with McNamara's concurrence, from just a few hundred to about 17,000. U.S. involvement escalated after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in August 1964 when North Vietnamese naval vessels reportedly fired on two U.S. destroyers. President Johnson ordered retaliatory air strikes on North Vietnamese naval bases and Congress approved almost unanimously the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the president "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the U.S. and to prevent further aggression."

In 1965, in response to stepped up military activity by the nationalist (anti-American) Viet Cong in South Vietnam and their North Vietnamese allies, the United States began bombing North Vietnam, deployed large military forces, and entered into combat in South Vietnam. McNamara's plan, supported by requests from top U.S. military commanders in Vietnam led to the commitment of 485,000 troops by the end of 1967 and almost 535,000 by 30 June 1968. The casualty lists mounted as the number of troops and the intensity of fighting escalated. Against the views of many of the top leaders in the military, McNamara put in place a statistical strategy for victory in Vietnam. He concluded that there were a limited number of Viet Cong fighters in Vietnam and that a war of attrition would destroy them. He applied metrics (body counts) to determine how close to success his plan was.

Although he was a prime architect of the Vietnam War and repeatedly overruled the JCS on strategic matters, McNamara years later claimed that he had gradually become skeptical about whether the war could be won by deploying more troops to South Vietnam and intensifying the bombing of North Vietnam. None of his contemporaries remember him being anything other than an enthusiastic supporter of the war. He also has often claimed that his support of the Vietnam war was done out of "loyalty" to "administration policy". He traveled to Vietnam many times to study the situation firsthand. He became increasingly reluctant to approve the large force increments requested by the military commanders but offered little in the way of alternatives. To his critics, he refused to accept the failure of his plans (and methods) for winning the war.

Departure from DoD

As McNamara grew more and more controversial after 1966 and his differences with the president and the JCS over Vietnam strategy became the subject of public speculation, frequent rumors surfaced that he would leave office. In early November 1967, McNamara's recommendation to freeze troop levels, stop bombing North Vietnam and for the US to hand over ground fighting to South Vietnam was rejected outright by President Lyndon B. Johnson. McNamara's recommendations amounted to him saying that all the policies he had been promoting for years were wrong and that his strategy for winning the war was a failure. Given that he had been forcing decisions with regard to the war on the JCS, he was left discredited and without any remaining support. Lyndon Johnson was dismayed that the man who had created the strategy for the war and supported it at every step had almost overnight changed his mind. McNamara seemed blind to the political and practical consequences of reversing policy. Largely as a result, on November 29 of that year, McNamara announced his pending resignation and that he would become president of the World Bank. Other factors were the increasing intensity of the antiwar movement in the United States, the approaching presidential campaign, in which Johnson was expected to seek reelection and McNamara's support over opposition by the JCS of construction along the 17th parallel separating South and North Vietnam of a line of fortifications running from the coast of Vietnam into Laos. The president's announcement of McNamara's move to the World Bank stressed his stated interest in the job and that he deserved a change after seven years as secretary of defense, much longer than any of his predecessors.

Other sources give a different view of McNamara's departure from office. For example, Stanley Karnow in his book Vietnam:a history strongly suggests that he was asked to leave by the President.

McNamara left office on 29 February 1968; for his efforts, the president awarded him both the Medal of Freedom and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Shortly after McNamara departed the Pentagon, he published The Essence of Security, discussing various aspects of his tenure and his position on basic national security issues. He did not speak out again on defense issues until after he left the World Bank. He did not explain or defend his decisions about Vietnam in the book or during his years at the World Bank.

McNamara's Responsibility

McNamara was despised by both the peace movement of the Sixties and by many in the military.

He was once criticized as a "human IBM machine," a cold hearted bureaucrat who cared more for computerized statistical logic than for human judgements. Among his other sarcastic nicknames were "Mack the Knife," "arrogant dictator" or just "an IBM machine with legs." Most political observers saw him as a political hawk.

He was despised by many military officers for his micromanagement of the Vietnam War. To them, he was a businessman who thought wars could be run in the same way that factories were. The "body count" and attrition warfare strategies used in the Vietnam war came directly from his attempting to apply his flawed statistical logic worldview to the battlefield. While a capable administrator, he over-reached into the planning of military operations and is held accountable by some for many of the strategic failures of the Vietnam War.

His failure to accept responsiblity for his own actions makes some critics very angry. He is also despised for trying to play both sides of the fence in being at the same time the architect of the War in Vietnam and simultaneously an advocate of peace in the administration after he left. He is also disliked by many for his inability to offer any kind of rational explanation for the decision process that led to the Vietnam War. For all his systems analysis, statistics, data and infalliable calculations, he was unable or unwilling to explain what had gone wrong.

On the other hand, a congressman who had helped shape the National Security Act in 1947 stated when McNamara left the Pentagon that he "has come nearer [than anyone else] to being exactly what we planned a Secretary of Defense to be when we first wrote the Unification Act."

Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote, "Except for General Marshall I do not know of any department head who, during the half century I have observed government in Washington, has so profoundly enhanced the position, power and security of the United States as Mr. McNamara."

