Robert McNamara and history repeating itself

By Michael Lewis

So I’ve been reading a lot of the obits and stories about Robert McNamara over the last few days, and getting angrier and angrier. But not at him. At Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and some others from the Bush White House. I’ll explain.

McNamara died Monday at 93. If you’re not familiar with him, he was JFK and LBJ’s secretary of defense, and is often credited (or blamed) for being the major driving force behind  the human catastrophe that was the Vietnam War. Through the early and mid-1960s, McNamara and LBJ kept raising the stakes in Vietnam, sending more and more Americans to fight a war that was completely unnecessary and resulted in 58,148 American deaths

Later in life, of course, McNamara admitted that he’d been wrong, and that it was a terrible mistake to escalate the war as he did. Some people called him a hero for that, which always amazed me. Contrition after the fact doesn’t make up for senseless deaths 30 years prior.

But at least McNamara had the decency to express regret, and it’s also true that by late 1967, he was trying to tell LBJ that this was a losing war. Johnson didn’t listen, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

Anyway, as destructive a life as I think McNamara lived, his death got me thinking about the Bush architects of war. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush, David Addington, John Yoo, all of them who had a hand in our invasion of Iraq six years ago and this “war on terror.”

Do you think any of them is going to regret what they’ve done, years or decades from now? Do you think they’ll regret the thousands of deaths of Americans they caused, in Cheney and Rumseld’s case, or, in Yoo and Addington’s case, the torture and imprisonment of possibly innocent people who  they kept locked up for years? I’m thinking no.

Maybe it’s because I’m in the middle of reading Jane Mayer’s book “The Dark Side” (really good, by the way), but it seems like all the things McNamara warned about later in his life have been completely ignored.  The architects of this war seemingly learned nothing from Vietnam.

Let’s see if Cheney and Rumsfeld are writing any confessionals in 20 years.

My breath will not be held.

-M.L.

2 thoughts on “Robert McNamara and history repeating itself”

  1. And, if they do acknowledge the horror of what they did, will we listen? Well, several people have acknowledged already and a third of the country just shuts their ears to it.

    And soon, we’ll stop talking about it altogether.

    Unfortunately, if we can learn anything from Vietnam and McNamara and Iraq, it’s that we will probably be in this situation again, and will probably make the same mistakes. Until we uncover the character defects that lead us to some of our highly illogical conclusions (and lots of dead people), we’re screwed.

  2. Let us also acknowledge the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Iraqis killed or maimed, and a country virtually destroyed, all to satisfy the vanity and arrogance of men who chose to exercise the power they had grasped.

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