Robert McNamara

Last updated
Robert McNamara
Robert McNamara official portrait.jpg
President of the World Bank Group
In office
April 1, 1968 July 1, 1981
Preceded by George Woods
Succeeded by Tom Clausen
8th United States Secretary of Defense
In office
January 21, 1961 February 29, 1968 [1]
President John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Deputy Roswell Gilpatric
Cyrus Vance
Paul Nitze
Preceded by Thomas Gates
Succeeded by Clark Clifford
Personal details
Robert Strange McNamara

(1916-06-09)June 9, 1916
San Francisco, California, U.S.
DiedJuly 6, 2009(2009-07-06) (aged 93)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Republican (Before 1978) [2]
Democratic (1978–2009) [2]
m. 1940;died 1981)

Diana Masieri Byfield
m. 2004)
Children3 (including Craig)
Education University of California, Berkeley (BA)
Harvard University (MBA)
Signature Robert S McNamara Signature.svg
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Branch/service Seal of the United States Department of War.png United States Army
Years of service1940–1946
Rank US Army O5 shoulderboard rotated.svg US-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant colonel
Unit US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg U.S. Army Air Forces

Robert Strange McNamara (June 9, 1916 – July 6, 2009) was an American business executive and the eighth United States Secretary of Defense, serving from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He played a major role in escalating the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. [3] McNamara was responsible for the institution of systems analysis in public policy, which developed into the discipline known today as policy analysis. [4]


He was born in San Francisco, California, graduated from UC Berkeley and Harvard Business School and served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. After the war, Henry Ford II hired McNamara and a group of other Army Air Force veterans to work for Ford Motor Company. These "Whiz Kids" helped reform Ford with modern planning, organization, and management control systems. After briefly serving as Ford's president, McNamara accepted appointment as Secretary of Defense.

McNamara became a close adviser to Kennedy and advocated the use of a blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy and McNamara instituted a Cold War defense strategy of flexible response, which anticipated the need for military responses short of massive retaliation. McNamara consolidated intelligence and logistics functions of the Pentagon into two centralized agencies: the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Defense Supply Agency. During the Kennedy administration, McNamara presided over a build-up of US soldiers in South Vietnam. After the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, the number of US soldiers in Vietnam escalated dramatically. McNamara and other US policymakers feared that the fall of South Vietnam to a Communist regime would lead to the fall of other governments in the region. In October 1966, he launched Project 100,000, the lowering of army IQ standards which allowed 354,000 additional men to be recruited, despite criticism that they were not suited to working in high stress or dangerous environments. The large presence of American troops on R&R and working on air bases [5] in Thailand turned the country into a sex tourism destination, which was condoned and sanctioned by McNamara. [6] [7]

McNamara grew increasingly skeptical of the efficacy of committing American troops to Vietnam. In 1968, he resigned as Secretary of Defense to become President of the World Bank. He remains the longest serving Secretary of Defense, having remained in office over seven years. He served as President of the World Bank until 1981, shifting the focus of the World Bank towards poverty reduction. After retiring, he served as a trustee of several organizations, including the California Institute of Technology and the Brookings Institution. In his later writings and interviews, he expressed regret for the decisions he made during the Vietnam War.

Early life and career

Robert McNamara was born in San Francisco, California. [3] His father was Robert James McNamara, sales manager of a wholesale shoe company, and his mother was Clara Nell (Strange) McNamara. [8] [9] [10] His father's family was Irish and, in about 1850, following the Great Irish Famine, had emigrated to the U.S., first to Massachusetts and later to California. [11] He graduated from Piedmont High School in Piedmont, California in 1933, where he was president of the Rigma Lions boys club [12] and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. McNamara attended the University of California, Berkeley and graduated in 1937 with a B.A. in economics with minors in mathematics and philosophy. He was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, [13] was elected to Phi Beta Kappa his sophomore year, and earned a varsity letter in crew. McNamara before commissioning into the Army Air Force, was a Cadet in the Golden Bear Battalion at U.C. Berkeley [14] McNamara was also a member of the UC Berkeley's Order of the Golden Bear which was a fellowship of students and leading faculty members formed to promote leadership within the student body. He then attended Harvard Business School, where he earned an M.B.A. in 1939.

Immediately thereafter, McNamara worked a year for the accounting firm Price Waterhouse in San Francisco. He returned to Harvard in August 1940 to teach accounting in the Business School and became the institution's highest-paid and youngest assistant professor at that time. [15] Following his involvement there in a program to teach analytical approaches used in business to officers of the United States Army Air Forces, he entered the USAAF as a captain in early 1943, serving most of World War II with its Office of Statistical Control. One of his major responsibilities was the analysis of U.S. bombers' efficiency and effectiveness, especially the B-29 forces commanded by Major General Curtis LeMay in India, China, and the Mariana Islands. [16] McNamara established a statistical control unit for the XX Bomber Command and devised schedules for B-29s doubling as transports for carrying fuel and cargo over The Hump. He left active duty in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant colonel and with a Legion of Merit.

Ford Motor Company

In 1946, Tex Thornton, a colonel under whom McNamara had served, put together a group of former officers from the Office of Statistical Control to go into business together. Thornton had seen an article in Life magazine portraying Ford as being in dire need of reform. Henry Ford II, himself a World War II veteran from the Navy, hired the entire group of 10, including McNamara.

The "Whiz Kids", as they came to be known, helped the money-losing company reform its chaotic administration through modern planning, organization, and management control systems. The origins of the phrase "The Whiz Kids" can be explained as follows. Because of their youth, combined with asking lots of questions, Ford employees initially and disparagingly, referred to them as the "Quiz Kids". The Quiz Kids rebranded themselves as the "Whiz Kids".

Starting as manager of planning and financial analysis, McNamara advanced rapidly through a series of top-level management positions. McNamara had Ford adopt computers to construct models to find the most efficient, rational means of production, which led to much rationalization. [17] McNamara's style of "scientific management" with his use of computer spreadsheets featuring graphs showing trends in the auto industry were regarded as extremely innovative in the 1950s and were much copied by other executives in the following decades. [17] In his 1995 memoirs, McNamara wrote: "I had spent fifteen years as a manager [at Ford] identifying problems and forcing organizations-often against their will-to think deeply and realistically about alternative courses of action and their consequences". [17] He was a force behind the Ford Falcon sedan, introduced in the fall of 1959—a small, simple and inexpensive-to-produce counter to the large, expensive vehicles prominent in the late 1950s. McNamara placed a high emphasis on safety: the Lifeguard options package introduced the seat belt (a novelty at the time) and a dished steering wheel, which helped to prevent the driver from being impaled on the steering column during a collision. [18]

After the Lincoln line's very large 1958, 1959, and 1960 models proved unpopular, McNamara pushed for smaller versions, such as the 1961 Lincoln Continental.

On November 9, 1960, McNamara became the first president of Ford Motor Company from outside the Ford family.

Secretary of Defense

President John F. Kennedy and McNamara, 1962 President meets with Secretary of Defense. President Kennedy, Secretary McNamara. White House, Cabinet Room - NARA - 194244.jpg
President John F. Kennedy and McNamara, 1962
United States Civil Defense booklet Fallout Protection commissioned by McNamara Falloutprotection.jpg
United States Civil Defense booklet Fallout Protection commissioned by McNamara

After his election in 1960, President-elect John F. Kennedy first offered the post of Secretary of Defense to Robert A. Lovett, who had already served in that position in the Truman administration; Lovett declined but recommended McNamara. Kennedy had read about McNamara and his career in a Time magazine article on December 2, 1960, and interviewed him six days later on December 8, with his brother and right-hand man Robert F. Kennedy also being present. [19] McNamara told Kennedy that he didn't know anything about government, to which Kennedy replied: "We can learn our jobs together. I don't know how to be president either". [19] McNamara had read Kennedy's ghostwritten book Profiles in Courage and asked him if he had really written it himself, with Kennedy insisting that he did. [19] McNamara's confidence and self-assurance impressed Kennedy. [20] Kennedy offered McNamara the chance to be either Secretary of Defense or Secretary of the Treasury; McNamara came back a week later, accepting the post of Secretary of Defense on the condition of having the right of final approval in all appointments to the Department of Defense, with Kennedy replying: "It's a deal". [19] McNamara's salary as the CEO of Ford ran to some $3 million dollars per year while by contrast the position of the Defense Secretary paid only $25,000 per year. [21] Given the financial sacrifices, McNamara was able to insist to Kennedy that he have the right to appoint his officials and run the Pentagon his own way. [22]  

According to Special Counsel Ted Sorensen, Kennedy regarded McNamara as the "star of his team, calling upon him for advice on a wide range of issues beyond national security, including business and economic matters." [23] McNamara became one of the few members of the Kennedy Administration to work and socialize with Kennedy, and he became close to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, eventually serving as a pallbearer at the younger Kennedy's funeral in 1968. [24]

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 U.S. 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 U.S. initiated by McNamara in 1961 came a decision to increase the nation's "limited warfare" capabilities. These moves were significant because McNamara was abandoning President Dwight D. 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.

The Kennedy administration placed particular emphasis on improving the 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.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, McNamara served as a member of EXCOMM and played a large role in the Administration's handling and eventual defusing of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was a strong proponent of the blockade option over a missile strike and helped persuade the Joint Chiefs of Staff to agree with the blockade option.

