Skip to comments.McNamara's Wall
Posted on 07/07/2009 1:17:55 PM PDT by Interesting Times
Rather than absolving him of his sins, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamaras pseudo-mea culpa, In Retrospect: Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, is a self-indictment. His lesser crime is self-indulgence. His arrogance and duplicity during the Vietnam conflict is echoed throughout his book as he recounts his mismanagement of the war.
If as he admits, ignorance was his guiding light, then, it has grown to be a beacon today, proving that he has learned little about Vietnamese communism in the almost three decades that it took him to write his book. Besides the war, another tragedy is that McNamara seems to have lost his memory, and has difficulty distinguishing between facts and fantasy.
Nowhere in his book does McNamara mention his asinine idea of building a technological wall to keep the North Vietnamese out of the South in order to reduce the need to bomb North Vietnam. (Perhaps he was going to build the wall out of surplus Edsels, a car designed and built while he was CEO of Ford Motor Company that was a total failure.) McNamara didnt succeed in keeping the North Vietnamese out of the South, but the wall was built; not on the 17th parallel as he planned; rather, it can be found just off Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC. Its called the Vietnam Memorial; built with the names of 58,000 dead Americans.
McNamara is flat wrong in his claim that Our government lacked experts for us to consult to compensate for our ignorance about Southeast Asia. Rather than accepting advice, McNamara and the other Whiz Kids arrogantly and deliberately chose to ignore the experts. In fact, McNamara claims there were no experts.
The fact was there were several experts, including the well known French journalist and author Bernard Fall. It wasnt that Fall had been painted as a suspect communist sympathizer as claimed in the book, it was because McNamara and his coterie were running the war and were to arrogant to consult with a damn Frog. They felt that the French couldnt be trusted because the Vichy French had collaborated with the Axis during World War II, and their colonial administrators in Indochina had been treated as allies by the Japanese. And the US had never lost a war, and the French had already lost in Indochina; therefore, McNamara and his cohort wouldnt be caught dead consulting with a bunch of colonials and losers.
And what memory lapse would cause McNamara to forget another expert for whom President John F. Kennedy had great respect for, General Edward Geary Lansdale? Lansdale had been a personal advisor and confident to Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay, and had been instrumental in the defeat of the communist movement there. Lansdales expertise wasnt limited to the Philippines, for he was extremely knowledgeable about the entire situation across Southeast Asia.
Lansdale had been in North Vietnam during the two year grace period accorded by the Geneva agreements of 1954. He assisted the anti-communist Vietnamese to go south while Ho Chi Min solidified power in the North. He was also a personal advisor and close friend to South Vietnams President Ngo Dinh Diem.
On January 28, 1961, President Kennedy read a report by General Lansdale about his recent trip to Vietnam. The following Saturday morning, Kennedy had his chief political advisor call Lansdale at his home and asked him to come immediately to the White House. When he arrived, President Kennedy interrupted a briefing on foreign policy and introduced Lansdale to the group as his next ambassador to Vietnam.
On March 1, 1961, a cable was sent to the American Embassy in Saigon from JFKs staff ordering the desk-bound Embassy and its top field officers to read Lansdales January report, absorb its concepts, and apply them as a new priority in reaching the people in the provinces and villages of Vietnam. However, Lansdales counterinsurgency and pacification efforts were undermined by ambitious people in the State Department and the over-achievers in the Pentagon, who knew that the only way to gain promotion, get their stars and win medals was to expand the Vietnam conflict militarily in the conventional way.
In his book, McNamara belittles General Lansdale by stating, I knew of only one Pentagon officer with counterinsurgency experience in the region, ...but Lansdale was a relative junior officer who lacked broad geopolitical expertise. Geo-political thinking from 18th Century Europe wasn't needed in Vietnam, rather Lansdales ideo-and ethno-political expertise is what would have carried the day. McNamara didnt even know that General Lansdale was on his staff until President Kennedy pointed him out. And when did a General become a junior officer?
McNamara also wrongly compares Ho Chi Minh, as a Vietnamese nationalist, to Yugoslavias Marshall Tito. Ho was as much of a nationalist as McNamara is a historian.
Ho Chi Minh was an international communist, who co-founded the French communist party in 1920. He was trained at the Lenin Institute in Moscow in 1925; he was a nationalized Soviet citizen; and he took a Russian name, Linov. He was assigned as a Russian citizen in the Soviet Consulate in Canton, China, under the renowned Machiavellian Russian Consul, Bordin, when fighting broke out between Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Tse Tung. Joseph Stalin supported Chiang and Mao never forgave, nor trusted, Moscow after that.
