Robert S. McNamara (1916-2009) was the eighth Secretary of Defense serving from 1961 to 1968 during both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Despite his stellar career, McNamara’s legacy will forever be tied to the Vietnam War…
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McNamara was responsible for orchestrating a massive military buildup that would involve the U.S. in a decade long war which resulted in the loss of 58,000 American servicemen. A bitterly divided public directed blame and their anger on him for the misguided and unnecessary human carnage. He took responsibility and accepted blame in his 1995 memoir. Vietnam was characterized then and still is today as “McNamara’s War.” Under his direction, the Pentagon employed the weaponry and technology of the world’s most powerful military force against an impoverished peasant nation approximately the size of New Jersey and came away losers. In hindsight, McNamara’s ambitious, confident and technological-based methodology may have been appropriate in a military engagement with the former Soviet Union on European soil but this tactic had disastrous consequences in the swamp-like rice paddies and dense jungles of Vietnam. McNamara gained a reputation as brilliant statistician and tactician during WWII earning the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was awarded the Legion of Merit medal for his service in the Office of Statistical Control. During the late 1940’s and the entire decade of the 1950’s, McNamara along with a team of others reversed the lagging fortunes of the Ford Motor Company making the auto giant into a profitable operation with his innovative ideas. McNamara was selected President of Ford in 1960 becoming the first person outside the Ford family to attain this position. President Kennedy offered him both the Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of Defense Cabinet positions in 1961. Though his education, MBA from Harvard, and business experience may have been more suited to the Treasury position, McNamara chose Defense. He was a close confidant of Kennedy who often consulted McNamara on a range of issues. In his position as Defense Secretary, McNamara was a central figure during the Cuban Missile Crisis triumph and the Bay of Pigs debacle. His concept-to-design development of the multiple-warhead nuclear missile altered the balance of world power in the U.S.’s favor for a time. “McNamara sponsored development of missiles that could carry up to 14 nuclear warheads each, giving the United States the ability to strike more Soviet targets without adding missiles and the capability of launching more warheads than the Soviets could fend off.” (Lippman, 2009). Following his tenure at the Pentagon, he was appointed president of the World Bank where he concentrated on building the economies of poor nations. Despite his great intellect and otherwise stellar career, the name “McNamara” will be forever infamous due to America’s involvement in Vietnam. Before the U.S. became involved in Vietnam, France spent a decade fighting the Communist North Vietnamese in their attempt to consolidate the South and North into one country. When the French withdrew in the mid 1950’s, the U.S. initiated a limited role sending economic support and a few hundred military advisors to aid the South Vietnamese government in its efforts to repel the Northern aggressors. During the abbreviated Kennedy presidency, thousand more “advisors” were sent. McNamara fully endorsed the added personnel. During his first trip to the Southeast Asian nation in 1962, years before most Americans knew of any military involvement or had even heard of a country called Vietnam, McNamara said that “every quantitative measurement we have shows we’re winning this war.” (Lippman, 2009). Had the war never escalated beyond a few thousand advisors, history would not have remembered what is now an infamous statement
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(Robert McNamara: Architect of a Failed War Essay)
“Robert McNamara: Architect of a Failed War Essay”, n.d. https://studentshare.org/history/1402382-robert-mcnamara-s-influence-on-the-vietnam-war.
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