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 War) and 1961, it increased to nearly 2,808,000 by June 30, 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. [25] Kennedy, who was fascinated with counterinsurgency warfare, made a major push to develop the Special Forces, popularly known as the Green Berets. [26] The U.S. Army leadership was for the most part strongly opposed to the counterinsurgency vogue, and stoutly resisted the presidential pressure for more counterinsurgency training and forces. [27] The U.S. Army for reasons of bureaucratic politics, budgetary reasons and sheer pride wanted to be equipped to fight a conventional war in central Europe against the Red Army with a large number of divisions armed with expensive hi-tech weapons designed for maximum firepower, instead of having small teams of Special Forces armed with relatively low tech weapons like assault rifles fight in a Third World country. [27]

Nuclear Strategy –– Triad Doctrine

When McNamara took over the Pentagon in 1961, the United States military relied on an all-out nuclear strike to respond to a Soviet attack of any kind, which would kill Soviet military forces and civilians. This was the same nuclear strategy planned by the Strategic Air Command (SAC), led by General Curtis LeMay. McNamara did not agree with this approach. He sought other options after seeing that this strategy could not guarantee the destruction of all Soviet nuclear weapons, thus leaving the United States vulnerable to retaliation. McNamara's alternative in the doctrine of counterforce was to try to limit the United States nuclear exchange by targeting only enemy military forces. [28] This would prevent retaliation and escalation by holding Soviet cities hostage to a follow-up strike. McNamara later concluded that counterforce was not likely to control escalation but to provoke retaliation. The U.S. nuclear policy remained the same.

Other steps

McNamara took other steps to increase U.S. deterrence posture and military capabilities. He raised the proportion of Strategic Air Command (SAC) strategic bombers on 15-minute ground alert from 25% to 50%, thus lessening their vulnerability to missile attack. In December 1961, he established the United States 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 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.

NATO Military Committee chairman General Adolf Heusinger meeting with McNamara at the Pentagon, 1964 Adolf Heusinger Robert S. McNamara.jpg
NATO Military Committee chairman General Adolf Heusinger meeting with McNamara at the Pentagon, 1964

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 less account 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. [29] [ citation needed ]

The most notable example[ citation needed ] [30] 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. [31]

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 ten 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.

Kennedy and McNamara with Iran's Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in April 1962 Meeting with the Shah of Iran. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, President Kennedy, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.... - NARA - 194206.jpg
Kennedy and McNamara with Iran's Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in April 1962

The Draft Presidential Memorandum (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 Joint Chief of Staff (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. [29] [ citation needed ] 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. [29] [ citation needed ]

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. [32] 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. [32] [ citation needed ]

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.

Cuban Missile Crisis

President Kennedy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and McNamara in October 1962 Meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council- Cuba Crisis. President Kennedy, Secretary of... - NARA - 194246.jpg
President Kennedy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and McNamara in October 1962

The Cuban Missile Crisis was between the United States and the Soviet Union lasting for 13 days in October 1962. During this time, Robert McNamara was serving as Secretary of Defense and one of John F. Kennedy's trusted advisors. When Kennedy received confirmation of the placement of offensive soviet missiles in Cuba, he immediately set up 'Executive Committee', referred to as 'ExComm'. This committee included United States government officials, including Robert McNamara, to advise Kennedy on the crisis. Kennedy instructed ExComm to immediately come up with a response to the Soviet threat unanimously without him present.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff favored launching air strikes against the Soviet missile sites in Cuba, an opinion that McNamara did not hold and advised Kennedy against the chiefs, warning that air strikes would almost certainly be crossing the Rubicon. [33] McNamara's relations with the hawkish Joint Chiefs of Staff had been strained during the crisis, and his relations with Admiral George Anderson and General Curtis LeMay were especially testy. [34] Both Admiral Anderson and General LeMay had favored invading Cuba, welcomed the prospect of a war with Soviet Union under the grounds that a war with the Soviet Union was inevitable, and whose attitudes towards Kennedy and McNamara had verged on insubordination. [34] Admiral Anderson had at a one point ordered McNamara out of the Naval Operations Room, saying that as a civilian he was unqualified to be making decisions about naval matters, leading McNamara to say that he was the Defense Secretary and Anderson was unqualified to be ordering him to do anything. [34]  

During this time it was confirmed the crisis had to be resolved within 48 hours by receiving two messages from Nikita Khrushchev. The first message, an informal one, stated if the United States guaranteed to not invade Cuba then they would take the missiles out. The second message, a more formal one, was broadcast on the radio stating if the United States attacked then Cuba was prepared to retaliate with masses of military power. Although American defense planning focused on using nuclear weapons, Kennedy and McNamara saw it was clear the use of strategic weapons could be suicidal. [35] On Tuesday October 16, ExComm had their first meeting. The majority of officials favored an air attack on Cuba in hopes to destroy the missile sites, although the vote was not unanimous which brought them to other alternatives. By the end of the week, ExComm came up with four different alternative strategies to present to the president: a blockade, an air strike, an invasion, or some combination of these. [36] These actions are known as OPLAN 312, OPLAN 314 and OPLAN 316. A quarantine was a way to prevent the Soviets from bringing any military equipment in or out of Cuba. [35] During the final review of both alternatives on Sunday, October 21, upon Kennedy's request, McNamara presented the argument against the attack and for the quarantine. On Wednesday, October 24 at 10:00 a.m. EDT, the quarantine line around Cuba went into effect. Following Cuba's aftermath, McNamara stated, "There is no such thing as strategy, only crisis management." [35]

After the crisis McNamara recommended to Kennedy that Admiral Anderson and General LeMay be sacked. [34] However, Kennedy was afraid of a Congressional backlash if he sacked two of the chiefs at once. [37] Moreover, Kennedy did not wish for his disagreements with the Joint Chiefs to become public and felt that sacking two of the chiefs at once would lead to speculation in the media about such a disagreement. Kennedy told McNamara: "All right, You can fire one. Which one will it be?" [37] Without hesitation, McNamara answered "Anderson". [37] Later on in 1963, a White House release announced that Admiral Anderson was the new American ambassador to Portugal. [37]  

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 for national security. He was equally determined about other cost-saving measures. [38]

Due to the nuclear arms race, the Vietnam War buildup and other projects, Total Obligational Authority (TOA) increased greatly during the McNamara years. Fiscal year TOA increased from $48.4 billion in 1962 (equal to $314 billion in 2018) to $49.5 ($307) billion in 1965 (before the major Vietnam increases) to $74.9 ($421) billion in 1968, McNamara's last year in office (though he left office in February). [39] Not until FY 1984 did DoD's total obligational authority surpass that of FY 1968 in constant dollars.[ citation needed ]

Program consolidation

One major hallmark of McNamara's cost reductions was the consolidation of programs from different services, most visibly in aircraft acquisition, believing that the redundancy created waste and unnecessary spending. McNamara directed the Air Force to adopt the Navy's F-4 Phantom and A-7 Corsair combat aircraft, a consolidation that was quite successful. Conversely, his actions in mandating a premature across-the-board adoption of the untested M16 rifle proved catastrophic when the weapons began to fail in combat, though later congressional investigations revealed the causes of these failures as negligence and borderline sabotage on behalf of the Army ordnance corps' officers. McNamara tried to extend his success by merging development programs as well, resulting in the TFX dual service project to combine Navy requirements for a Fleet Air Defense (FAD) aircraft [40] and Air Force requirements for a tactical bomber. His experience in the corporate world led him to believe that adopting a single type for different missions and service would save money. He insisted on the General Dynamics entry over the DOD's preference for Boeing because of commonality issues. Though heralded as a fighter that could do everything (fast supersonic dash, slow carrier and short airfield landings, tactical strike and even close air support), in the end it involved too many compromises to succeed at any of them. The Navy version was drastically overweight and difficult to land, and eventually canceled after a Grumman study showed it was incapable of matching the abilities of the newly revealed Soviet MiG-23 and MiG-25 aircraft. The F-111 would eventually find its niche as a tactical bomber and electronic warfare aircraft with the Air Force.[ citation needed ]

However, many analysts believe that even though the TFX project itself was a failure, McNamara was ahead of his time as the trend in fighter design has continued toward consolidation — the F-16 Falcon and F/A-18 Hornet emerged as multi-role fighters, and most modern designs combine many of the roles the TFX would have had. In many ways, the Joint Strike Fighter is seen as a rebirth of the TFX project, in that it purports to satisfy the needs of three American air arms (as well as several foreign customers), fulfilling the roles of strike fighter, carrier-launched fighter, V/STOL, and close air support (and drawing many criticisms similar to those leveled against the TFX). [41]

Vietnam War

Into Vietnam

McNamara pointing to a map of Vietnam at a press conference in April 1965 Robert McNamera pointing to a map of Vietnam at a press conference, 1965.JPG
McNamara pointing to a map of Vietnam at a press conference in April 1965
McNamara, South Vietnamese PM Nguyen Cao Ky and President Johnson in Honolulu in February 1966 Honolulu Conference, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky (South Vietnam), President... - NARA - 192497.tif
McNamara, South Vietnamese PM Nguyễn Cao Kỳ and President Johnson in Honolulu in February 1966

During President John F. Kennedy's term, while McNamara was Secretary of Defense, America's troops in South Vietnam increased from 900 to 16,000 advisers, [42] who were not supposed to engage in combat but rather to train the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). [43]

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 unify the country, though neither administration established actual combat forces in the war. The U.S. role—initially limited to financial support, military advice and covert intelligence gathering—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 900 to 16,000. [42] U.S. involvement escalated after the Gulf of Tonkin incidents in August 1964, involving two purported attacks on a U.S. Navy destroyer by North Vietnamese naval vessels. [44]