Ho was then sent to Thailand in 1928 under Moscows orders, where he shaved his head and become a Buddhist monk and awaited further orders. They came in 1930, when he was sent by Moscow to Hong Kong to found a new communist party, which Ho named The Indochina Communist party. Only a French communist would use that term, for a true Vietnamese nationalist would never have used the colonialist term Indochina. Ho was more of a Stalin than a Tito, and arranged the betrayal and annihilation of all opposition including: nationalists, such as Phan Boi Chau (1926); the murder of South Vietnamese Trotskyite communists (1945), who had been an enemy of Stalins policies since the 1920s; and the selective elimination of the non-communist Viet Minh leaders (1954-56), who had greatly contributed to the defeat of the French.
McNamara is even rebuked today by Hanois communist party theoretical journal, which stated that Ho was not a nationalist but was an internationalist, loyal to Moscows Comintern policies to the end of his days. Robert McNamara, please call your publisher.
The Vietnam conflict was neither a peoples' war nor a civil war, as McNamara claims. Rather, it was a proxy war between superpowers the Soviet Union and the United States, and the wannabee superpower, China. Vietnam was never one country, but had always been divided into there distinct political entities, North, Central, and South Vietnam, and each region had its own distinct political faction and dialect. Both the Central and Southern Vietnamese disliked the arrogant and aggressive North Vietnamese, and the communists fighting in the South were primarily directed by the North.
In turn, the North Vietnamese communists distrusted the Central and Southern communists, and in 1954 and again in 1968, the North Vietnamese communists used their comrades as cannon fodder in order to purge the party ranks of untrustworthy Central and Southern communist brethren, as well as to gain total control of the communist movement in Vietnam. The Norths invasion of the South is comparable to Iraqs invasion of Kuwait.
McNamara is also dead wrong in saying that our goal of stopping the communist take over of Indochina was unworthy. This is an insult to the 58,000 Americans and the hundreds of thousands of people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia whom he sent to be killed in an attempt to stop the dominos from falling and to help win freedom for the people of the region. Because of McNamara, and in spite of those deaths, some of the dominos fell when the US pulled out.
And McNamara has the gall to say that it was unworthy to try to prevent the slaughter of the almost two million Cambodians who were murdered by the Vietnamese-inspired, trained, and armed Khmer Rouge (who were supported by Vietnamese artillery and troops). And unworthy to try to prevent the pain and hardship suffered by the tens of thousands of people thrown into the concentration camps (re-education camps) in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
McNamaras statement that President Eisenhowers domino theory was wrong reflects his total ignorance of Ho Chi Minhs Southeast Asian time bombs of the 1930s when Ho, as a Moscow agent, organized the communist parties of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia (Indochinese Communist Party), as well as those in Thailand, Burma, Malaya, and Indonesia. It is highly unlikely that the Generals in Indonesia would have stood up to and defeated the communist movement there without the demonstration of American resolve in Vietnam in 1965. Furthermore, without the hundreds of millions of dollars and large amounts of military hardware pumped into the Thai economy, Thailand would have become the fourth domino to fall, after Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Without Americas resolve and commitment, the Vietnamese communists would have continued to fuel the insurrection in Thailand until it too fell, invading it as they did Cambodia.
It isnt that the Vietnam conflict was unwinnable as he claims, rather McNamara ensured its loss by dictating rules of engagement and limited bombing. McNamara arrogantly micro-managed the war by remote, as if playing a board game and possessed by Dr. Strangelove, sending daily encoded messages to the Generals and Admirals in Vietnam on the specific targets he chose to bomb that day. He ordered planes to make multiple bombing runs on the same target on the same day because it was more cost-effective, but it provided a duck shoot for the North Vietnamese.
From the onset of the American involvement, the North Vietnamese communists had openly professed they would fight a protracted war and defeat the Americans, not on the battlefield, but politically at home as they had the French. When he voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, an expert on international law, warned the White House and the Pentagon that the US must either declare and fight an all-out war against North Vietnam, or the war would be lost politically.
