Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

No Confusion About McNamara

There seems to be a lot of unwarranted confusion about the legacy of Robert McNamara, secretary of defense during the Vietnam war, who passed away this week at 93.

How could one among the so-called Best and Brightest, an elite of the meritocracy, have contrived such a misguided, murderous morass? McNamara perpetuated the undertaking long after he recognized -privately - that it was indefensible, and probably illegal.

The reason is simple. He hoped against hope to win -or, more accurately, annihilate his opposition - to avoid prosecution and punishment.

He came close to saying so in his emotional, public appraisals of Vietnam in the last decade of his life. He said he had realized since World War II, when he helped orchestrate the bombings of Japanese civilians, that often the only difference between a crime and a strategy in war was winning. The winners don't face charges.

So there is the simple answer for the years and years of violence in Vietnam, beyond mercy or sanity. McNamara feared for himself and the people he worked for. "Peace with honor" really meant violence until the victims were so broken they could not respond even with calls for accountability. They would consent to simply being left alone.

McNamara is dead and there is no joy in that. As the saying goes, when God puts his hand on a man, we should remove ours. Still, we have a responsibility to know the truth, and learn from mistakes and sins.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca NY Blog

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