Robert S. McNamara, perhaps the most influential defense secretary of the 20th century, who helped lead the nation into the maelstrom of Vietnam and spent the rest of his life wrestling with the war’s moral consequences, died early Monday at his home in Washington, the Associated Press reported, citing his wife, Diana. He was 93, and according to the news agency, had been in failing health for some time.
Serving Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 to 1968, Mr. McNamara oversaw hundreds of military missions, thousands of nuclear weapons and billions of dollars in military spending and foreign arms sales. He also enlarged the defense secretary’s role, handling foreign diplomacy and the dispatch of troops to enforce civil rights in the South.
“He’s like a jackhammer,” President Johnson said. “No human being can take what he takes. He drives too hard. He is too perfect.”
As early as April 1964, Senator Wayne Morse, Democrat of Oregon, called Vietnam “McNamara’s War.” Mr. McNamara did not object. “I am pleased to be identified with it,” he said, “and do whatever I can to win it.”
Half a million American soldiers went to war on his watch. More than 16,000 died; 42,000 more would fall in the seven years to come.
The war became his personal nightmare. Nothing he did, none of the tools at his command — the power of American weapons, the forces of technology and logic or the strength of American soldiers — could stop the armies of North Vietnam. He concluded well before leaving the Pentagon that the war was futile, but he did not share that insight with the public until late in life.
In 1995, he took a stand against his own conduct of the war, confessing in a memoir that it was “wrong, terribly wrong.” In return, he faced a firestorm of scorn.
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If you haven't seen The Fog Of War, DO IT! it was really influential to me when it first came out, and it's still a powerful documentary. Also it has a sweet Philip Glass soundtrack.