It wasnt a lack of experts to consult with, as he professes; the problem was that McNamara chose to ignore expert advice. McNamaras failed policies of the 1960s turned the American people totally against even a minor involvement in Vietnam, thus ensuring the fulfillment of Hanois prophesy and guaranteeing the communist victory.
If we were wrong; terribly wrong, as McNamara claims, and he realized it in the mid-sixties and never resigned, then hes ultimately responsible for sending thousands of Americas best and brightest to their deaths. McNamaras cop-out is, You shouldnt use your power that youve accumulated in a sense as the Presidents appointee to attack and subvert the policies of the elected representative of the people. However, the standards set at Nuremberg defeat McNamaras logic.
Some draft evaders say that McNamaras book vindicates them for their actions, but when do two wrongs make a right? Rather than donating his book earnings to help heal the Vietnam veterans he helped wound, McNamara plans to use them to increase communications with the draconian dictatorship in Hanoi; the second time he has handed the Hanoi communists a victory.
Vietnam War ping.
Frankly, nothing this arrogant, egotistical incompetent can say or do can ever erase my contempt for him. Too bad he lived so much longer than the thousands who were condemned under his stewardship of the War.
Wow! Everyone can’t stand this guy. I never heard a negative word about him until he died. Of course I wasn’t alive when he was SECDEF or I was an infant. Fox News is giving some props to the guy though saying that he stopped a nuclear war and was a Republican. The problem is that Fox News has gone so liberal lately that you just don’t know what to believe. I do trust Free Republic as my truthful resource so the guy must have been pretty bad.
"I like that, kinda has a nice ring to it!"
McNamara for his all-knowing arrogance, and LBJ for his micro-management costed over 58,000 dead including my best friend!
May they roast in Hell forever!
“Nuclear weapons serve no military purpose whatsoever. They are totally useless - except to deter one's opponent from using them.”
Our nuclear superiority, coupled with the Soviets’ belief that we could build an effective missile shield, ended the Cold War and hastened the demise of the Soviet Union. This is worth keeping in mind, while we witness Obama capitulating to the Russians on nuclear stockpiles and missile defense.
What a waste, then and now.
If it wouldn’t dishonor the men on the wall so much, I think it would be fitting for this SOB to have to wake up on judgment day, looking right into that wall, with the name of every casualty he was responsible for.
There are casualties in all wars. If plans are sound and execution is good, then the SecDef is not responsible for the deaths that will occur. He will have saved lives by implementing a sound plan.
If the policies are not sound, the plans are not sound, and more people die as a result, the SecDef deserves to be skewered for it.
McNamera, I personally believe you are more responsible than any other human being for the millions of people who died in the region.
Jane Fonda and the leftist ilk of the 60s & 70s come in second.
The liberals in our Congress, come in a very strong third.
This A$$hole was a bean counting, amoral robot who came from a laboratory that turned these people out with regularity - Harvard with assistance form the Ford Motor Co. of the 60’s.
Great article. Thanks for posting.
Coming from a FREEPER, I believe every word.
That's not your call.
I never had much respect for him - even when I was over there. As time went on I learned not to have much respect for any bean counters I met.
Fox had leaned left for at least a few years now. I do not trust them any more than the rest of the propaganda media machines.
A devastating and unfortunately very accurate account. Though the author touched on it, it is frightening how McNamara and the rest of LBJ’s inner circle were every day ignoring the advice of those on the ground and ordering worthless hits on civilian targets of no strategic importance, while ceasing operations showing signs of success - all on whims, all in a detached “let’s play Risk!” mindset. The war in Vietnam, like in Iraq, should have been over very quickly. Too bad we are universally led by people educated far beyond their intelligence and promoted far above their competence.
It is a miracle WWII was not a bigger bloodbath for the allies, given the inept political intervention by American politicians in the work of the generals then too. I guess the Germans had their own incompetent leaders to foist policies of failure upon their warriors.
You're welcome. Mike sent it around to some of his friends shortly after McNamara died, and I thought it deserved a wider audience.
That miserable SOB along with Johnson and their insane war planning is the reason that I have some dear friends names on the wall. In honor of them I will find out where he is buried and give him a beer bath after I run it through my system first!
I know of no one who lived though his time in office that admire the job he did. Make excuses for him, but never admire.
You may have to stand in line.
Thanks for the ping IT. May he rest in hell....I lost a dear neighbor because of his ignorance.
