As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields. ~ Leo Tolstoy
“Vietnam wasn’t a “disastrous mistake” – it was murderous aggression.” ~ Noam Chomsky
The death of Robert S. McNamara on July 6 at age 93 gives new meaning to the old adage that “only the good die young.” McNamara was secretary of defense under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and was the principal architect of the U.S. war against Vietnam.
As early as 1964 the war was aptly referred to as “McNamara’s war,” which didn’t bother McNamara one bit. “I am pleased to be identified with it, and do whatever I can to win it,” he said at the time. (New York Times, July 6)
He started his ignoble career as a statistical and systems analyst who became a “Whiz Kid” at Ford Motor Co. and its eventual president. McNamara was convinced that his analysis of the war proved the U.S. would conquer Vietnam within a few years.
As the war escalated and he realized the failure of his prediction, McNamara began to have “deep misgivings” about the war. Although he realized the futility of the U.S. war in Vietnam as early as 1967, he kept those thoughts to himself.
McNamara’s seven-year tenure as secretary of defense also included the disastrous “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba and the missile crisis that nearly led to a nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union. It included the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965.
Under McNamara’s tenure, the war budget and influence of the Pentagon increased exponentially and increased its domination over the civilian life of the United States, which continues to this day.
McNamara left the Pentagon to work for 13 years as head of the World Bank. There he ensured the domination of U.S. capital in underdeveloped and poor countries around the world, helping to condemn millions more to lives of poverty and misery.
Despite McNamara’s private “misgivings” about the war in Vietnam, the number of U.S. soldiers dead, missing and wounded went from 7,466 to more than 100,000 during his watch. (Associated Press, July 6) Over 58,000 GIs ended up dead, with hundreds of thousands more wounded physically and psychologically.
But by far the greatest damage was to the Vietnamese nation. Over 3 million Vietnamese–2 million of them civilians—were killed during the war. The land was razed by carpet bombing. Napalm and Agent Orange used by the U.S. destroyed the country’s arable land and killed and maimed millions more people. The deadly effects are manifest even today, generations later.
McNamara’s book “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam” was published in 1995. “We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of our country. But we were wrong. We were terribly wrong,” said McNamara in an interview prior to the book’s release.
The 2003 documentary “The Fog of War” also featured McNamara ruminating on his moral misgivings about Vietnam. Some even call McNamara a “liberal” for being so contrite in his later years, but this is a misguided attribute. He was sorry because he lost. He was sorry because his statistical analysis left out what history proved: the will of the Vietnamese people to defeat U.S. imperialism.
McNamara spent his later years being “sorry” while walking free. Did he voluntarily surrender himself to the Vietnamese people for prosecution of his many war crimes and crimes against humanity? Did he denounce the role of the Pentagon in subjugating oppressed peoples around the globe? Did he lead any anti-war demonstrations?
What the world’s people need are not apologies from those who have exploited and tormented them. They need solidarity from their class sisters and brothers in the imperialist countries to help overthrow this vicious system so that the criminal inequality caused by imperialism can be rectified.
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