Probably no American is more identified with the Vietnam War and its failures than former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, who was 93 when he died this week in Washington, D.C. Though McNamara had significant achievements before and after his Pentagon tour (1961-68) — he was president of Ford Motor Co. at one point and of the World Bank at another — he’ll forever be remembered as the architect of war policy in Southeast Asia that ultimately cost 58,000 American lives, strained the country’s social fabric and caused the U.S. to doubt its abilities and motives in a foreign policy sense for the better part of a decade.
Finding positives in such a negative chapter of history is hard. But the errors of Vietnam, propounded by McNamara and his boss, President Lyndon Johnson, helped erect important tests for committing American troops to battle. That is, don’t do it without clear policy objectives and unless you plan to win. Unfortunately, and despite the many accomplishments of a fully engaged life, Robert McNamara’s page in history mostly will be spent discussing the miscalculations of the Vietnam War, about which McNamara later wrote he his aides were “wrong, terribly wrong.”
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