IMHO, the war drove him crazy. He was in at least some respects like Stanton, Lincoln’s war minister. Stanton was also unstable. But Johnson was no Lincoln, so there was no one to balance McNamama. Indeed, many of the charges the reviewer makes against McNamara should be laid against Johnson and his other close advisers.
Let’s not leave out another of the cynical, arrogant and ambitious on the backs of others - Henry Kissinger.
I’m awaiting his obituary as well.
Agreed. But the "brilliant" McNamara was arguably the most arrogant and wrongheaded of the bunch.
Exposing him would expose the lie that somehow Richard Nixon was responsible for a war started by the guy who beat him, Kennedy, that the war that really got going in 1965 was somehow started by the guy who took office in 1969. So, the media cone of silence was dropped.
Johnson and especially McNamara thought they were way smarter than their military people, shutting out the Joint Chiefs from decision-making on Vietnam. You wonder where the idea came from that the politicians never let the military fight Vietnam to win? McNamara and his micromanaging of the war.
He's also hailed as some kind of charitable genius at the World Bank. But the only countries that emerged from poverty on his watch were the ones NOT developing on World Bank loans, but by freeing their economies and supporting business and export expansion. On the other hand, a lot of dictators in countries getting World Bank loans got really rich.
He is Exhibit A why an off the charts IQ and fine education are not enough to make a wise leader.
Yes, but I do not recall that military leaders offered an alternative strategic vision. Westmoreland doesn’t seem to have much of one at all. On the other hand, no telling what he would have done if he had had as much authority as Eisenhower did.
Oh, and the Edsel fiasco was on his watch at Ford, but that probably doesn’t mean anything to someone of your age!
You don’t know arrogant if you never not met Lyndon. That guy could really dominate a room.
Don't forget LBJ.
The Media is really attracted by the figure of Robert McNamarra. Could it a sort of collective guilt at work? I mean JFK is ‘sainted’, and LBJ would have been ‘great’ if it hadn’t been for Vietnam. Somebody has to be the fall-guy, right?
Not saying that McNamarra wasn’t an arrogant, puffed-up piece of work. He was. But there have been reasonably successful SecDefs who had similar problems.
Especially when he granted interviews to female reporters while sitting on the commode, as was his charming habit.
There’s no denying that LBJ tried to micromanage the war from the Oval Office, a terrible thing to do. I still think it was McNamera that skewed his vision of how the war should be waged.
So what you kind of had was Johnson making the formal decisions after McNamera had counseled him improperly.
That’s my take on it. I may be wrong. People who disagree should set me straight.
I am reminded of Herman Wouk’s book,” The Winds of War.” and the way that FDR reach down into the ranks and found experiences officers to give him advise. Pug Henry was a composite of several such men. I wonder of Lyndon was capable of employing such men. He seemed to favor sycophants, guys like Bill Moyers.
He loved to intimidate.
IMHO, they were pretty much in sync. McNamara from a tactical/strategic standpoint told the the boss exactly what the boss wanted the hear. LBJ was a micro-manager on thing other than the war as well. Their policies, especially to on again-off again bombing campaigns and avoiding any target if they knew there were Russian 'advisers' there were beyond insane.
They were a bad team.
I never understood the fear of hitting Russian or Chinese “advisors”. It’s war. What were they going to do about it? Certainly isn’t worth a nuclear exchange over if it should happen. It telegraph’s strategic weakness.
Frankly we should have closed Haiphong harbor much earlier than they did. If a Russian freighter hits a mine, that would have been too bad. You were warned.
You can still loose a war even if you are tactically superior — just ask the Germans.
Mcnamara was the ultimate Incompetent mocked on the every soldiers Zippo.
The unwilling, led by the incompetent to do the impossible for the ungrateful.
I agree. I will say most of Nixon’s cease fires were as a direct result of Congress giving him so much heat, he basically had no choice. LBJ, not the same thing at all.
Those stupid cease-fires. Good grief.
We should have given North Vietnam five days to stop all hostilities or we would level Hanoi within 48 hours, then move on to the next biggest city.
We pussy footed around.
McNamara was registered Republican when Kennedy appointed him, but I doubt he's voted Republican since then.
Everybody hated McNamara forty years ago.
PBS gave him chances to plug his books, and he took that as some sort of redemption, but it wasn't.
People just forgot about him and didn't want to be reminded he was still around.
Some people say McNamara changed his name to Rumsfeld and picked up where he left off, but that's not right either.
