US Vietnam war architect Robert McNamara dies

Agence France Press
July 6, 2009

By Carlos Hamann

WASHINGTON (AFP) ' Robert McNamara, the US secretary of defense whose
broad career as an industry leader and a global financial aid
revolutionary was overshadowed by his role as key architect of the
Vietnam war, died Monday aged 93.

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

He was an early advocate of counter-insurgency operations and a
primary architect of Cold War nuclear policy.

A trained economist, he also helped turn around the Ford auto company
in the post-World War II era and then used his talents to improve the
image of the World Bank during his long tenure as president from 1968
to 1981.

Current World Bank president Robert Zoellick, confirming the news,
said in a statement Monday that McNamara was a "figure who left his
mark on history."

McNamara "shaped the bank as no one before him," Zoellick said, adding
he was a "great voice for the poor" and one of his most important
contributions was "his foresight to open relations between the bank
and China at a crucial time in that country's development."

Brilliant, certain of himself and a whirlwind of energy, McNamara was
a key member of president John F. Kennedy's cabinet.

But in later years McNamara came to regret his Vietnam role, although
he remained silent until publishing his controversial 1995 memoirs "In
Retrospect: The Tragedies and Lessons of Vietnam."

Top US officials "who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted
according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of
this nation," McNamara wrote.

"We made our decisions in light of those values. Yet we were wrong,
terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why."

But his term as defense secretary did not start out that way, when at
4
led upon by Kennedy.

"I don't object to its being called McNamara's war," McNamara wrote of
Vietnam in 1964. "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."

Under McNamara's watch the US military role in Vietnam escalated from
a few hundred Americans advising South Vietnam's military to some
17,000 soldiers by 1964.

And US involvement in the war escalated even more dramatically
following the Gulf of Tonkin incident that year, in which, based on
suspect intelligence reports, the US alleged North Vietnamese torpedo
boats had fired on two US destroyers.

President Lyndon B. Johnson -- who took over when Kennedy was
assassinated in 1963 -- ordered retaliatory air strikes on North
Vietnam, and by mid-1968 the number of US soldiers sent to fight in
Vietnam had risen to 535,000.

"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," Barry Zorthian, who headed Vietnam operations for the US
Information Service, the government's public diplomacy arm, told AFP
Monday.

"He was very controversial," added Zorthian.

By the time the war ended in 1975 more than 58,000 US soldiers had
been killed, as well as more than three million Vietnamese from the
North and South and around 1.5 million Laotians and Cambodians.

But McNamara had already left as defense secretary, resigning in 1968
after years of clashes with Johnson and the top military brass and
facing a growing anti-war movement at home.

"McNamara gradually became skeptical about whether the war could be
won" by sending in more troops and intensifying the bombing, reads his
official Pentagon biography.

Robert Strange McNamara -- the odd middle name was his mother's maiden
name -- was born June 9, 1916 in San Francisco, California, the son of
a wholesale shoe firm sales manager.

He studied economics and philosophy at the University of California at
Berkeley, then obtained a masters degree in busine
ara entered the US Army Air Force in 1943. Poor eyesight prevented him
from flying, so he worked at an office analyzing the efficiency of US
bombing raids.

After the war he was one of 10 ex-Air Force statisticians that Henry
Ford II hired to turn around his automotive company. The team, dubbed
the Whiz Kids, turned Ford into the second most popular US auto
brand..

McNamara shot up the ranks and become company president -- the first
ever outside of the Ford family -- in November 1960.

In 1968, when he left the Pentagon, McNamara went on to head the World
Bank, focusing the institution on representing the needs of its
developing member countries.

McNamara is survived by his wife whom he married in 2004, and a son
and two daughters from a previous marriage.


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