In the Kennedy administration, McNamara was closely allied in debates in the cabinet with Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State, with both favoring greater American support for South Vietnam. [45] In early 1961, McNamara spoke in favor of intervention in Laos, saying that six AT-6 planes owed by the Central Intelligence Agency could be fitted to carry 200-pound bombs, causing Rusk to shoot down that proposal saying his World War Two experiences in Burma had taught him that bombing was ineffective in the jungles and six planes were not enough. [46] In October 1961, when General Maxwell Taylor and Walt Whitman Rostow advised sending 8,000 American combat troops to South Vietnam, McNamara rejected that recommendation as inadequate, stating that 8,000 troops would "probably not tip the scales decisively", instead recommending to Kennedy that he send 6 divisions to South Vietnam, advice the president rejected. [47] In May 1962, McNamara paid his first visit to South Vietnam, where he told the press "every quantitative measurement...shows that we are winning the war". [48] Led by General Paul D. Harkins, the officers of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam altered a map that showed too much of South Vietnam under Viet Cong control, and massaged the statistics to make the Viet Cong appear weaker than what they were.. [49] McNamara's "quantitative" style based upon much number-crunching by computers about trends in Vietnam missed the human dimension such as popular views and attitudes in South Vietnam, and that the South Vietnamese president Ngô Đình Diệm favored a "divide and rule" strategy of having multiple government departments compete against one another as a way of staying in power. [48] Through McNamara had plans to intervene in Laos in 1961, by 1962 he had changed his mind. [50] During a discussion with General Lyman Lemnitzer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, McNamara had stumped him by asking what the United States would do in the event of several scenarios, none of which Lemnitzer and the chiefs were capable of answering. [50]  

In 1962, McNamara supported a plan for mass spraying of the rice fields with herbicides in the Phu Yen mountains to stave the Viet Cong out, a plan that was only stopped when W. Averell Harriman pointed out to Kennedy that the ensuring famine would kill thousands of innocent people. [51] In late 1962, McNamara ordered planning to withdraw the American advisers from South Vietnam in 1964 as according to Pentagon calculations the war should be won by then. [52] At the time, McNamara told Kennedy: "There is a new feeling of confidence that victory is possible". [53]  

On 2 January 1963, McNamara's rosy projections and assumptions based upon what his computers had told him about Vietnam were rudely shattered by the Battle of Ap Bac, that began when three Viet Cong (VC) companies were encircled by the ARVN's 7th Division in the village of Ap Bac. [54] Despite being outnumbered by a factor of 10-1 and being outgunned having only rifles compared to the 7th Division’s tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers and helicopters, the VC defeated the 7th Division in the ensuing battle and escaped into the jungle. [55] Colonel John Paul Vann, the American adviser attached to the 7th Division summed up the battle in a report in his usual earthy language as: "A miserable fucking performance, just like what it always is". [55] Vann, a colorful figure whose outspokenly blunt criticism of how the war was being fought made him a favorite of the media, was much disliked by McNamara, who did not appreciate the criticism as he continued to insist that the war was being won. [56]

Vann's reports criticizing Diệm's regime as corrupt and incompetent were most unwelcome to McNamara who contended that the reforms advocated by Vann were unnecessary. [57]   In March 1963, Vann resigned from the Army as he was informed that his career was over. After the Battle of Ap Bac, a debate began in the Kennedy cabinet about the viability of the Diệm regime, which was reinforced by the Buddhist crisis, which began in May 1963. [58] When the subject of supporting a coup against Diệm was first raised by Kennedy at a National Security Council meeting in August 1963, McNamara spoke in favor of retaining Diệm. [59] On 31 August 1963, Paul Kattenburg, a diplomat newly returned from Saigon suggested at meeting attend by Rusk, McNamarea and Vice President Johnson that the United States should end support for Diem and leave South Vietnam to own's fate. [60] McNamara was stoutly opposed to Kattenburg's suggestion, saying "we have been winning the war". [60]  

Unable to gain a consensus about what to do, in September 1963, Kennedy sent McNamara and General Taylor on a "fact-finding mission" to South Vietnam. [60] At a meeting in the Gia Long Palace, President Diem showed McNamara various graphs and charts that purported to be prove that the war was being won, a performance that convinced the war was as good as won. [61] Kennedy wanted a negative assessment of Diệm to justify supporting a coup, but McNamara and Taylor instead wrote about the "great progress" achieved by Diệm and confidently predicted that the "bulk" of the American advisers would leave in 1965 as by that point they predicted the VC insurgency would be crushed. [62] McNamara predicated that if Diệm continued his policies, by 1965 the insurgency would be "little more than organized banditry". [63] With the CIA and the ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. urging support for a coup while the Pentagon was opposed, Kennedy vacillated and finally being unable to make up his mind, gave the power of decision to Lodge. [64] Lodge, who detested Diệm, gave his approval to the generals plotting against him. [65]

On 1 November 1963, the coup was launched. [66] After the presidential palace was overrun in the fighting, Diệm was captured trying to flee Saigon and executed on 2 November 1963. [67] The new government in Saigon was headed by General Dương Văn Minh. On 22 November 1963, Kennedy was assassinated and succeeded by Lyndon Johnson. In December 1963, Johnson sent McNamara on another "fact-finding mission" to South Vietnam to assess General Minh's performance. [68] On 19 December 1963, McNamara reported the situation was "very disturbing" as the "current trends, unless reversed in the next two or three months, will lead to neutralization at best or more likely to a Communist-controlled state". [68] He also admitted that the computer models and statistics, which he had attached such importance to, were "grossly in error" with government control of rural areas had "in fact been a far extent than we realized" since July. [68] Regarding Minh's regime McNamara wrote at present "there is no organized government in South Vietnam". [68] Through McNamara admitted that the new regime was "indecisive and drifting", he advised Johnson to undertake "more forceful moves if the situation does not show early signs of improvement". [68] On 30 January 1964, General Minh was overthrown in a bloodless coup d'état by General Nguyễn Khánh. [69] The change in leadership did not affect the war. Lyman Kirkpatrick of the CIA reported in February 1964 after visiting Saigon that he was "shocked by the number of our people and of the military, even those whose job is always to say we are winning, who feel the tide is against us". [70] The same month saw a VC battalion in the Mekong Delta escaped from South Vietnamese troops, who had been rated as some of the very best in the ARVN by the American advisers who had trained them, a battle that underscored the problems in the ARVN. [70]

On 8 March 1964, McNamara visited South Vietnam to report to President Johnson about how well the new regime of Khánh was handling the war. [71] Upon landing in Saigon, McNamara told the press: "We shall stay for as long it takes to the battle against the Communist insurgents". [71] During his visit, McNamara spoke memorized phrases in mangled Vietnamese (McNamara kept forgetting that Vietnamese is a tonal language) in speeches praising Khánh as South Vietnam's "best possible leader". [72] McNamara always ended his speeches by shouting out what he thought was a phrase meaning "Long live a free Vietnam!", but as he using the wrong tones instead said "Vietnam, go to sleep!" [73] McNamara pressed Khánh to put South Vietnam on a war footing by conscripting all able-bodied young men into the military, which he promised he would do. [74] Khánh did not keep his promise as wealthy and middle class South Vietnamese families objected to having their sons conscripted, and as a result the burden of conscription called by Khánh's national service law fell only on sons of poor families, provoking much resentment. [74] After returning to Washington on 13 March, McNamara reported to Johnson that the situation had "unquestionably been growing worse" since his last visit in December 1963 with 40% of the countryside now under "Vietcong control or predominant influence"; most of the South Vietnamese people were displaying "apathy and indifference"; the desertion rate in the ARVN was "high and increasing" while the VC were "recruiting energetically". [72] The "greatest weakness" accordingly to McNamara was the "uncertain viability" of Khánh's government, which might be overthrown at any moment as the ARVN was ridden with factionalism and intrigue. [72]

To save South Vietnam, McNamara recommenced that the United States make it "emphatically clear" it's willingness to support Khánh to the hilt. [72] Other recommendations, which were accepted in a National Security Council "action memorandum" called for the United States to pay for an increase in the ARVN, provide the Republic of Vietnam Air Force with more planes and helicopters, and the United States should pay for more civil servants to administer rural South Vietnam. [72] More importantly, the "action memorandum" redefined the Vietnam War as not only important for Asia, but for the entire world as the document asserted the global credibility of the United States was now at stake as it was claimed all of America's allies would lose faith in American promises if the South Vietnamese government was overthrown. [72] The "action memorandum" argued that to "lose" South Vietnam would fatally weaken American global leadership, making the war a "test case" of American willingness to continue as a global power. [72]

In April 1964, Senator Wayne Morse called the war "McNamara's War". [75] In response, McNamara told the press that he was honored, saying "I think it is a very important war, and I am pleased to be identified with it and do whatever I can to win it". [76] In May 1964, Senator Richard Russell advised Johnson against relying too much on McNamara, saying "McNamara is the smartest fella any of us know. But he's got to much-he's opinionated as hell-and he's made up his mind". [76] Russell told Johnson that he should find an expert, preferably a World War Two general who was "not scared to death of McNamara" to go to South Vietnam to say that the war was unwinnable and pull out, advice that Johnson rejected. [75]

