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The Fog Of Robert McNamara


I was on the ferry some years ago from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard and a friend motioned towards a certain spot in the water.

"That’s where they wanted to do it," I was told.

"Do what," I asked?

Throw Robert McNamara, then a summer resident on the Vineyard, off the ship and into the water.

They never did it.

In the minds of a generation, it was that genius that convinced the country and his bosses, JFK and LBJ, that he/we could win the Vietnam War.

Mac The Knife was a briefer’s briefer, great at pointing at maps, with all the self assurance of a former President at the Ford Motor Company. He was the ultimate smartie. (Actually he would have been pleased by what Obama did yesterday in Moscow in meeting with the Ruskies about limiting nuclear weapons.)

He died at 93 early yesterday, and despite all of his "good deeds" and stint at the World Bank, he would always be known as the architect of the Vietnam War. His middle name was STRANGE, Robert Strange McNamara.

Never mind it was Ho Chi Minh who launched the wars of liberation after the American government turned down his bid for help against the French and who patterned Viet Nam’s Declaration of Independence after our own . Ho died in 79 and is still revered for reunifying his company and teaching various imperialists that his country was not to be fucked with. (I visited the mausoleum in Hanoi with "Uncle" Ho’s remains. It was mobbed by a constant stream of visitors. How many will visit Bob’s grave site?)

McNamara returned to his Waterloo (Hanoi) some years back for a conference on the "lessons of the war" with General Giap, the winner, and several American Generals, the losers. He was challenged by the feisty Vietnamese American documentary director, Tiana [Thi Thanh Nga], who made "From Hollywood to Hanoi" and other films for all the deaths he caused. There is precious footage of him freaking out and arrogantly lecturing her. The Vietnamese government was too diplomatic to express its rage.

In Vietnam, today they speak of the AMERICAN War, not the Vietnam War. If you missed it, you should see THE FOG OF WAR about McNamara’s role in the war and his unwillingness to admit that it was a crime.

Brad Schreiber writes about the film on Huntington Post McNamara’s "lessons" in Fog of War take on a greater significance when applied to the current military action in Iraq and its corresponding connection to a Southeast Asian conflict that resulted in more than 58,000 American and 3.4 million Vietnamese dead. Morris feels the associations will be made and thus does not refer to current geopolitics in the documentary: "… For me, the meaning of the story is that when you have a predisposition to see something, you can ignore endless evidence to the contrary. And you can even imagine confirming evidence. That’s the worst of it. It was in service of this theme, believing is seeing, which as we all know has currency for our particular time in history, because regardless of whether this is a replay of Vietnam or something very different, there are identifiable themes here.

David Halberstam: Dead Wrong a review of McNamara’s book, IN RETROSPECT: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam [1995]

Robert McNamara says he miscalculated our chances in Vietnam, but what’s not in his book is as telling as what is.

In these surprisingly bloodless, carefully sanitized pages, McNamara is like a player at the poker table who, when the game is over still refuses to show his cards. The book is almost devoid of mood, insight and spiritual texture. He does not reveal his own feelings at that terrible moment in 1967 when he realized that his military calculations were wrong, that thousands and thousands of Americans and Vietnamese were dying each week and that, of all the things that he had done in a seemingly admirable career, he would be remembered more than anything else for Vietnam. This is not his way; there are no feelings here. We will never even know if he has ever visited the Vietnam Memorial.


"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." -Clarence Darrow (18571938)

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.


News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books).

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