I remember then Defense Secretary Robert McNamara telling reporters about a message they'd had from Moscow a couple of years earlier. "If you want war," the Soviets said, "you can have it." McNamara survived that one--the U.S. didn't want that war. What did him in later, and grievously wounded America, was the war in Vietnam. In the beginning, when a senator first called it "McNamara's War" he answered, "I am pleased to be identified with it." Not for long. "He drives too hard," President Lyndon Johnson said of McNamara, who worked for both Johnson and John Kennedy, "He is too perfect." Except, of course, in Vietnam U.S. General Curtis Le May killed 100,000 people bombing Tokyo during World War II. "What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?" he asked. No answer then; no answer for McNamara in Vietnam. In a 1996 memoir, McNamara admitted that the war had been "wrong, terribly wrong." But that was twenty years later. Critics were not satisfied. Perhaps the most influential of those critics, David Halberstam, wrote, he "did not serve himself or his country well. He was, there is no kinder or or gentler word for it, a fool." Now he's dead and we are supposed to say kind things. But I think that stands.
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