Despite the fact that South Vietnam by 1964 was receiving a sum of American economic and military aid that ran to $2 million per day, the South Vietnamese state was falling apart with corruption reaching such a point that most South Vietnamese civil servants and soldiers were not being paid while the projects for "rural pacification" that the United States had paid for had collapsed as the money had instead been stolen. [77] The advice that McNamara and other American officials gave to the South Vietnamese to make reforms to crackdown on corruption and make the government more effective were always ignored as by this point the South Vietnamese government knew very well that the Americans having repeatedly promised in public that they would never permit the "loss" of South Vietnam were now prisoners of their own rhetoric. [77] The threats to withhold aid were bluffs, which the South Vietnamese exposed by simply ignoring the American advice, leading to a situation whereas Stanley Karnow, the Vietnam correspondent for the Time noted:"...America lacked leverage...For the South Vietnamese knew that the United States could not abandon them without damaging its own prestige. So despite their reliance on American aid, now more than a half-billion dollars a year, they could safely defy American dictates. In short, their weakness was their strength". [77] One South Vietnamese minister told Karnow at the time: "Our big advantage over the Americans is that they want to win the war more than we do". [77] To compensate for the weaknesses of the South Vietnamese state, by late winter of 1964, senior officials in the Johnson administration such as McNamara's deputy, William Bundy, the assistant secretary of defence, were advocating American intervention in the war. [78] Such intervention presented a constitutional problem to intervene on the scale envisioned would mean waging war, and only Congress had the legal power to declare war. [78] Fearful of causing a war with China, Johnson was opposed to the plans of Khánh to invade North Vietnam, and he was even less enthusiastic about having the United States invade North Vietnam. [74] To declare war on North Vietnam would lead to irresistible political pressure at home to invade North Vietnam. As such, the solution to this problem that was floated was for Congress to pass a resolution granting Johnson the power to wage war in Vietnam. [78]

By 1964, the U.S. Navy sent destroyers into the Gulf of Tonkin to support raids by South Vietnamese commandos on North Vietnam and to gather intelligence. [79] On 2 August 1964, one destroyer, the USS Maddox was involved in a naval skirmish with North Vietnamese Vietnam People's Navy torpedo boats within North Vietnamese waters. [80] On 4 August 1964, the Maddox and another destroyer, the USS Turner Joy, initially claimed to have been attacked by the North Vietnamese torpedo boats in international waters on a stormy night, but shortly afterward reported there was probably no attack. [81] Captain John J. Herrick of the Maddox reported that the "torpedo boats" were almost certainly just radar "blips" caused by the "freak weather effects" of the storm and the reports of an attack on his ship were due to an "overeager" radar operator who mistook the motors of the ship for the rush of torpedoes. [82] Johnson promptly seized upon the reports of an attack on a Navy warship in international waters to ask Congress to pass a resolution giving him the authority to wage war in Vietnam. [82] McNamara via Admiral U. S. Grant Sharp Jr. of the Pacific fleet put strong pressure on Herrick to say that his ship had been attacked by torpedo boats, despite his strong doubts on the subject. [83] On 5 August 1964, McNamara appeared before Congress to present proof of what he claimed was an attack on the Navy's warships in international waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and stated it was imperative that Congress pass the resolution as quickly as possible. [84] Records from the Lyndon Johnson Library have perhaps indicated that McNamara misled Johnson on the attack on a U.S. Navy destroyer by allegedly withholding calls against executing airstrikes from US Pacific Commanders. [85] McNamara was also instrumental in presenting the event to Congress and the public as justification for escalation of the war against the communists. [86] In 1995, McNamara met with former North Vietnam Defense Minister Võ Nguyên Giáp who told his American counterpart that the August 4 attack never happened, a conclusion McNamara eventually came to accept. [87]

President Johnson ordered Operation Pierce Arrow, retaliatory air strikes on North Vietnamese naval bases. Congress approved, with only Senators Wayne Morse (D-OR), and Ernest Gruening (D-AK), voting against, [88] 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." Regardless of the particulars of the incident, the larger issue would turn out to be the sweeping powers granted by the resolution. It gave Johnson virtually unfettered authority to expand retaliation for a relatively minor naval incident into a major land war involving 500,000 American soldiers. "The fundamental issue of Tonkin Gulf involved not deception but, rather, misuse of power bestowed by the resolution," McNamara wrote later. [89] Through Johnson now had the authority to wage war, he proved reluctant to use it, for example not ignoring the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to bomb North Vietnam after a VC attack on Bien Hoa Air Base killed five Americans and destroyed 5 B-57 bombers. [90] Knowing of Johnson's hesitance, on 1 December 1964 McNamara recommended a "graduated" response program, urging Johnson to launch Operation Barrel Roll, a bombing offensive against the part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the southern part of neutral Laos, which was approved by the president. [91] On Christmas Eve 1964, the VC bombed the Brinks Hotel in Saigon killing two Americans. [92] Despite McNamara's recommendations to bomb North Vietnam, Johnson still procrastinated. [93]

McNamara at war

In 1965, in response to stepped-up military activity by the VC in South Vietnam and their North Vietnamese allies, the U.S. 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 June 30, 1968. In January 1965, McNamara together with the National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy co-wrote a memo to President Johnson stating "both of us are now pretty well convinced that our present policy can lead only to disastrous defeat" as it was hopeless to expect the unstable and corrupt South Vietnamese government to defeat the VC who were steadily "gaining in the countryside". [94] Bundy and McNamara wrote "the time for has come for hard choices" as the United States now had the alternatives of either negotiating with North Vietnam to "salvage what little can be preserved" or resort to intervention to "force a change". [94] Both Bundy and McNamara stated that they favored the latter, arguing that the commitment of U.S troops to fight in South Vietnam and a strategic bombing campaign against North Vietnam were now required. [94] McNamara's hawkish stance on Vietnam was well known in Washington and many in the press often referred to the war as "McNamara's war" as he was the one in the cabinet always pressing for greater American involvement. [95]

In February 1965, the VC attacked the American airfield at Pleiku, killing 8 Americans and destroying 10 aircraft. [96] After hearing of the attack, Johnson assembled his national security team together with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John W. McCormack, and the Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield, to announce "I've had enough of this". [97] Only Mansfield and the Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, objected to Johnson's plans to bomb North Vietnam. [97] Aircraft from the carrier, USS Ranger, launched Operation Flaming Dart bombing the North Vietnamese army base at Đồng Hới later that day. [97] McNamara was forced to tell Johnson that the Flaming Dart raids had done little damage owning to the heavy clouds, which caused the pilots to miss when dropping their bombs, and more raids would be needed. [98] On 11 February, Johnson ordered more bombing raids, and 2 March approved Operation Rolling Thunder, a strategic bombing offensive against North Vietnam that was originally planned to last 8 weeks, and instead went on for 3 years. [99] After the bombing raids started, General William Westmoreland of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), cabled Johnson to say that Da Nang Air Base was vulnerable as he had no faith in the ability of the South Vietnamese to protect it, leading him to ask for American troops to be deployed instead. [100] On 8 March 1965, two battalions from the United States Marine Corps were landed at Danang, making the beginning of the ground war for the United States. [101] On 20 April, McNamara urged Johnson to send 40,000 troops to Vietnam, advice that was accepted. [102]

By June 1965, Westmoreland was reporting that South Vietnam was faced with a "collapse", which would require 180,000 troops to stop, which would be just a "stopgap", and another 100,000 troops would be needed "to seize the initiative from the enemy". [103] McNamara's advice in July 1965 to Johnson to commit more 180,000 troops to South Vietnam together with a stepped up aerial offensive to destroy North Vietnam's economy was called by Bundy "rash to the point of folly". [104] Bundy stated for Johnson to agree to McNamara's request to send more troops "was a slippery slope toward total U.S. responsibility and corresponding fecklessness on the Vietnamese side". [104] Bundy argued that it was the responsibility of the South Vietnamese government to stop the VC and that if the Americans continued to do all the fighting, then the United States would lack the necessary leverage to pressure Saigon into making reforms, turning "...the conflict into a white man's war, with the United States in the shoes of the French". [104] To resolve the debate, later in July 1965, McNamara visited South Vietnam on yet another "fact-finding mission" for President Johnson and met the new South Vietnamese Premier, Air Marshal Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, who had just overthrown Khánh. [105] Air Marshal Kỳ wore a flamboyant uniform which he had designed himself of a white jacket, black pants, red socks and black shoes which led McNamara to dub him as looking "like a saxophone player in a second-rate nightclub". [105] McNamara was not impressed with Kỳ, reporting to Johnson that he saw little evidence that he was capable of winning the war, and the United States would have to send more troops to South Vietnam. [105] Upon his return to the United States, McNamara told the press that the U.S forces in Vietnam were inflicting "increasingly heavy losses" on the VC, but in private told President Johnson that the situation was "worse than a year ago". [105]

McNamara also advised the president that by early 1966 he would have to send 100,000 more troops to South Vietnam in order to win the war, and mobilize the Reserves and state National Guards as well. [105] Johnson accepted the first recommendation while rejecting the latter, disregarding Bundy's warnings that to send more troops would paradoxically mean less leverage over South Vietnam. [105] To mobilize the Reserves and National Guards would mean having to call up hundreds of thousands of men from civilian life, which would inevitably disrupt the economy, which in turn would require ending the peacetime economy and putting the economy on a war footing. Johnson rejected a wartime economy as imposing too many sacrifices on ordinary Americans that would threaten his chances at reelection. Because the Reserves were never called up, the Army had to send much of its manpower to Vietnam, leaving the U.S divisions in Western Europe in a "skeletal" condition as there was a shortage of volunteers. [106] To make up the shortfall, the Army had to rely upon the draft, which caused much domestic opposition, especially as the way in which draft system operated with generous exemptions for those attending university and college led to the burden of the draft falling disproportionately upon men from poorer families. [106] Because of the refusal to call up the Reserves, McNamara had to increase the draft call in July 1965 from 17, 000 per month to 35, 000 per month. [107] As most of the 18 and 19-year-old draftees had a high school degree or less, this also led to a decline in the Army's intellectual standards with many officers complaining that most of the draftees were not intelligent enough to be trained for technical duties or promoted up the ranks. [106] Throughout the war, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Earle Wheeler, pressed very strongly for the reserves and national guards to be called out, saying the war was steadily ruining the U.S. Army. [108] Through McNamara warned the president in July 1965 that war would cost an extra $10 billion dollars in defense spending over the next year, but Johnson at a press conference said his administration would be spending only an extra $300-400 million dollars until January 1966. [109] McNamara warned that the increased spending would spark inflation and raise the deficit, advising Johnson to ask Congress to increase taxes to forestall those eventualities. [109] Johnson predicated that Congress would not vote for higher taxes, leading McNamara to argue that the president should at least try, saying "I would rather fight for what's right and fail than not try". [109] Jonson snapped: "Goddammit, Bob, that's what's wrong with you-you aren't a politician". [109]

