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Posted by on Feb 1, 2007 in At TMV | 81 comments

Literary Quote of the Day: Robert S. McNamara


There may be no more tragic figure in modern American political history than Robert S. McNamara.

As secretary of defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, he was vilified for the Vietnam War much as Donald Rumsfeld was vilified for the war in Iraq a generation later.

But unlike Rumsfeld, McNamara (b. 1916) is a deeply thoughtful man. And also unlike Rumsfeld (at least so far), he came to understand the key role he played in the Vietnam disaster and became deeply and publicly apologetic about it.

McNamara’s mea culpa is summed up in one of the essential books on the war, “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam� (1995).

Herwith a quote from the book that is all the more compelling because of the situation another president finds himself in today:

“Why did President Johnson not force a full and open debate on issues that so sharply and clearly divided his most senior advisers? Perhaps his failure was rooted in his realization that the problem of Vietnam was intractable, that there was no satisfactory solution – no way to bring his advisers to consensus. Perhaps he saw clearly that the decision about changing the war’s direction rested with him – and it was a decision he could not bring himself to make.�

(That’s McNamara at right in the photo along with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and LBJ.)

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