Besides the Defense Department, Mr. McNamara led two other institutions of global importance. He became the first non-family member to serve as president of the Ford Motor Company, in 1960. He was also president of the World Bank from 1968-81.
Yet Mr. McNamara is best remembered — and in some quarters still reviled — for the seven years he spent at the Pentagon and the part he played in waging the Vietnam War. The controversy that erupted in 1995 when he published his memoir, “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam,” demonstrated the extent to which the scars he bore remained unhealed.
No one person can be assigned responsibility for escalating the US role in the conflict. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk: Each played his part. To many, though, it was “McNamara’s war,” as US Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon once put it.
“I don’t object to its being called McNamara’s war,” Mr. McNamara said during a 1964 press conference. “I think it is a very important war, and I am pleased to be identified with it and do whatever I can to win it.”
Those words would come to haunt him.
Say what you will about him but at least he was smart enough spot Operation Northwoods for the travesty it was. Vietnam was bad but it could have been even worse had we engaged Cuba like Lemnitzer wanted to.