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Monday, July 6, 2009

RIP Robert S McNamara

Dead at 93, Robert Strange McNamara.  Honest, that is his name.  He got his middle name from his Mother's side of the family. 

For those of us who served in the Armed Forces in the middle of the 1960s, and especially those of us who served in Southeast Asia, Mr McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, was not a well beloved character.&nsp; He was the focus of all our thoughts about what was wrong.

Mr McNamara has now gone on to his reward.♠

Secretaries of Defense are very important people and can adversely impact not only the development of the Armed Forces, but also our basic military strategy and also our national security strategy.

Regards  —  Cliff

♠  If anyone has a problem with this link, please submit a comment or EMail me at "crk" AT "". Use the @ for AT.


The New Englander said...


>He was the focus of all our >thoughts about what was wrong.

Could you say more about this? I know a lot of people don't exactly have the warm and fuzzy towards Mr. Rumsfeld, and it's often tied to his unwillingness to consider multiple viewpoints and general tone deafness (i.e. the 'stuff happens' response to the looting in Baghdad). Just wondering if there are parallels with McNamara..


C R Krieger said...

What to say?

A story told to me by someone I was stationed with at Eglin AFB, in the Florida Panhandle, back around 1971 or 72.

This fellow had been station at the Pentagon, where he was in charge of tracking the flying hour program. Every month he would go in and brief SecDef♠ McNamara on the Air Force execution of its flying program, as tracked in terms of hours flown.  He did this along with a chap from the Navy, one from the Army and one from the Marine Corps.  Every month they would be attacked and thrown out of the office.

One day, while down in the basement of the Pentagon our hero stumbled across a friend who had been assigned to the office that had the new Air Force Computers  The friend said, let me put it into the computer so you can automatically print it out (think the old white and lime green lined paper).

When our hero walked in the next month with the report printed out by a printer attached to a main frame computer, SecDef McNamara said good job and after that our hero never had a problem.  The other Services, however, still did.

I have never been sure of the lesson I draw from that story.  Was the SecDef happy he was moving the Air Force toward the use of computers or did he assume that because he got a computer printout that there were no errors?  Either way, there seemed to be an unjustified belief that the numbers told the story.

Having said that, I LIKE systems analysis, with which SecDef McNamara is associated.  The Department of Defense benefited from Mr McNamara bringing in Charlie Hitch from Rand Corporation to run the numbers and give the Pentagon an independent analysis shop.  There is a lot of error in the ideas of those who just do what they think is right without having thought about the whys of the issue.  Bigger, faster, sleeker isn't always the right answer.

So far the two best opinion pieces are here and here.

I never met the man, but the impression one gets from afar is of someone who was so smart and so self confident and with so much energy that he didn't have time to pick through the arguments of lesser mortals, looking to see if there were some grains of truth to be had.  So much to do and so little time. 

To me it is sad.  With a pinch of humble he might have been a great SecDef.

Regards  —  Cliff

♠  Secretary of Defense

C R Krieger said...


As the day winds down other thoughts are coming out in various sectors.  One that I thought captured one avenue of thought is this:

The issue is far less about Vietnam and more about the fact that in 1965 he concluded the war was a lost cause (by some arguments it might have been sooner). The fact that he continued to prosecute the war—and didn't speak out against it after leaving office—are I believe the main reason why his very name provokes so much vitriol. To be complicit in the continuation of a war that he believed to be unwinnable is not something that merits easy absolution.

Note the year 1965. My FIRST tour was in the second half of 1966. My SECOND tour started in December of 1972 and the combat part of it continued until we stopped supporting the Cambodian Government. In that time, when thousands died, Mr McNamara said nothing.  John Kerry, while he sounded like an idiot and threw someone else's medals over the fence, at least spoke out his view that the war was bad.

(And none of this talks to the fact that when the North came south with tanks and whole units, the second time, we stepped aside.  People who believed in us then perished as we stood by.  I am ashamed.)

Regards  —  Cliff