The The Fog of War movie poster, featuring an aged McNamara.

Journalist Hanson W. Baldwin cited an impressive list of McNamara accomplishments:

  • containment of the more damaging aspects of service rivalry;
  • significant curtailment of duplication and waste in weapon development;
  • institution of systems analysis and the PPBS;
  • application of computer technology;
  • elimination of obsolescent military posts and facilities; and
  • introduction of a flexible strategy, which among other things improved U.S. capacity to wage conventional and limited wars.

Others could produce a very different list:

  • Failed attempts at weapons consolidation which gave two services an aircraft that met the needs of neither and cost lives in combat over Vietnam.
  • a nuclear missile arms race with the Soviet Union
  • An over-emphasis on strategic weapons over weapons necessary to fight conventional wars
  • Refusing to listen to the military leadership on strategy questions in Vietnam
  • Being blind to the changing nature of the war in Vietnam from 1965 onward from an unconventional struggle against the Viet Cong to a conventional war with the army of North Vietnam.
  • Wasting money and lives in Vietnam attempting to construct a wall along the northern border of South Vietnam
  • Developing the plan to win by "attrition" in Vietnam
  • Being blind to the need for a heavy bomber in non-nuclear roles.
  • Leading the armed forces of the United States into a military disaster in Vietnam.
  • Shifting the blame to the military leadership for the failure of his own plans

Although McNamara had many differences with military leaders and members of Congress, few could deny that he had had a powerful impact on the Defense Department, and that much of what he had done would be a lasting legacy. Few also could possibly deny that he was responsible for a great many decisions that led his country into a disastrous full scale war in Vietnam and that he left his post discredited.

World Bank

McNamara served as head of the World Bank from April 1968 to June 1981, when he turned 65. In his thirteen years at the Bank, he introduced key changes. He negotiated with the conflicting countries represented in the Board a spectacular growth in funds to channel credits basically to development, in the form of health, food, and education projects. He also instituted better methods of evaluating the effectiveness of projects funded.

His term was seen as controversial by some as his policies led to what was called the third world debt crisis years later.

World Bank currently has a scholarship program under his name.

Post-World Bank activities

In 1982 McNamara joined several other former national security officials in urging that the United States pledge not to use nuclear weapons first in Europe in the event of hostilities; subsequently he proposed the elimination of nuclear weapons as an element of NATO's defense posture. His memoir, In Retrospect, published in 1995, presented an account and analysis of the Vietnam War from his point of view. Reviews were very mixed. In particular, many felt that while he was endlessly "sorry" for the Vietnam War, the book is full of endless shifting of blame to other people and attempts to transform his image from the architect of the war to some sort of opponent of the war. Also, Noam Chomsky points out that McNamara is "sorry" for the Vietnam War as being a waste of resources for the USA, without a clear gain. Not "sorry" for the war itself. He quotes McNamara himself from his memoir "In Retrospect": "We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation. We made our decisions in light of those values. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why. I truly believe that we made an error not of values and intentions, but of judgment and capabilities.". In other words according to McNamara the "principles" and "values" for attacking Vietnam were right, only the calculations were wrong.

A picture of McNamara's 1995 meeting with General Vo Nguyen Giap hangs in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, near pictures of John Kerry, Elmo Zumwalt, Warren Christopher, and other American dignitaries who visited Vietnam after normalization of relations between the two countries. [1] [2] (see photo #10 (Giap incorrectly identified as Mao))

During their 1995 meeting, Gen. Giap asked McNamara, how a country so rich could not afford history books, because Vietnam had no intention of becoming a Chinese puppet, evidence being the epic 1000 year war between China and Vietnam for independence. (paraphrased from McNamara in The Fog of War)

McNamara has maintained his involvement in politics during recent years, delivering statements critical of the Bush administration's 2003 invasion of Iraq. [3] In the 1980s, he was highly critical of the defense and Cold War policies of the Reagan Administration.

On January 5, 2006, McNamara and most living former Secretaries of Defence and Secretaries of State met briefly at the White House with President Bush, to discuss the War in Iraq.

The Fog of War

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara is a 2003 Errol Morris documentary consisting mostly of interviews with Robert McNamara and archival footage. It received an Academy Award for Documentary Feature.

Personal Information

McNamara married Margaret Craig, his teenage sweetheart, in 1940. The couple had two daughters and a son. Margaret, a former teacher, used her position as a Cabinet spouse to launch a reading program for young children, Reading Is Fundamental, which became the largest literacy program in the country. She died in 1981, of cancer. After his wife's death, McNamara dated Katharine Graham, with whom he had been friends since the early Sixties. According to Graham's autobiography, she and McNamara had planned to be traveling in California with two other friends (a married couple) on her 70th birthday, in 1987, so she could avoid any birthday celebration in Washington. Graham died in 2001. In September 2004, McNamara wed Diana Masieri Byfield, an Italian-born widow who had lived in the United States for more than 40 years. It was also her second marriage.[4]


  • Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century (2001)
  • Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy (1999)
  • Brian VanDemark. 1995, 1996. In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. ISBN 0679767495.
Personal tools