On 2 November 1965, Norman Morrison, a Quaker burned himself alive in the parking lot of the Pentagon to protest the war. [110] All McNamara saw from his office was the smoke raising from the parking lot, but he was sufficiently troubled by the incident that he refused to discuss with it with his family, all the more so because his wife Margey was opposed to the war and sympathized with Morrison's feelings, if not his suicide. [111] On 7 November 1965, McNamara sent Johnson a memo saying that the "substantial loss of American lives" in Vietnam were worth the sacrifice in order to contain China, which McNamara called the world's most dangerous nation. [111] McNamara wrote that the deployment of troops to South Vietnam would "make sense only if they are in support of a long-term United States policy to contain China", writing that the process of "containing" China would require "American attention, money and, from time to time unfortunately lives". [111]

The casualty lists mounted as the number of troops and the intensity of fighting escalated. McNamara put in place a statistical strategy for victory in Vietnam. He concluded that there were a limited number of VC fighters in South Vietnam and that a war of attrition would destroy them. He applied metrics (body counts) to determine how close to success his plan was. [112] Faced with a guerrilla war, the question of holding territory was irrelevant as the VC never operated for extended periods in areas where the Americans were strong and if the Americans occupied an area in force, the VC simply moved to other areas where the American presence was weaker. [112] Westmoreland, had decided with the support of McNamara to defend all of South Vietnam, believing that he could win via a strategy of attrition as he would simply inflict enough losses to end the enemy's ability to wage war. [113] McNamara devised the "body count" measurement to determine how well the Americans were doing, reasoning if the Americans were inflicting heavy losses as measured by the "body count", it must be a sign that they were winning. [112] General William Peers wrote critically of the "body count" strategy, stating: "...with improper leadership, 'body count' could create competition between units, particularly if these statistics were compared like baseball standings and there were no stringent requirements as to how and by whom the counts were to be made". [112] he obsession with "body counts" led to much exaggeration of the losses inflicted on the enemy as the officers with the highest "body counts" were promoted while also fueling a grisly competition between units to achieve the highest "body counts" that led to innocent civilians being killed to inflate their daily "body counts". It is generally accepted by historians that the vast daily losses that U.S. officers claimed to have inflicted on the VC were fabricated as many officers desperate for a promotion reported "body counts" well above what they were actually achieving. [112]

The U.S. Army had sabotaged the efforts of Kennedy and McNamara to develop a more counterinsurgency role by simply declaring that the Army's basic unit, the division, was flexible enough to engage against guerrillas while also promising that the traditional fondness for using maximum firepower would not present a problem as firepower use would be "discriminating". [114] In Vietnam, this led to divisions, whose size limited them and their supply trains to the road, using massive amounts of firepower against guerrillas who were often "nimble" enough to evade all of the firepower brought to bear. [115] Instead, the standard tactics of bringing massive firepower to bear in the form of napalm and artillery strikes against the guerrillas, often killed civilians, fueling support for the VC. [115] Through the Special Forces did fight in Vietnam, but only as an adjutant to the traditional infantry and armored divisions, which did most of the fighting. [115] In a 1966 memo, McNamara admitted that the sort of counterinsurgency war envisioned by Kennedy with the Special Forces leading the fight had not occurred, which he wrote the responsibility for which "undoubtedly lies with bad management" on the part of the Army. [115]

McNamara with Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt at The Pentagon in July 1966 Holt-1-7-1966.JPEG
McNamara with Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt at The Pentagon in July 1966


Up to November 1965, McNamara who been a supporter of the war, first started to have doubts about the war, saying at a press conference that "it will be a long war", which completely contradicted his previous optimistic statements that the war would be brought to a close soon. [113] Although he was a prime architect of the Vietnam War and repeatedly overruled the JCS on strategic matters, McNamara gradually became skeptical about whether the war could be won by deploying more troops to South Vietnam and intensifying the bombing of North Vietnam, a claim he would publish in a book years later. He also stated later that his support of the war was given out of loyalty to administration policy. He traveled to South Vietnam many times to study the situation firsthand and became increasingly reluctant to approve the large force increments requested by the military commanders. [116] [ not specific enough to verify ]

As a Christmas gesture, Johnson ordered a bombing pause over North Vietnam and went off to his ranch in Texas for the holidays. [117] McNamara went with his family for skiing in Colorado, but upon hearing that the president was open to extending the bombing pause for a few more days, he abandoned his family at the sky lodge in the Rockies to fly to the Johnson ranch on 27 December 1965. [117] McNamara knew that Johnson tended to listen to the advice of Rusk who saw extending the bombing pause as weakness, and wanted a meeting with Johnson without Rusk present. [117] McNamara argued to the president in a three hour long meeting that the North Vietnamese would not open peace talks unless the bombing were stopped first as they kept saying repeatedly, and persuaded Johnson to extend the bombing pause into January. [117] At a New's Eve Party attended by Washington's elite to welcome 1966, McNamara expressed doubts about America's ability to win the war. [118] A week later at a dinner party attended by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith and Johnson's speechwriter Dick Goodwin, McNamara stated that victory was unobtainable, and the best that could be achieved was a "honorable withdrawal" that might save South Vietnam as a state. [119] In February 1966, during the Honolulu conference, McNamara during an "off-the-record" chat with a group of journalists spoke about the war in very jaded terms, saying that frankly Operation Rolling Thunder was a failure. [95] McNamara stated that North Vietnam was a backward Third World country that did not have the same advanced industrial infrastructure of First World nations, making the bombing offensive useless. [95] McNamara concluded: "No amount of bombing can end the war". [95] Karnow, one of the journalists present during the "off-the-record" conversation, described McNamara's personality as having changed, noting the Defense Secretary who was normally so arrogant and self-assured, convinced he could "scientifically" solve any problem, as being subdued and clearly less self-confident. [95]

In October 1966, McNamara returned from yet another visit to South Vietnam, full of confidence in public and doubt in private. [120] McNamara told the media that "process has exceeded our expectations" while telling the president he saw "no reasonable way to bring the war to an end soon". [120] Though McNamara reported to Johnson that American forces were inflicting heavy losses on the North Vietnamese and VC, he added that they could "more than replace" their losses and that "full security exists nowhere" in South Vietnam, even in areas supposedly "pacified" by the Americans. [120] Worse of all, McNamara complained that the South Vietnamese were still not carrying their full share of the load, as they expected the Americans to do all the fighting for them, stating: "This important war must be fought and won by the Vietnamese themselves. We have known this from the beginning. But the discouraging truth is that, as was the case in 1961 and 1963 and 1965, we have not found the formula, the catalyst, for training and inspiring them into effective action". [120]

Because the effects of Operation Rolling Thunder were more easily measured than with the ground war, McNamara was especially troubled by the revelation that the bombing offensive had not caused the collapse of North Vietnam's economy as predicated. [121] In June 1967, American bombers hit North Vietnam's hydroelectric plants and reduced North Vietnam capacity to generate electricity by 85%, accordingly to McNamara's calculations. [122] At the same time, he also calculated that the annual amount of electricity generated in North Vietnam was equal only to a fifth of the electricity generated every year at the Potomac Electric Power Company's plant in Alexandria, Virginia, making the destruction of North Vietnamese power plants meaningless to the outcome of the war as the amount of electricity generated was so small. [122] He also calculated in 1967 that over the last two years, American bombers had inflicted damage on North Vietnam equal to about $300 million while at the same time, Rolling Thunder had cost the U.S. Air Force about 700 aircraft shot down over North Vietnam whose total value was about $900 million, making the bombing campaign uneconomical. [122] McNamara's doubts were encouraged by his civilian aides such as Leslie H. Gelb and John McNaughton, who complained that their wives and teenage children were chiding them as "war criminals" when they came home from work. [123] McNamara's own teenage son, Robert Craig McNamara, was opposed to the war and denounced his father when he came from work every day. [124] McNamara was shocked to discover that the American flag was hanging upside down in his son's bedroom as the younger McNamara told him that he was ashamed of America because of him. [125] McNaughton told McNamara that after having talked to some of the young people that "a feeling is widely and strongly held...that 'the Establishment' is out of its mind" and the dominant opinion was "that we are trying to impose some U.S. image on distant peoples we cannot understand and that we carrying the thing to absurd lengths." [123]

In November 1966, McNamara visited Harvard University and the car driving him to see Henry Kissinger was surrounded by anti-war protesters who forced the automobile to stop. [125] The students refused to let the car move until McNamara debated their leader, Michael Ansara, the president of the Harvard branch of Students for a Democratic Society. [125] McNamara agreed to the debate, and standing of the hood of his car answered the charge from a student in the crowd that the United States was waging aggression by saying the war started in 1954, not 1957, which he knew "because the International Control Commission wrote a report that said so. You haven't read it, and if you have, you obviously didn't understand it". [125] When the student answered that he had read the International Control Commission's report and it did not say that, McNamara responded he had been a far better university student than his opponent, saying : "I was tougher than you then and I'm tougher today! I was more courteous then, and I hope I'm more courteous today!". [126] As McNamara continued to insult the crowd and the mood grew more ugly, he fled into Quincy House, from which he escaped via underground tunnels to see Kissinger. [127] The confrontation with the students had shaken him, and it took half an hour before he was ready to address Kissinger's class. [127]

