It’s a Shame: Robert McNamara Dies at 93

by sherry clark

While many in the baby boomer generation may vilify Robert McNamara’s memory due to his role in US participation in the Vietnam War, the fact remains that it is the baby-boomers themselves that have allowed this government to assassinate its brightest and best, go to war time and time and time again, and descend into a fascist state without ever holding it accountable.

That shrugging-shoulders-mindset made itself felt in a little snippet of my life as an activist now. This is what happened:

A few of us gathered at our local Doo-Dah parade on July 4 to pass out thousands of my politically educational newspaper, The Liberty Voice. A nice couple, in their 60’s stopped by our float before the parade began to tell me how much they liked the paper and to encourage me to keep doing what I was doing. I invited them to join us in passing out the paper and get a little more involved in supporting it. Their response?

In a word…No.

The bottom line they said was that they were too old. That was fine with me, but it was what they said next that I still just can’t get out of my mind.

“It’s a shame.”

They said “it’s a shame” that the younger people would have to suffer like they will because of all that is going on in our government. “It’s a shame” that America’s heading in this direction. They predicted that they themselves would be okay (they must not think they will live for more than a year or so–dying before it gets really bad?), but “it’s a shame” that the young people would have to live without democracy and the rule of law.

Yeah. “It’s a shame.”

I just can’t get these words out of my head.

Those words play like a Barney song in the minds of mothers of toddlers…only MUCH more annoying. Did these people not have any children? Whether they did or they didn’t–the shame should be in uttering words of such apathy and cowardice–without shame! THAT is the real shame, and it is a tiny illustration of what is the shame of an entire generation. A generation that KNEW better, is in power now, and definitely had their role in the spoils of war, deception and lies.

Now, let’s go back to Robert McNamara.

I admit that I am too young to have built up any preconceived notions of McNamara’s role in the Vietnam War. At the final close of the war, I was only in the first grade. My real first impression of the man came shortly following my own political wake-up call in the summer of 2006. I had just learned that the War on Terror was a hoax and all the reasons we were told to go to war in Iraq were utter fabrications.

That is when I found the Fog of War at my local Blockbuster. As I watched it, I felt The Fog of War was the confessions of an old man who recognized his own role in the mistakes of a nation and wanted to pass along what he had learned from that experience. Now that he’s dead, it’s a shame that there are those who will not listen to his advise because of their judgment of the man. How many of those who judge McNamara so harshly have ever looked at their own role in our nation’s demise?

” If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”
Mary Pickford

Many may be unable to find it in their hearts to forgive him for his role in Vietnam, but that’s a shame. Robert McNamara may have made some mistakes, but he recognized them and not only learned from them, but wanted the rest of us to learn from them too.

The real shame would be for any of us to reject his advise.

Robert McNamara’s Eleven Lessons from The Fog of War

“Any military commander who is honest with himself, or with those he’s speaking to, will admit that he has made mistakes in the application of military power. He’s killed people unnecessarily — his own troops or other troops — through mistakes, through errors of judgment. A hundred, or thousands, or tens of thousands, maybe even a hundred thousand. But, he hasn’t destroyed nations.”
—Robert S. McNamara

Robert McNamara draws conclusions from his own mistakes, and passes on the lessons. This is wise, as ”Those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it.”

“Kennedy was trying to keep us out of war. I was trying to help him keep us out of war. And General Curtis LeMay, whom I served under as a matter of fact in World War II, was saying ‘Let’s go in, let’s totally destroy Cuba.’”

Our cold war enemy sent the following warning just before the miraculous close of the Cuban missile crisis: “We should not pull on the ends of a rope tying us into the knots of war because the more we pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. Then it would be necessary to cut that knot and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you. I have been through two wars and I know it is rolled throughout cities and villages everywhere—with total death and destruction. Such is the reality of war. If people do not display wisdom in peace, they will soon clash like blind moles and mutual annihilation will commence.”

“I want to say, and this is very important: at the end we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war.”

“I took more philosophy classes – particularly one in logic and one in ethics. Stress on values and something beyond one’s self, and a responsibility to society.” We may not all worship the same God, but we all understand the greater Good. If we all agree our God is great, couldn’t we agree that Good for all is great? Is that a way to unite the globe together in peace? It’s so simple. We all want good. Let US therefore, serve good…by serving our own God…as long as it doesn’t harm others.

“In that single night, we burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo: men, women, and children.”

“[I]n order to win a war should you kill 100,000 people in one night, by firebombing or any other way. LeMay’s answer would be clearly ‘Yes’ . . . Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Killing 50% to 90% of the people of 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional, in the minds of some people, to the objectives we were trying to achieve.”

“I was present with the President when together we received information of that coup. I’ve never seen him more upset. He totally blanched. President Kennedy and I had tremendous problems with Diem, but my God, he was the authority, he was the head of state. And he was overthrown by a military coup. And Kennedy knew and I knew, that to some degree, the U.S. government was responsible for that.”

“We spent ten hours that day trying to find out what in the hell had happened. At one point, the commander of the ship said, ‘We’re not certain of the attack.’ At another point they said, ‘Yes, we’re absolutely positive.’ And then finally late in the day, Admiral Sharp said, ‘Yes, we’re certain it happened.’ So I reported this to Johnson, and as a result there were bombing attacks on targets in North Vietnam. Johnson said we may have to escalate, and I’m not going to do it without Congressional authority. And he put forward a resolution, the language of which gave complete authority to the President to take the nation to war: The Tonkin Gulf Resolution.”

“Were those who issued the approval to use Agent Orange: criminals? Were they committing a crime against humanity? Let’s look at the law. Now what kind of law do we have that says these chemicals are acceptable for use in war and these chemicals are not. We don’t have clear definitions of that kind. I never in the world would have authorized an illegal action. I’m not really sure I authorized Agent Orange. I don’t remember it but it certainly occurred, the use of it occurred while I was Secretary.”

“How much evil must we do in order to do good? We have certain ideals, certain responsibilities. Recognize that at times you will have to engage in evil, but minimize it.”

“One of the lessons I learned early on: never say never. Never, never, never. Never say never. And secondly, never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you. And quite frankly, I follow that rule. It’s a very good rule.”

“We all make mistakes. We know we make mistakes. I don’t know any military commander, who is honest, who would say he has not made a mistake. There’s a wonderful phrase: ‘the fog of war.’ What ‘the fog of war’ means is: war is so complex it’s beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all the variables. Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate. And we kill people unnecessarily.”


  1. Alan

    July 7, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    I understand McNamara was the originator of the “body count” that deluded people into believing that the war was being won. I have seen a case cited in a well researched (about 10 years) book that recorded 111 deaths when in fact an old man passing by on his bike panicked and feel off, hitting his head on a rock and dying, was the only death.

    A “secret” document produced by an officer in the World Bank about the end of the 1980’s described activities of the World Bank as assisting corporations of the “donor countries” and the corrupt officials and companies of the recipient countries, but actually depriving the poor of the recipient countries. I have worked for the World Bank, Asian Development Bank plus several agencies of the UN, and found it easy to understand the prime function of the World Bank, regardless of its stated purpose.

    I’m afraid my only respect for McNamara is they he finally recognized that he was not really effective in achieving his stated objectives.

  2. Tom Curtis

    July 13, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    “I’m afraid my only respect for McNamara is they he finally recognized that he was not really effective in achieving his stated objectives.”

    What were his objectives ? To kill human beings ? In the end, ALL politicians want only our money and our death.

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