Jul 6, 2009

Robert S. McNamara, RIP


He died today at 93. I've always been fascinated by him. A troubled soul, who it seemed was never really able to come to grips with his role in life, but tried to make up for it in his own, halting, self-serving and ineffectual way. Yet I can't help but view him with a lot of sympathy.

Clearly an astoundingly brilliant man, and clearly a product of the technocratic fetishism of the 50s. Driven, wound to the breaking point.

One must remember that other figures of that time--George McGovern comes to mind--did oppose the Vietnam War from the start, and deserve moral accolades far greater than that of McNamara. Yet not many others who were neck-deep in the conflict tried to deal with the lessons of Vietnam in any way. It's fair to say that he was devastated, haunted by his role in the war, and spent most of the rest of his life trying to atone for it, unlike say Nixon or Kissinger.

I also don't think he can be compared with Rumsfeld. One must remember that in the 60s, the memories of WWII were still fresh. Hitler's march across Europe was not the tired conservative platitude it is today. The USSR was not the broken industrial distopia we remember now, but rather the massed tanks of the Red Army, defeating Germany basically singlehanded. Vietnam was still doubtless a boneheaded war, but its stupidity does not even register compared to the utterly-batshit fever dream of Iraq.

See Kevin Drum for a similar take.

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