In a memo of 19 May 1967, McNamara stated the military side of the war was going well with the Americans killing thousands of the enemy every month, but the political side was not as South Vietnam remained as dysfunctional as ever as he wrote: "Corruption is widespread. Real government control is confined to enclaves. There is rot in the fabric". [128] McNamara wrote the conception of the war with the Americans serving temporarily to stabilize the situation so the South Vietnamese could take over the war themselves was flawed as the dysfunctional South Vietnamese state would never be able to win the war, thus meaning the Americans would have to stay in Vietnam for decades to come. He advised Johnson not to accept Westmoreland's call for additional 200, 000 soldiers as that would mean calling up the Reserves, which in turn would require a wartime economy. [128] The economic sacrifices that ending the peacetime economy would entail would make it almost politically impossible to negotiate peace, and in effect would mean placing the hawks in charge, which was why those of a hawkish inclination kept pressing for the Reserves to be called up. [128] The economic sacrifices could only be justified to American people by saying the war would brought to a victorious conclusion. McNamara rejected the advice of the hawks, warning that steps such as bombing North Vietnam's dikes and locks to flood the farmland with the aim of causing a famine; mining the coast of North Vietnam to sink Soviet ships bringing in arms; invading Laos and Cambodia; and finally in the last resort using nuclear weapons if the other measures failed were likely to alienate world opinion and increase domestic opposition. [128] McNamara wrote: "The picture of the world's greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1, 000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one". [128] Finally, McNamara dismissed the Domino Theory as irrelevant since General Suharto had seized power in Indonesia in 1965 and proceeded to wipe out the Indonesian Communist Party, the third-largest in the world, killing hundreds of thousands of Indonesian Communists. [128] He argued that with Suharto in power in Indonesia that "the trend in Asia was now running in America's favor, which reduced the importance of South Vietnam". [128] To the Americans, Indonesia was the most important of all the "dominoes" in Southeast Asia, and McNamara argued that even if the South Vietnamese "domino" were to fall, the Indonesian "domino" would still stand. [128]  

McNamara commissioned the Vietnam Study Task Force on June 17, 1967. He was inspired by the confrontation at Harvard the previous November as he had discovered that the students he had been debating knew more about Vietnam's history than he did. [129] The task was assigned to Gelb and six officials who was instructed by McNamara to examine just how and why the United States became involved in Vietnam, starting with American relations with the Viet Minh in World War Two. [130] Through Gelb was a hawk who had written pro-war speeches for the Republican Senator Jacob Javits, he and his team became disillusioned as they wrote the history; at one point when discussing what were the lessons of Vietnam, Paul Gorman, one of the historians went up to the blackboard to write simply "Don't". [131] By April 1969, The Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force as the Pentagon Papers were officially entitled was finished, but widely ignored within the government. [131] Intended as the official record of US military involvement in Indochina, the final report ran to 3,000 pages and was classified as "Top Secret – Sensitive". [130] The report was ultimately leaked to the New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971, a former aide to McNamara's Assistant Secretary of Defense, John McNaughton. The leak became known as the Pentagon Papers, revealing that McNamara and others had been aware that the Vietnam offensive was futile. Subsequent efforts by the Nixon administration to prevent such leaks led indirectly to the Watergate scandal. McNamara said that the Domino Theory was the main reason for entering the Vietnam War. In the same interview he stated, "Kennedy hadn't said before he died whether, faced with the loss of Vietnam, he would [completely] withdraw; but I believe today that had he faced that choice, he would have withdrawn." [132]

Social equity

To commemorate President Harry S Truman's signing an order to end segregation in the military. McNamara issued Directive 5120.36 on July 26, 1963. This directive, Equal Opportunity in the Armed Forces, dealt directly with the issue of racial and gender discrimination in areas surrounding military communities. The directive declared, "Every military commander has the responsibility to oppose discriminatory practices affecting his men and their dependents and to foster equal opportunity for them, not only in areas under his immediate control, but also in nearby communities where they may live or gather in off-duty hours." (para. II.C.) [133] Under the directive, commanding officers were obligated to use the economic power of the military to influence local businesses in their treatment of minorities and women. With the approval of the Secretary of Defense, the commanding officer could declare areas off-limits to military personnel for discriminatory practices. [134]


Toward the end of his term McNamara also opposed an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system proposed for installation in the U.S. in defense against Soviet missiles, arguing the $40 billion "in itself is not the problem; the penetrability of the proposed shield is the problem." [135] 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 "light" system which he believed could protect against the far smaller number of Chinese missiles. However, he never believed it was wise for the United States to move in that direction because of psychological risks of relying too much on nuclear weaponry and that there would be pressure from many directions to build a larger system than would be militarily effective. [136]

President Lyndon B. Johnson and McNamara at a cabinet meeting, 1968 Moods, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in Cabinet Room meeting - NARA - 192612.tif
President Lyndon B. Johnson and McNamara at a cabinet meeting, 1968

He always believed that the best defense strategy for the U.S. was a parity of mutually assured destruction with the Soviet Union. [137] An ABM system would be an ineffective weapon as compared to an increase in deployed nuclear missile capacity. [138]


Cabinet meeting with Dean Rusk, President Johnson and McNamara, 9 February 1968 Dean Rusk, Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert McNamara in Cabinet Room meeting February 1968.jpg
Cabinet meeting with Dean Rusk, President Johnson and McNamara, 9 February 1968

McNamara wrote of his close personal friendship with Jackie Kennedy and how she demanded that he stop the killing in Vietnam. [139] As McNamara grew more and more controversial after 1966 and his differences with the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff over Vietnam strategy became the subject of public speculation, frequent rumors surfaced that he would leave office. By 1967, McNamara was suffering visibly from the nervous strain as he went days without shaving and he suffered spasms where his jaw would quiver uncontrollably for hours. [140] Johnson said about him: "You know, he's a fine man, a wonderful man, Bob McNamara. He has given everything, just about everything, and, you know, we just can't afford another Forrestal" (a reference to the first Defense Secretary, James Forrestal, who committed suicide due to work-related stress and depression). [140]   

Senator John C. Stennis was a conservative Southern Democrat who enjoyed much influence as a senior member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. [141] Stennis saw himself more as a champion of the military rather than its overseer, and as such the military often leaked information to him, in the full knowledge that he would take up their cause on Capitol Hill. [142] Reflecting their unhappiness with McNamara's leadership, in the spring of 1967 senior generals and admirals let Stennis know of their belief that the Defense Secretary was mismanaging the war, which led him to schedule hearings for the Senate Armed Forces Committee in August 1967 to examine the charge that "unskilled civilian amateurs" (i.e. McNamara) were not letting "professional military experts" win the war as he charged that McNamara had placed too many restrictions on bombing North Vietnam to protect innocent North Vietnamese civilians. [142] The chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Senator Richard Russell Jr., was opposed to the war, but he expressed his opposition in the most cautious and lukewarm terms as he did not wish to appear unpatriotic, and so the hawkish Stennis enjoyed more power than his title of deputy chairman of the committee would suggest. [143]

The hearings opened on 8 August 1967, and Stennis called as his witnesses numerous admirals and Air Force generals who all testified to their belief that the United States was fighting with "one arm tied behind its back", implicitly criticizing McNamara's leadership as they complained of "overtly restrictive controls" about bombing North Vietnam that they claimed were preventing them from winning the war. [142] When McNamara himself appeared as a witness before the Senate Armed Forces Committee on 25 August 1967, he defended the war in very lukewarm terms that strongly suggested he had lost faith in the war, testifying that the bombing campaign against North Vietnam was ineffective, making the question of the bombing restrictions meaningless. [144] McNamara described all of the 57 restricted targets as either of no importance such as a tire factory in Hanoi that produced only 30 tires per day or carried too much risk of hitting Soviet ships bringing supplies to North Vietnam. [145] He warned that the prospect of American bombers damaging or sinking Soviet merchantmen while wounding or killing Soviet sailors carried too much risk of causing World War Three. [145] McNamara testified that the bombing campaign had failed to reduce the supplies coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail as the Viet Cong needed only 15 tons of supplies per day to continue to fight and "even if the quantity were five times that amount, it could be transported by only a few trucks". [144] McNamara went on to say that the bombing raids had not damaged the North Vietnamese economy which was "agrarian and simple" and the North Vietnamese people were unfamiliar with "the modern comforts and conveniences that most of us in the Western world take for granted". [144] McNamara also stated that North Vietnamese morale was not broken by the bombing offensive as the North Vietnamese people were "accustomed to discipline and are no strangers to deprivation and death" while everything indicated the leadership in Hanoi were not affected by the bombing raids as he lacked "any confidence that they can be bombed to the negotiating table". [144] McNamara concluded that only some sort of genocide could actually win the war, stating: "Enemy operations in the south cannot, on the basis of any reports I have seen be stopped by air bombardment-short, that is, of the virtual annihilation of North Vietnam and its people". [144]

Besides Stennis, the other members of the Senate Armed Forces Committee were senators Henry M. Jackson, Strom Thurmond and Stuart Symington, all of whom were very hostile to McNamara in their questioning of him. [144] Senator Thurmond reproached McNamara: "I think it is a statement of placating the Communists. It is a statement of appeasing the Communists. It is a statement of no-win". [146] Privately, McNamara felt that Thurmond was an "ass", saying he was a bigoted, ignorant Southern politician whose only vales were a mindless militarism, a fervent belief in white supremacy and a fondness for marrying women far younger than himself. McNamara felt that it was beneath him to be questioned by Thurmond, which explained why he was notably truculent in his answers to Thurmond. [146]    

