Skip to comments.The No-Brainers of Robert S. McNamara
Posted on 08/05/2009 6:07:59 PM PDT by Excuse_My_Bellicosity
His lack of integrity was deeply troubling, but it was the world-class arrogance that did the real military damage.
It should be evident to all that Robert S. McNamara, to paraphrase a line from the 1940 book Guilty Men, was among the worst selections for high office since Caligula chose to make his horse a consul at Rome. He died July 6 at age 93. Todays officials can profit from studying his career.
McNamara, the Pentagon chief in the Kennedy and Johnson years, showed sketchy character on many occasions, but nowhere did he do this more baldly than in his 1995 memoir, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. My predecessor, John T. Correll, dissected it in an editorial, The Confessions of Robert S. McNamara. I cannot improve upon it. He wrote:
Robert S. McNamara could give duplicity a bad name. In his new memoir, ... he says that the Vietnam War was a mistake and that he knew it all along. We should have gotten out in 1963, when fewer than 100 Americans had been killed. When he and other US policymakers took us to war, they had not truly investigated what was essentially at stake.
McNamara was Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968 in the Kennedy Administration, which led the US into the Vietnam adventure, and in the Johnson Administration, which widened the involvement to a war in which 58,000 American troops died. He was not some star-crossed functionary who went passively along with a policy he opposed. He was so fiery an advocate that Vietnam became known as McNamaras War. His actions then and his statements now cannot be reconciled with honor.
The duplicity has another dimension. News accounts bill In Retrospect as a stark admission of guilt, but an actual reading of it tells a different story. McNamara does, to be sure, acknowledge that he and his colleagues were wrong, terribly wrong, but the admissions account for relatively little of the books substance. The bulk of it explains how these were honest mistakes and not altogether the fault of McNamara and his friends.
Correll went on to point out a startling blind spot in the book:
Somehow, it is not altogether surprising that McNamara comes close to ignoring the rank and file of the US armed forces. In the entire book, there are just four brief instances, one of them in a footnote, when the troops cross his mind. The best he can bring himself to say for those killed in action is that the unwisdom of our intervention does not nullify their effort and their loss.
Damning as these passages are, it is what comes next that most clearly spotlights McNamaras biggest failing. Correll wrote:
McNamara never learned the real lessons of the war. In Retrospect ticks off 11 major causes for our disaster in Vietnam, but they run mostly to philosophical mush like, We misjudged thenas we have sincethe geopolitical intentions of our adversaries, and, We failed to recognize that in international affairs, as in other aspects of life, there may be problems for which there are no immediate solutions.
Incredibly, McNamara recallsbut regards it as insignificantthat the service Chiefs told him in 1964 that the US had not defined a militarily valid objective for Vietnam. With similar arrogance, McNamara continues to believe that his strategic and tactical abilities were better than those of the military professionals and that his micromanagement of the war was a good idea.
In short, his lack of integrity was deeply troubling, but it was the world-class arrogance that did the real military damage.
Many have testified to the pervasiveness of this arrogance. One who experienced it up close and personal was Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, USAF Chief of Staff in the years 1961-65. LeMay was the greatest combat commander the Air Force had ever produced, yet it counted for little in the lounges of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Warren Kozak, author of a new biography, LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay, notes that, Robert McNamara had very clear ideas of what he wanted to do at the Pentagon. ... He was determined to take control.
Faced with such brash confidence, LeMay and the Chiefs didnt have much of a chance. McNamara killed key service programs. He halted the supersonic B-70 bomber that was LeMays top priority. The Pentagon chief forced on the Navy and the Air Force the dual-service TFXlater F-111. Most especially, LeMay quarreled with McNamara over the latters embrace of gradualism in Vietnam. LeMay was proved right.
The New Frontiersman saw little reason to consult with the Chiefs. They sensed this and felt that Kennedy and the people under him simply ignored the militarys advice. LeMay was especially incensed when McNamara brought in a group of young statisticians as a buffer between him and the military. LeMay referred to them with the dismissive term whiz kids.
These young men, who seemed to have the Presidents ear, ... exuded a sureness of their opinions that LeMay saw as arrogance, writes Kozak. They made decisions with a startling self-assurance.
Today, some call such obvious decisions no-brainers.
This grated on LeMay, writes Kozak. As LeMay approached almost everything in his life with a feeling of self-doubt, he says, he was actually surprised when things worked out well. Here, he saw the oppositeinexperienced people coming in absolutely sure of themselves and ultimately making the wrong decisions with terrible consequences.
Syndicated columnist Richard Reeves, in a July 11 dispatch, called McNamara possibly the smartest fool ever to serve at the highest level of government in the United States. Part of that unwisdom, to use McNamaras term, flowed from his arrogancehis firm belief that he already knew all the answers. As we said, todays officials can profit from studying McNamaras career.
There are entire schools breeding each entire classes of mini McNamars. Harvard and Yale to name two.
Basically, the more educated into stupidity a youth is, the more he/she needs a tour as a infantry grunt, or some other esteem,,,’testing’...education, rather than the little mono cultured hot houses of academia.
This may not be very collaborative but I tend to think the rabid contempt for McNamara is the beginning of the Left’s departure from global reality.
It is at this point that the Left begins to generically employ a traiterous rhetoric of ‘American war fighter’ is the worst person the Earth has ever known.
I think McNamara might have been weak but it seems so obvious that he was not the worst person ever. The hyperbole so regularly directed at him and now all associated with the Iraq war seems to be a function of efforts to insulate ourselves from how bad the world is.
