Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mcnamara's Book: Too Little, Too Late

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mcnamara's Book: Too Little, Too Late

Article excerpt

Now he tells us. Twenty-five years after it could help or comfort or enlighten, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara has written his memoirs, "In Retrospect," in which he says the Vietnam War was wrong, dead wrong, flat wrong - just as millions of people knew without benefit of briefings, cables, charts, graphs, projections and memos.

The motives and intentions were good, but Lyndon Johnson's war Cabinet was deaf, dumb and blind when it came to reason, common sense and common humanity. The domino theory prevailed.

Maybe McNamara feels better for having gotten all this off his chest. But what about the rest of us? He says grandly that he wrote to prevent recurrence of such folly and to arrest the corroding effects of cynicism about government. But it's too late for all that. One question looms: Where has he been?

The ultimate SecDef, with his shiny, patent-leather hair and his gleaming, rimless glasses, spewing out statistics like a slot machine, apparently feels he has atoned for failures freely confessed. But his explanation is a mystery.

During Johnson's presidency, McNamara says, he felt that speaking out was out of the question: "I believe that would have been a violation of my responsibility to the president and my oath to uphold the Constitution."

McNamara rationalized then and thinks now that he had no higher responsibility. Thousands of young Americans were being sent to a war that he knew, despite contrary assurances to Congress and the country, could not be won. We could have sought a settlement, he writes, in 1963, 1964 or 1965. It went on, as we all know, until 1973.

Inexplicably, the end of the Johnson presidency did not mean an end to McNamara's obligation to Johnson. He felt no duty to tell people it was all insane: Rolling Thunder, search and destroy, Operation Phoenix, Operation Daisy Cutter - the whole obscene repertory of death and pain that poisoned the political life of the country for a generation, divided friends and families, and made us brutes and fools before the rest of the world.

Did it occur to McNamara as he watched Richard Nixon prolong the war that he had an obligation to tell what he knew about the false premises and "totally incorrect appraisals" that ended in 58,000 American deaths and God only knows how many Vietnamese? …

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