Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

McNamara Mea Culpa Stirs Vietnam Anger the Former Secretary of State Talks about His Controversial Book before an Audience at Harvard

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

McNamara Mea Culpa Stirs Vietnam Anger the Former Secretary of State Talks about His Controversial Book before an Audience at Harvard

Article excerpt

RISING from his balcony seat, a Vietnam veteran erupts.

Robert McNamara's appearance at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government is an "obscenity," he says. The vet angrily ticks off names of fallen buddies and demands to know why McNamara has been silent so long. Why have these men died?

"You have to read the book," the former Secretary of State says, triggering more outrage from the veteran and a chorus of jeers from others in the audience. Mr. McNamara barks: "Shut up and listen."

"The short answer," says McNamara evenly, "is that I told President Johnson that we had a 1-in-3 chance of winning the war and that the loss of Vietnam would mean the loss of Southeast Asia. I don't agree with that analysis now."

His new book,"In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam," (See excerpts Page 18) has touched off a firestorm of controversy and revived the shallowly buried collective memory of body bags and thumping Huey helicopters.

As McNamara tours the country promoting, defending, and explaining his book, he has become a kind of emotional dartboard. Vietnam veterans shout obscenities at him. War widows cry and blame him for the deaths of their husbands in Vietnam.

After 30 years of silence, the Havard MBA graduate and former Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson has stepped forward to apologize for his part in the Vietnam war.

Would Harvard treat a son differently? Before a packed house, McNamara sheds his suitcoat, loosens his tie, and for two hours revisits political and military decisions along the America's troubled trail to and from Vietnam. Security guards in dark suits watch the audience.

"We were wrong, terribly wrong," he says of the cluster of high officials -- many from Harvard -- who made decisions that kept Americans in the jungles of Vietnam for two decades.

"We thought we were acting on the principles and traditions of this nation," he says. …

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