The ugly reality is that Communists and various iterations of radical statism are profoundly evil and malicious to the general human condition. These radical statists are determined and difficult to overcome but the confrontation with them is inevitable.
The psychological retreat into a world where re-considering our domestic choices causes the enemy to vaporize as a fiction created by our own flawed internal characters remains a steady feature of the left.
It also seems that this radical neo isolationist world did permeate McNamara in the end of it all and lead him to reconfigure himself as someone who “knew” the war was always lost. He had to because — nothing is worse than War according to the neo isolationist Left.
Its plainly ridiculous, but it seems to be where we are.
Another reason I so deeply admire Bush. He stared right into the pathological derangement of this Movement and said, I will not withdraw but instead choose to escalate the war. That so infuriated this ridiculous movement and yet proved thus far— to be brilliant.
I can only add: our neighborhood nice guy, carted off to fight in “McNamara’s War” woke up in a rice paddy with both his boots (and legs) lying next to him, his body made useless, his brain and hearing destroyed and when he came home the demonstrators mocked his disabling injuries and spat on him. He died in a great deal of agony after drinking what remained of himself to death.
I hope McNamara gets to play General for an eternity of unwisdom.
This happened because the F-111 was built in LBJ's backyard, Fort Worth, Texas. The B-70, made by a company based in California, didn't stand a chance.
McNamara was first and foremost a bean counter, and I mean that in a very derogatory way. It was he and his whiz kids who were responsible for the early problems with the M-16 and resulting deaths. It was he who dictated the same B-52 bombing tactics day in and day out. Every raid was flown the same pattern every time, and North Vietnamese missiles were stationed accordingly. He’s dead and not a great loss either.
He was arrogant, and he thought he was smarter than he actually was - a very dangerous combination - just like our current president.
Yes, I’m thinking of a Dante’s Inferno scenario where he has to fight in a hopeless battle, be horribly wounded, come back to people who spit on him at the airport, and take a week to die painfully in a hospital bed...over and over again.
This is exactly the type of people who are running our government today. There’s a few brilliant people sprinkled among layer upon layer of stunning incompetence. They might be somewhat OK if they knew they have no business running everything, but their egos won’t let them think it for a second.
I remember in 1968 going to Chu Lai (after the Tet Offensive) to conduct a raid in the DMZ to establish that the North Vietnamese were occupying it in force. Of course we on the ground perhaps 500 meters away did not notice this, but a few fat fellows with various devices came and assured us that they had electronic documentation that this was so, and the orders to violate the DMZ to prove it came down from on high. Three Arc Lights (B-52 strikes) were delivered as the initial prep. Considerable artillery and five dozen tanks followed that up with further prep fire. A reinforced battalion of Marines was helilifted into the area where the hostiles were supposed to be. The subsequent sweep found nothing at all. The fat fellows went away. This was about what you’d expect any time McNamara or the DC political crowd intruded on operations. May McNamara rest in peace wherever he should repose for eternity. I suspect, however, that he will merit no more respect in the hereafter than he would ever get from me. Smart asses are not worth much, sez I. So burn, baby, burn as you and your sort were so fond of saying back then.
My personal wish is that McNamara is burning in hell and I will be glad when Ted Kennedy joins him.
The thought of McNamara writing that self-deceiving memoir makes me want to scream. His passive memories only contribute to the disgust I feel for his moral blindness and disregard for the Americans he immolated on the altar of his power.
There was a competition to replace the M-38A1 Jeep. Willis won the competition, hands-down, but Ford, MacNamara's old employer, got a sweetheart deal to provide the vehicles dirt cheap as long as they were never resold, but torched.
The 4-wheel, independent suspension was designed without thought to what would happen when too sharp a turn occurred. The M-38 and M-38A1 would give the operator a warning, but the M-151 just folded the inside wheels under and executed a snap roll, killing the occupants instantly.
But, all that mattered was that MacNamara took care of his old employer!
There's always McNamara's Project 100,000, aka the New Standards Program, requiring the branches to accept a defined number of recruits and draftees who wouldn't normally meet physical or mental standards. So as not to deprive them of serving. Some good sites out there with extensive details of the program and results, none significant, but I can't find them in a quick search.
nathanbedford wrote: “In contemplating McNamara’s arrogance, indeed the arrogance of the whole of the Kennedy administration which so seduced the media, the parallels to the Obama administration fairly leap off the page at us.”
..... Oh, indeed they do.
I was thinking exactly the same thing. "Mac" and his "Whiz Kids" over-rode Eugene Stoner's design requirements, eliminating the chrome lined chambers and bolts, and since there was LOTS of surplus powder available, changed the ammunition powder standard as well. What we wound up with was a weapon designed to very close tolerances, firing cartridges with dirty powder, guaranteed to foul the bolt and chamber, yet the weapon had no way to force the bolt into battery... And they actually shipped the weapons into the war zone WITHOUT cleaning kits! And it wasn't like you could just "borrow" the cleaning kit from an M-14 (7.62mm) to clean your M-16 (5.56mm) - the cleaning rod and brushes simple wouldn't fit in the bore!
I wonder how many American deaths were the direct result of Mac's arrogance?
We borrowed heavy from the Germans for the M-60 GP machine gun and the M-39 20mm cannon, plus?
I really have been impressed with the original German assault rifle, Sgwt/MP 44.?*
*Knowing someone will be along to correctly ID with correct name for it - FR rocks!
Lots of lessons here, but Hayek’s book comes to mind: THE Fatal Conceit. LeMay had the right attitude.
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