Monday, July 6, 2009

A Finer Focus: Robert McNamara - The Face of Contrition

It was amidst the highest of expectations that a young Bob McNamara came out of Cal-Berkeley and Harvard. During the Second World War, he did not carry a rifle, summon stretchers or drive Higgins boats. He was given the charge of making daylight bombing more efficient - numbers applied to bombs, being dropped from 20,000 feet, and a chillingly impersonal way to contribute to the effort.

After World War II, he became President of Ford Motors. He would be credited with a applying an innovative number of approaches to production. His prescience, especially with the Edsel, earned him a position that had only previously been held by Ford family members. He was a McNamara, a so called "Whiz Kid," and Midas with every touch, so off to Washington he would soon go.

JFK tabbed him as Secretary of War. LBJ kept him on. If Ford made his name, Vietnam sullied it. Heretofore, his life would never be the same. Some argue that despite its preceived failure, the Vietnam War - along with several other proxy conflicts - was enough keep the Soviet Union off balance and more than contribute to its eventual bankruptcy. Most will agree that war-making during Vietnam was as dated as the use of Napoleonic tactics during the First World War. McNamara concedes this - he knew that he and his colleagues were trapped in a wicked trend of 'group think.' All of this is fully explained in McNamara's electronic letter to America - 'The Fog of War.'

Yesterday, McNamara died at the age of 93, sealing a long life and a lot of time to think about mistakes that were made between 1961 to 1968. However, rather than crawling into a cave, he became an advocate for the liquidation of nuclear arsenals and channeled the World Bank in a more activist stance, especially when it came to fighting poverty.

In a May/June 2005 article called "Apocolypse Soon" in Foreign Policy, McNamara wrote:

It is time—well past time, in my view—for the United States to cease its Cold War-style reliance on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool. At the risk of appearing simplistic and provocative, I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous. The risk of an accidental or inadvertent nuclear launch is unacceptably high. Far from reducing these risks, the Bush administration has signaled that it is committed to keeping the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a mainstay of its military power—a commitment that is simultaneously eroding the international norms that have limited the spread of nuclear weapons and fissile materials for 50 years. Much of the current U.S. nuclear policy has been in place since before I was secretary of defense, and it has only grown more dangerous and diplomatically destructive in the intervening years.

To delve deeper into the life of one the more scorned public figures in American history, take a look at the following list of offerings from the Sacramento Public Library:

The fog of war [videorecording] : eleven lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara /cSony Pictures Classics presents & SenArt Films production in association with the Globe Department Store ; producers, Michael Williams, Julie Ahlberg ; produced & directed by Errol Morris. (DVD 973.92 FOG 2004)

The living and the dead : Robert McNamara and five lives of a lost war /cPaul Hendrickson. (959.70433 M1692zh 1996)

McNamara /cHenry L. Trewhitt. (355.033 M169zt 1971)

Promise and power : the life and times of Robert McNamara /cby Deborah Shapley. (973.92092 M169zs 1993)

Argument without end : in search of answers to the Vietnam tragedy /cRobert S. McNamara, James G. Blight, and Robert K. Brigham ; with Thomas J. Biersteker and
Herbert Y. Schandler. (959.70433 M169a 1999)

The essence of security: reflections in officec[by] Robert S. McNamara. (353.6 M169)

In retrospect : the tragedy and lessons of Vietnam /cRobert S. McNamara with Brian VanDeMark. (959.70433 M1692 1996)

Out of the cold : new thinking for American foreign and defense policy in the 21st century /cRobert S. McNamara. (327.73047 M169 1989)

Wilson's ghost : reducing the risk of conflict, killing, and catastrophe in the 21st century /cRobert S. McNamara and James G. Blight. (327.17 M169 2001)

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