Stennis wrote the committee's report which accused McNamara of having "consistently overruled the unanimous recommendations of military commanders and the joint chiefs of staffs", whom Stennis wrote had proposed "systematic, timely and hard-hitting actions". [144] Stennis damned McNamara for putting in bombing restrictions to protect North Vietnamese civilians and claimed that the war could be easily won if only McNamara would just obey all of the advice he received from the military. [144] Stennis was not influenced by the hearings as he had written the committee's report before the hearings had even began. [144] Johnson saw the hearings as proof that it was time to dismiss McNamara, whom he believed was "cracking up" under the strain of the war, as reflected in the Defense Secretary's criticism of the Rolling Thunder bombings. [147] Stennis, an ardent white supremacist who had fiercely opposed Johnson's civil rights legislation, was an old enemy of Johnson's, which led the president to decide not to sack McNamara in August 1967 as that would be seen as a victory by Stennis, and instead to wait a few months to fire McNamara. [148] In an interview with his biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Johnson stated that McNamara was "cracking up" as the pressures of the war were too much for him, and so he decided to fire him as it would have been "a damn unfair thing to force him to stay". [149] Johnson had long resented and hated the Kennedy brothers, whom he charged looked down upon him as "white trash" from Texas. Senator Robert F. Kennedy had emerged as a leading critic of the war by 1967, and Johnson stated to Kearns his belief that McNamara had suffered a nervous breakdown, of which Kennedy, a close friend of McNamara, had taken advantage of. [149] Johnson told Kearns: "Every day, Bobby [Kennedy] would call up McNamara telling him that the war was terrible and immoral, and that he had to leave". [149] To soften the blow, Johnson claimed to Kearns that he had talked it over with McNamara and had decided to offer him the presidency of the World Bank, "the only job he really wanted then". [149] Johnson had chosen the job of World Bank president for McNamara because its rules prohibited the president from involving himself in the domestic affairs of member nations, which would prevent McNamara from criticizing the war after he left office. [150] Johnson's biggest fear was that if he fired McNamara, then he might join with Kennedy in criticizing him and the war; given his status as the longest-serving Defense Secretary, such criticism wold be especially damaging. [150]  

When a reporter asked McNamara if the Stennis hearings indicated a rift between him and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, McNamara replied: "My polices don't differ with those of the Joint Chiefs and I think they would be the first to say it". [151] General Earle "Bus" Wheeler, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had become dissatisfied with McNamara's leadership and was outraged by that remark. In response to McNamara's claim that the Joint Chiefs supported him, he proposed that the Joint Chiefs all resign in protest at McNamara's leadership. [151] General Harold K. Johnson of the Army, who erroneously blamed McNamara for Johnson's decision not to call up the Reserves in 1965, agreed to Wheeler's plan with his only regret being that he did not resign in 1965. [152] The plan collapsed when General Wallace M. Greene of the Marine Corps refused to go along with it. [152]

On 21 October 1967, McNamara saw the March on the Pentagon anti-war protest from his office in the Pentagon as he witnessed hippie girls placed flowers in the guns of the D.C National Guardsman standing in front of the Pentagon. [153] McNamara described the scenes he witnessed as "hellish" as the hippie girls barred their breasts to tempt the Guardsman to "make love, not war" while other hippies spitted in the faces of the Guardsman. [153] However, despite seeing the March on the Pentagon demonstrators as a sign of social decay, his characteristic competitive spirit came to the fore as he argued that if he had been leading the March on the Pentagon, he would had taken over the Pentagon and shut it down, saying hippies lacked the necessary discipline and intelligence. [153] On 31 October 1967, McNamara wrote Johnson a memo which he sent the next day saying that the war could not be continued as it "would be dangerous, costly in lives and unsatisfactory to the American people". [154] Johnson wrote on the margins on the memo remarks such as "How do we get this conclusion?" and "Why believe this?" [154]

In an early November 1967 memorandum to Johnson, McNamara's recommendation to freeze troop levels, stop bombing North Vietnam and for the U.S. to hand over ground fighting to South Vietnam was rejected outright by the President. McNamara's recommendations amounted to his saying that the strategy of the United States in Vietnam which had been pursued to date had failed. McNamara later stated he "never heard back" from Johnson regarding the memo. 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 anti-war movement in the U.S., the approaching presidential campaign in which Johnson was expected to seek re-election, and McNamara's support—over the objections of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 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 (longer than any of his predecessors or successors).

Others give a different view of McNamara's departure from office. For example, Stanley Karnow in his book Vietnam: A History strongly suggests that McNamara was asked to leave by the President. [149] The historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr stated that he was present during a conversation between McNamara and Senator Kennedy during which the former told the latter that he only learned from reading the newspapers of Johnson's announcement that he had just "resigned" as Defense Secretary and had been appointed president of the World Bank. [149] McNamara himself expressed uncertainty about the question. [155] [156] On 17 November 1967, a story in the Financial Times of London based on leaked sources in Washington stated McNamara was going to be the next World Bank president, which came as a considerable surprise to McNamara. [150] Afterwards, McNamara met with Kennedy who told him to resign in protest and denounce the war as unwinnable, counsel that McNamara rejected, saying that Johnson had been a friend and he was still loyal to him. [157] When McNamara refused to resign, Kennedy told him that he should turn down the World Bank presidency and join him in criticizing the war, which McNamara refused to do. [158] Johnson knew that McNamara was concerned about poverty in the Third World, and that the possibility of serving as World Bank president would be too tempting for McNamara to resist. [158]

McNamara left office on February 29, 1968; for his efforts, the President awarded him both the Medal of Freedom [159] and the Distinguished Service Medal. McNamara's last day as Defense Secretary was a memorable one. The hawkish National Security Adviser, Walt Whitman Rostow, argued at a cabinet meeting that day that the United States was on the verge of winning the war. Rostow urged Johnson to send 206,000 more American troops to South Vietnam to join the half-million already there and to drastically increase the number of bombing raids on North Vietnam. [160] At that point, McNamara, snapped in fury at Rostow, saying: "What then? This goddamned bombing campaign, it's worth nothing, it's done nothing, they dropped more bombs than on all of Europe in all of World War II and it hasn't done a fucking thing!" [161] McNamara then broke down in tears, saying to Johnson to just accept that the war could not be won and stop listening to Rostow. [162] Henry McPherson, an aide to the president recalled the scene: "He reeled off the familiar statistics-how we had dropped more bombs on Vietnam than on all of Europe during World War II. Then his voice broke, and there were tears on his eyes as he spoke of the futility, the crushing futility of the air war. The rest of us sat silently-I for one with my mouth open, listening to the secretary of defense talk that way about a campaign for which he had, ultimately, been responsible. I was pretty shocked". [163]  

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

World Bank President

McNamara visited Jakarta, Indonesia during his tenure as World Bank President in 1968. Robert McNamara visited Indonesia in 1968 during his tenure as World Bank President.jpg
McNamara visited Jakarta, Indonesia during his tenure as World Bank President in 1968.

Robert McNamara served as head of the World Bank from April 1968 to June 1981, when he turned 65. [164] In March 1968, McNamara's friend Senator Kennedy entered the Democratic primaries with aim of challenging Johnson. Kennedy asked McNamara to tape a statement praising his leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis with the understanding that the statement was meant for a TV ad. [140] McNamara praised Kennedy's "shrewd diplomacy", saying he had "remained calm and cool, firm, but restrained, never nettled and never rattled". [165] Through this was a violation of World Bank rules, McNamara felt guilty over refusing Kennedy's requests to resign and decline the World Bank presidency. [165] He was attacked for the tape with the New York Times in an editorial lambasting him for his "poor judgement and poorer taste". [165] For a moment, McNamara feared he would be fired from the World Bank. [165]

A safe was installed in McNamara's office at the World Bank to house his papers relating to his time as Defense Secretary, which was a normal courtesy extended to former Defense Secretaries who might face controversy over their actions and wish to defend themselves by quoting from the documentary record. [131] When the Pentagon Papers were finished in April 1969, and a copy of the Papers were brought into McNamara's office, he became angry and said: "I don't want to see it! Take it back!" [131] By 1969, McNamara wanted to forget the Vietnam war and did not want any reminders of his former job. [165]

In his 13 years at the Bank, he introduced key changes, most notably, shifting the Bank's focus toward targeted poverty reduction. He negotiated, with the conflicting countries represented on the Board, a growth in funds to channel credits for development, in the form of health, food, and education projects. He also instituted new methods of evaluating the effectiveness of funded projects. One notable project started during McNamara's tenure was the effort to prevent river blindness. [164] [166]

The World Bank currently has a scholarship program under his name. [167]

As World Bank President, he declared at the 1968 Annual Meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group that countries permitting birth control practices would get preferential access to resources.

During the emergency in India, McNamara remarked "At long last, India is moving to effectively address its population problem." regarding the forced sterilisation. [168] [169] [170]

Post–World Bank activities and assessments

From 1981 to 1984, McNamara served on the Board of Trustees at American University in Washington, D.C. [171]

In 1982, McNamara joined several other former national security officials in urging that the United States pledge to not 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.

External video
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Booknotes interview with Deborah Shapley on Promise and Power: The Life and Times of Robert McNamara, March 21, 1993, C-SPAN

In 1993, Washington journalist Deborah Shapley published a 615-page biography of Robert McNamara titled Promise and Power: The Life and Times of Robert McNamara. Shapley concluded her book with these words: "For better and worse McNamara shaped much in today's world – and imprisoned himself. A little-known nineteenth century writer, F.W. Boreham, offers a summation: 'We make our decisions. And then our decisions turn around and make us.'"

