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McNamara remembered as brilliant, troubled patriot

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  • McNamara remembered as brilliant, troubled patriot

    McNamara remembered as brilliant, troubled patriot

    Brisbane Times (Brisbane, Australia)
    July 7, 2009

    By Michael Mathes

    A 1960s White House colleague, US diplomats and the maker of an
    Oscar-winning documentary about Robert McNamara remembered the US
    defense secretary as a patriot who agonized and eventually repented
    over his role as architect of the most divisive US war in history.

    McNamara, who died early Monday aged 93, enjoyed a multi-layered and
    highly successful career as a visionary auto-industry executive and a
    revolutionary in global financial aid.

    But it was his deeply controversial role in the administrations of
    presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson -- and his mid-1960s
    recommendation to boost US troop levels in a little-known nation
    called South Vietnam before struggling to find a way to extract the US
    military from the quagmire -- for which he will be remembered.

    "I think of Bob McNamara as the most brilliant and patriotic public
    servant I ever met," Kennedy special counsel and advisor Ted Sorensen,
    now 81, told AFP in a telephone interview.

    "But I didn't agree with him on Vietnam."

    With McNamara's passing, Sorensen, who said he is convinced Kennedy
    would have found a way to avoid a military escalation in Vietnam had
    he not been assassinated in 1963, is now among the very last of the
    small but powerful coterie that shaped US foreign and military policy
    in Southeast Asia.

    >From 1961 to 1968, McNamara oversaw the escalation of US combat
    efforts in Vietnam that became one of the biggest military blunders in
    US history -- and a war McNamara himself came to describe as "terribly

    But in the early years, McNamara showed himself to be "upbeat" about
    how the war was going, said Barry Zorthian, who served as director in
    Vietnam of the US Information Service, the government's public
    diplomacy arm, from 1964 to 1968.

    "If it was anyone's war in those early periods, it wasn't LBJ's war,
    it wasn't (top US general) Maxwell Taylor's war. It was McNamara's
    war," said Zorthian, 88.

    "He was very controversial," added Zorthian, who said he traveled in
    1964 with McNamara from Saigon to Hue and witnessed the defense
    secretary's "can-do attitude" toward the war.

    Zorthian said the public would likely formulate its verdict on the
    McNamara legacy "on a realistic" evaluation of the man who conducted a
    failed war, but "that's too harsh a judgment."

    "He did provide at considerable cost and lives -- lives we treasure --
    the opportunity for South Vietnamese to build their own country."

    McNamara's expressions of remorse -- in his controversial 1995 memoirs
    "In Retrospect: The Tragedies and Lessons of Vietnam" and in the
    Oscar-winning documentary "The Fog of War" -- have not sat well with
    critics of the war, who accuse him of sitting back while millions died
    in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

    But Sorensen said that while he sees "the merit in those who say 'Why
    didn't he say that at the time, instead of waiting so many years and
    so many deaths later'," McNamara's contrition and the years he spent
    examining how he could have changed history are notable.

    "At least McNamara admitted that it was wrong," said Sorensen, adding
    he remained friendly for years with McNamara.

    "Most military chieftains never admit error at all."

    Errol Morris, writer and director of the 2004 documentary "The Fog of
    War" -- the result of 20 hours of sit-down interviews with McNamara --
    said his death marked "very much the end of an era."

    "He was a seminal, historic figure," he told AFP, adding that McNamara
    "set a very high mark for public figures because he was willing to
    entertain the possibility that what he had done was wrong."

    Morris said McNamara should be remembered for "how he revisited the
    past" later in life.

    McNamara "is a reminder of the importance of revisiting history, to
    try and understand the past and to try and confront the past. It is an
    essential part of who we are," Morris said.

    Now 61, Morris said he recalls clearly how, like many people his age
    demonstrating against US involvement in Vietnam, he had "strong
    feelings" about the man and against the war itself.

    "I never changed my feelings about the war," said Morris, "but I
    changed my feelings about Robert McNamara." /breaking-news-world/mcnamara-remembered-as-brilli ant-troubled-patriot-20090707-dal1.html