Monday, July 06, 2009

Robert S. McNamara, 1916-2009

Robert S. McNamara, U.S. defense secretary during critical, escalating phases of the Vietnam War, has died at 93.

If you haven't seen the documentary Fog of War, I highly recommend it. Here's the trailer, and here's a scene.

From the extensive obit posted to the New York Times web site this morning (which I also recommend):
The idea of the United States losing a war seemed impossible when Mr. McNamara came to the Pentagon in January 1961 as the nation’s eighth defense secretary. He was 44 and had been named president of the Ford Motor Company only 10 weeks before. He later said, half-seriously, that he could barely tell a nuclear warhead from a station wagon when he arrived in Washington.

“Mr. President, it’s absurd, I’m not qualified,” he remembered protesting when asked to serve. He said that Kennedy had replied, “Look, Bob, I don’t think there’s any school for presidents, either.”

Kennedy called him the smartest man he had ever met.
Also included in the obit is a reminder that even gravely dangerous actions can be accompanied by some hilarity. When Nikita Khrushchev began sending nuclear missiles to Cuba, the Soviet leader described the action as deciding “to throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants.”

Vietnam remains the most defining American moment since 1945. It influenced the political outlook of future generations (including mine) before we were even born. And of course, its lessons continue to be grappled with not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but anytime the U.S. considers its role in global affairs. In a serious world, McNamara's passing would prompt at least as much prolonged coverage -- and reflection -- on the "serious" news channels as the death of Michael Jackson. Ha.


Post a Comment

<< Home