The end of a tragic life

News of the death of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara will provide the occasion for many to reflect on the War in Vietnam. It happens that my very first post on Power Line dealt with that subject and, in particular, Michael Lind’s book, Vietnam: The Necessary War.

Lind hadn’t been a conservative for some years when he wrote this book, but he did a remarkably effective job of exposing the dishonesty of the anti-Vietnam War movement. In my post, I listed a number of the myths about the war that Lind exploded.

Lind’s revisionism is of no aid to Robert McNamara, though. He argues that until 1968, shortly after McNamara left the Pentagon, the war was essentially a guerrilla operation, albeit run from Hanoi. By failing to adapt its tactics accordingly, the U.S. unnecessarily ran up high casualty figures that caused the war to lose the domestic support necessary to sustain our effort once the war became a more conventional one.

As to McNamara’s post Pentagon days, Lind writes:

Throughout his post-Vietnam career, McNamara has sought to ingratiate himself not only with those who reviled him on the liberal and radical left at home but also with communist adversaries of the United States. McNamara made a pilgrimage to Moscow in 1986 to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev and met with Fidel Castro in Havana in 1991. . .[He]endured the abuse of functionaries of the Vietnamese dictatorship during a humiliating pilgrimage to Vietnam in 1997. . . .

McNamara’s wish to believe that the Vietnam War might have been averted if only American leaders and the totalitarians of Vietnam had understood and befriended one another, says more about McNamara than about the Vietnam War. In words that might apply to McNamara’s newfound belief in the existence of numerous missed opportunities in U.S.-Vietnamese communist relations, his biographer Deborah Shapley writes skeptically that McNamara’s “sincere belief that Kennedy would have gotten out of Vietnam was something that he arrived at later when the war had become tragic and traumatic for him and the nation.”


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