McNamara's memoir, In Retrospect, published in 1995, presented an account and analysis of the Vietnam War from his point of view. According to his lengthy New York Times obituary, "[h]e concluded well before leaving the Pentagon that the war was futile, but he did not share that insight with the public until late in life. In 1995, he took a stand against his own conduct of the war, confessing in a memoir that it was 'wrong, terribly wrong'." In return, he faced a "firestorm of scorn" at that time. [3] In November 1995, McNamara returned to Vietnam, this time visiting Hanoi. . [172] Despite his role as one of the architects of Operation Rolling Thunder, McNamara met with a surprisingly warm reception, even from those who survived the bombing raids, and was often asked to autograph pirate editions of In Retrospect which had been illegally translated and published in Vietnam. [173] During his visit, McNamara met his opposite number during the war, General Võ Nguyên Giáp who served as North Vietnam's Defense Minister. [173] The American historian Charles Neu who was present at the McNamara-Giáp meeting observed the differences in the style of the two men with McNamara repeatedly interrupting Giáp to ask questions, usually related to something numerical, while Giáp gave a long leisurely monologue, quoting various Vietnamese cultural figures such as poets, that began with Vietnamese revolts against China during the years 111 BC-938 AD when Vietnam was a Chinese province. [173] Neu wrote his impression was that McNamara was a figure who thought in the short term while Giáp thought in the long term.. [173]

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 went on to win the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. The particular structure of this personal account is accomplished with the characteristics of an intimate dialog. As McNamara explains, it is a process of examining the experiences of his long and controversial period as the United States Secretary of Defense, as well as other periods of his personal and public life. [174]

McNamara maintained his involvement in politics in his later years, delivering statements critical of the Bush administration's 2003 invasion of Iraq. [175] On January 5, 2006, McNamara and most living former Secretaries of Defense and Secretaries of State met briefly at the White House with President Bush to discuss the war. [176]

Personal life

McNamara married Margaret Craig, his teenage sweetheart, on August 13, 1940. She was an accomplished cook, and Robert's favorite dish was reputed to be her beef bourguignon. [177] Margaret McNamara, 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 of cancer in 1981.

The couple had two daughters and a son. The son Robert Craig McNamara, who as a student objected to the Vietnam War, is now a walnut and grape farmer in California. [178] He is the owner of Sierra Orchards in Winters, California. Daughter Kathleen McNamara Spears is a forester with the World Bank. [179] The second daughter is Margaret Elizabeth Pastor. [3]

In the Errol Morris documentary, McNamara reports that both he and his wife were stricken with polio shortly after the end of World War II. Although McNamara had a relatively short stay in the hospital, his wife's case was more serious and it was concern over meeting her medical bills that led to his decision to not return to Harvard but to enter private industry as a consultant at Ford Motor Company.

At Ford

When working at Ford Motor Company, McNamara resided in Ann Arbor, Michigan, rather than the usual auto executive domains of Grosse Pointe, Birmingham, and Bloomfield Hills. He and his wife sought to remain connected with a university town (the University of Michigan) after their hopes of returning to Harvard after the war were put on hold.

Alumnus of the Year

In 1961, he was named Alumnus of the Year by the University of California, Berkeley. [180]

Attempted assault

External video
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Booknotes interview with Paul Hendrickson on The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War, October 27, 1996, C-SPAN

On September 29, 1972, a passenger on the ferry to Martha's Vineyard recognized McNamara on board and attempted to throw him into the ocean. McNamara declined to press charges. The man remained anonymous but was interviewed years later by author Paul Hendrickson, who quoted the attacker as saying, "I just wanted to confront (McNamara) on Vietnam." [181]

Widowed and death

After his wife's death, McNamara dated Katharine Graham, with whom he had been friends since the early 1960s.[ citation needed ] 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 her second marriage. She was married for more than three decades to Ernest Byfield, a former OSS officer and Chicago hotel heir whose mother, Gladys Tartiere, leased her 400-acre (1.6 km²) Glen Ora estate in Middleburg, Virginia, to John F. Kennedy during his presidency. [182] [183]

At the end of his life McNamara was a life trustee on the Board of Trustees of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), a trustee of the Economists for Peace and Security, a trustee of the American University of Nigeria, and an honorary trustee for the Brookings Institution.

McNamara died at his home in Washington, D.C., at 5:30 a.m. on July 6, 2009, at the age of 93. [184] [185] He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

McNamara's papers from his years as Secretary of Defense are housed in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.

McNamara was portrayed by Dylan Baker in the film Thirteen Days (2000), by Alec Baldwin in the film Path to War (2002), by Clancy Brown in the film Chappaquiddick (2017), and by Bruce Greenwood in the film The Post (2017). He was also portrayed or fictionalized in the films The Missiles of October and Transformers: Dark of the Moon . McNamara was the subject of the Errol Morris documentary The Fog of War (2003). He was similarly the subject of the Against Me! single "High Pressure Low" in 2010. Simon & Garfunkel's 1966 album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme contained a song titled "A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara'd into Submission)". McNamara is playable as a character in the Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010) Zombie map, 'Five' alongside John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro, and Richard Nixon.

See also


External video
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Booknotes interview with McNamara on In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, April 23, 1995, C-SPAN




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    Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., sometimes referred to as Henry Cabot Lodge II, was a Republican United States Senator from Massachusetts in both Senate seats in non-consecutive terms of service and a United States ambassador. He was considered as a running mate, most significantly in 1952 by Dwight Eisenhower and then largely due to Ike’s advice and encouragement ended up being chosen the Republican nominee for Vice President in the 1960 presidential election alongside incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon. The Republican ticket narrowly lost to Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1964, Lodge would win by a plurality a number of that years‘ party presidential primaries and caucuses on the strength of his name, reputation, and respect among many voters. This effort was encouraged and directed by low-budget but high-impact grassroots campaign by a quixotic foursome of academic and political amateurs.

    Operation Rolling Thunder Codename for bombings in vietnam war

    Operation Rolling Thunder was the title of a gradual and sustained aerial bombardment campaign conducted by the United States (U.S.) 2nd Air Division, U.S. Navy, and Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF) against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from 2 March 1965 until 2 November 1968, during the Vietnam War.

    <i>Pentagon Papers</i> United States government-created history of the United States involvement with Vietnam

    The Pentagon Papers, officially titled Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, is a United States Department of Defense history of the United States' political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The papers were released by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study; they were first brought to the attention of the public on the front page of The New York Times in 1971. A 1996 article in The New York Times said that the Pentagon Papers had demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration "systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress."

    William P. Rogers American politician

    William Pierce Rogers was an American politician, diplomat, and lawyer. He served as United States Attorney General under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and United States Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon. Despite Rogers being a close confidant of Nixon, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger overshadowed Rogers and eventually succeeded him as Secretary of State.

    George Ball (diplomat) American diplomat

    George Wildman Ball was an American diplomat and banker. He served in the management of the US State Department from 1961 to 1966 and is remembered most as the only major dissenter against the escalation of the Vietnam War. He refused to publicize his doubts, which were based on calculations that South Vietnam was doomed. He also helped determine American policy regarding trade expansion, Congo, the Multilateral Force, de Gaulle's France, Israel and the rest of the Middle East, and the Iranian Revolution.

    W. Averell Harriman American businessman, politician and diplomat

    William Averell Harriman, better known as Averell Harriman, was an American Democratic politician, businessman, and diplomat. The son of railroad baron E. H. Harriman, he served as Secretary of Commerce under President Harry S. Truman and later as the 48th Governor of New York. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952 and 1956, as well as a core member of the group of foreign policy elders known as "The Wise Men".

    Walt Whitman Rostow American economist and political theorist

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    1964 Brinks Hotel bombing Viet Cong bombing in Saigon

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    Krulak–Mendenhall mission US government mission to South Vietnam in 1963

    The Krulak–Mendenhall mission was a fact-finding expedition dispatched by the Kennedy administration to South Vietnam in early September 1963. The stated purpose of the expedition was to investigate the progress of the war by the South Vietnamese regime and its US military advisers against the Viet Cong insurgency. The mission was led by Victor Krulak and Joseph Mendenhall. Krulak was a major general in the United States Marine Corps, while Mendenhall was a senior Foreign Service Officer experienced in dealing with Vietnamese affairs.

    The foreign policy of the John F. Kennedy administration was the foreign policy of the United States from 1961 to 1963 while John F. Kennedy was president. Interactions with foreign nations during this period included diplomatic and military initiatives in Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, all conducted amid considerable Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Kennedy deployed a new generation of foreign policy experts, dubbed "the best and the brightest". In his inaugural address Kennedy encapsulated his Cold War stance: "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate".

    Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

    The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution or the Southeast Asia Resolution, Pub.L. 88–408, 78 Stat. 384, enacted August 10, 1964, was a joint resolution that the United States Congress passed on August 7, 1964, in response to the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

    Declaration of Honolulu, 1966 is a communiqué and diplomatic proclamation acceded by foreign diplomats representing the Republic of Vietnam and the United States. The declaration asserted pro-democracy principles for South Vietnam while combating external aggression and insurgency by Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The goals outlined at the conference were a cornerstone to US policy in Vietnam until 1969 when the incoming Nixon administration changed policies towards Vietnam.

    Foreign policy of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration

    The foreign policy of the Lyndon Johnson administration was the foreign policy of the United States from 1963 to 1969, when Lyndon B. Johnson served as President of the United States. Johnson held office during the Cold War, a period of sustained geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.


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    Further reading

    Political offices
    Preceded by
    Thomas Gates
    United States Secretary of Defense
    Succeeded by
    Clark Clifford
    Diplomatic posts
    Preceded by
    George Woods
    President of the World Bank Group
    Succeeded by
    Tom Clausen