Truman lost China and allowed it to invade Korea.
McCarthy saw the infiltration and Venona confirmed it.
Johnson November 65 threw the Joint Chiefs out in "The Day It Became the Longest War".
McNamara the supreme narcissist sacrificing tens of thousands of far, far better men.
Johnson was enormously corrupt. NSAM 273 had circulated in draft fashion before JFK's killing. Johnson signed it the Tuesday thereafter.
Imagine bombing Hanoi, mining Haiphong, allowing no sanctuary anywhere.
No more the ivory tower.
Our current Secretary of Defense comes from the effete CIA.
He coauthored with Zbigniew Brzezinski the 2004 Council on Foreign Relations paper "Iran: Time for a New Approach" calling for negotiating with people who believe a woman's uncovered hair can drive a man mad, and that the Twelfth Imam can be coaxed from a well near Qum after centuries by a nuclear Holocaust and subsequent chaos.
Our new Johnson and McNamara are vastly more evil: ali Hussein and his swordsman slashing the F-22 are the clear and present danger.
Kerry and Kennedy et al have still to answer for their role in the mountain of skulls in Cambodia.
Karma, some call it. Judgment Day, others.
Actions have consequences.
Our Republic will always owe her survival to her brave warriors putting duty, honor, country before the narcissism and lust for power of history's vermin.
“The French expected to have their possessions back, as did the Brits, Dutch, Belgians, etc. This issue was the basis for suspicion amongst the Allies over what they would “claim” after WW II. Read “Retribution” by Max Hastings, which covers the last year of the war in Asia.
I don’t think Truman “lost” China (not supporting Chiang Kai Shek) since the generalissimo and his people were more corrupt than the French were in Indochina. The Nationalists were looters of their own country. Unfortunately, Mao was the uniter.”
Good points I have heard that before My point was this:
Letter to President Harry Truman, February 16, 1945. The letter was never answered and was not declassified until 1972
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
Our VIETNAM people, as early as 1941, stood by the Allies’ side and fought against the Japanese and their associates, the French colonialists.
From 1941 to 1945 we fought bitterly, sustained by the patriotism, of our fellow-countrymen and by the promises made by the Allies at YALTA, SAN FRANCISCO and POTSDAM.
When the Japanese were defeated in August 1945, the whole Vietnam territory was united under a Provisional Republican Government, which immediately set out to work. In five months, peace and order were restored, a democratic republic was established on legal bases, and adequate help was given to the Allies in the carrying out of their disarmament mission.
But the French Colonialists, who betrayed in wartime both the Allies and the Vietnamese, have come back, and are waging on us a murderous and pitiless war in order reestablish their domination. Their invasion has extended to South Vietnam and is menacing us in North Vietnam. It would take volumes to give even an abbreviated report of the crisis and assassinations they are committing everyday in this fighting area.
This aggression is contrary to all principles of international law and the pledge made by the Allies during World War II. It is a challenge to the noble attitude shown before, during, and after the war by the United States Government and People. It violently contrasts with the firm stand you have taken in your twelve point declaration, and with the idealistic loftiness and generosity expressed by your delegates to the United Nations Assembly, MM. BYRNES, STETTINIUS, AND J.F. DULLES.
The French aggression on a peace-loving people is a direct menace to world security. It implies the complicity, or at least the connivance of the Great Democracies. The United Nations ought to keep their words. They ought to interfere to stop this unjust war, and to show that they mean to carry out in peacetime the principles for which they fought in wartime.
Our Vietnamese people, after so many years of spoliation and devastation, is just beginning its building-up work. It needs security and freedom, first to achieve internal prosperity and welfare, and later to bring its small contribution to world-reconstruction.
These security and freedom can only be guaranteed by our independence from any colonial power, and our free cooperation with all other powers. It is with this firm conviction that we request of the United Sates as guardians and champions of World Justice to take a decisive step in support of our independence.
What we ask has been graciously granted to the Philippines. Like the Philippines our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the UNITED STATES. We will do our best to make this independence and cooperation profitable to the whole world.
I am Dear Mr. PRESIDENT,
(Signed) Ho Chi Minh
So important to be reminded of such realities now and again.
Our Great War alliances with the the imperialist nations of france, G.B. Russia and Japan had utterly poisoned the well for us in Asia as in Europe.
American ideals and values were sold then so cheaply, the costs to future American generations became always more dear.