Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The many ghosts of Robert McNamara


Late defense secretary Robert McNamara pictured with Vietnam War opponent Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, in 1997. I believe part of the exchange was related in the Errol Morris documentary, The Fog of War; Giap discloses that the Vietnamese had been fighting a war for national independence and were not pawns of China, which -- if you knew anything about the region -- was a longstanding rival. McNamara finds this fascinating in light of the fact that he had prosecuted the entire war on a false premise, helping along three million Vietnamese to a state of extra-corporeal "liberation" -- which in Holocaust terms is like half.

You might take from this story a sneaking suspicion that McNamara was something of an idiot. In fairness, I will not discourage you in this view. Still, the Wall Street Journal may have put it best: "[McNamara's] genius lay in pursuing efficiencies rather than in questioning policy goals." Which, unfortunately for him -- and not only for him, not by a longshot -- is kind of like saying the same thing.

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