Robert McNamara

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Robert Strange McNamara (June 9, 1916July 6, 2009) was an American politician, former US Secretary of Defence and former President of the World Bank.

Sourced[edit]

  • Management is the gate through which social and economic and political change, indeed change in every direction, is diffused through society.[citation needed]
  • If we can’t persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we better examine our reasoning.[citation needed]

From the Documentary The Fog of War[edit]

  • Any military commander who is honest with himself, or with those he's speaking to, will admit that he has made mistakes in the application of military power. He's killed people unnecessarily — his own troops or other troops — through mistakes, through errors of judgment. A hundred, or thousands, or tens of thousands, maybe even a hundred thousand. But, he hasn't destroyed nations. And the conventional wisdom is don't make the same mistake twice, learn from your mistakes. And we all do. Maybe we make the same mistake three times, but hopefully not four or five. There will be no learning period with nuclear weapons. You make one mistake and you're going to destroy nations.
  • At my age, 85, I'm at age where I can look back and derive some conclusions about my actions. My rule has been try to learn, try to understand what happened. Develop the lessons and pass them on.
  • Kennedy was trying to keep us out of war. I was trying to help him keep us out of war. And General Curtis LeMay, whom I served under as a matter of fact in World War II, was saying "Let's go in, let's totally destroy Cuba."
  • In Thompson's mind was this thought: Khrushchev's gotten himself in a hell of a fix. He would then think to himself, "My God, if I can get out of this with a deal that I can say to the Russian people: 'Kennedy was going to destroy Castro and I prevented it.'" Thompson, knowing Khrushchev as he did, thought Khrushchev will accept that. And Thompson was right. That's what I call empathy. We must try to put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes, just to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions and their actions.
  • In the first message, Khrushchev said this: "We and you ought not to pull on the ends of a rope which you have tied the knots of war. Because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. And then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you. I have participated in two wars and know that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction. For such is the logic of war. If people do not display wisdom, they will clash like blind moles and then mutual annihilation will commence."
  • I want to say, and this is very important: at the end we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war. We came that close to nuclear war at the end. Rational individuals: Kennedy was rational; Khrushchev was rational; Castro was rational. Rational individuals came that close to total destruction of their societies. And that danger exists today.
  • Why was it necessary to drop the nuclear bomb if LeMay was burning up Japan? And he went on from Tokyo to firebomb other cities. 58% of Yokohama. Yokohama is roughly the size of Cleveland. 58% of Cleveland destroyed. Tokyo is roughly the size of New York. 51% percent of New York destroyed. 99% of the equivalent of Chattanooga, which was Toyama. 40% of the equivalent of Los Angeles, which was Nagoya. This was all done before the dropping of the nuclear bomb, which by the way was dropped by LeMay's command. Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Killing 50% to 90% of the people of 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional, in the minds of some people, to the objectives we were trying to achieve.
  • LeMay said, "If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals." And I think he's right. He, and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?
  • I can still see it. There's a love seat, two armchairs with a lamp table in between. Jack Kennedy is sitting in one armchair and Bobby Kennedy's sitting in the other. "Mr. President, it's absurd, I'm not qualified." "Look, Bob," he said, "I don't think there's any school for Presidents either."
    • McNamara on his reaction to being offered the position of the Secretary of Defense.
  • I called the superintendent of Arlington Cemetery. And he and I walked over those grounds. They're hauntingly beautiful grounds, white crosses all in a row. And finally I thought I'd found the exact spot, the most beautiful spot in the cemetery. I called Jackie at the White House and asked her to come out there, and she immediately accepted. And that's where the President is buried today. A park service ranger came up to me and said that he had escorted President Kennedy on a tour of those grounds a few weeks before. And Kennedy said, "That was the most beautiful spot in Washington." That's where he's buried.
  • If you went to the C.I.A. and said "How is the situation today in South Vietnam?" I think they would say it's worse. You see it in the desertion rate, you see it in the morale. You see it in the difficulty to recruit people. You see it in the gradual loss of population control. Many of us in private would say that things are not good, they've gotten worse. Now while we say this in private and not public, there are facts available that find their way in the press. If we're going to stay in there, if we're going to go up the escalating chain, we're going to have to educate the people, Mr. President. We haven't done so yet. I'm not sure now is exactly the right time.
    • This conversation was also taped by Johnson, on June 9, 1964.
  • Let me go back one moment. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, at the end, I think we did put ourselves in the skin of the Soviets. In the case of Vietnam, we didn't know them well enough to empathize. And there was total misunderstanding as a result. They believed that we had simply replaced the French as a colonial power, and we were seeking to subject South and North Vietnam to our colonial interests, which was absolutely absurd. And we, we saw Vietnam as an element of the Cold War. Not what they saw it as: a civil war.
  • What makes us omniscient? Have we a record of omniscience? We are the strongest nation in the world today. I do not believe that we should ever apply that economic, political, and military power unilaterally. If we had followed that rule in Vietnam, we wouldn't have been there. None of our allies supported us. Not Japan, not Germany, not Britain or France. If we can't persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we'd better reexamine our reasoning.
  • Were those who issued the approval to use Agent Orange criminals? Were they committing a crime against humanity? Let's look at the law. Now what kind of law do we have that says these chemicals are acceptable for use in war and these chemicals are not. We don't have clear definitions of that kind. I never in the world would have authorized an illegal action. I'm not really sure I authorized Agent Orange. I don't remember it, but it certainly occurred, the use of it occurred while I was Secretary.
  • I formed the hypothesis that each of us could have achieved our objectives without the terrible loss of life. And I wanted to test that by going to Vietnam.
    • McNamara, on his 1995 meeting in Vietnam with the former Foreign Minister of Vietnam
  • "Mr. McNamara, You must never have read a history book. If you'd had, you'd know we weren't pawns of the Chinese or the Russians. McNamara, didn't you know that? Don't you understand that we have been fighting the Chinese for 1000 years? We were fighting for our independence. And we would fight to the last man. And we were determined to do so. And no amount of bombing, no amount of U.S. pressure would ever have stopped us." - Thach, former Foreign Minister of Vietnam, 1995, as recalled by McNamara.
  • Norman Morrison was a Quaker. He was opposed to war, the violence of war, the killing. He came to the Pentagon, doused himself with gasoline. Burned himself to death below my office. He held a child in his arms, his daughter. Passersby shouted, "Save the child!" He threw the child out of his arms, and the child lived and is alive today. His wife issued a very moving statement: 'Human beings must stop killing other human beings.' And that's a belief that I shared. I shared it then and I believe it even more strongly today. How much evil must we do in order to do good? We have certain ideals, certain responsibilities. Recognize that at times you will have to engage in evil, but minimize it.
  • We all make mistakes. We know we make mistakes. I don't know any military commander, who is honest, who would say he has not made a mistake. There's a wonderful phrase: 'the fog of war.' What "the fog of war" means is: war is so complex it's beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all the variables. Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate. And we kill people unnecessarily.
  • The major lesson of the Cuban missile crisis is this: the indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will destroy nations. Is it right and proper that today there are 7500 offensive strategic nuclear warheads, of which 2500 are on a 15 minute alert to be launched at the decision of *one* human being?
  • Never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you.
  • I'm not so naive or simplistic to believe we can eliminate war. We're not going to change human nature anytime soon. It isn't that we aren't rational. We are rational. But reason has limits. There's a quote from T.S. Eliot that I just love:

    We shall not cease from exploring
    And at the end of our exploration
    We will return to where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

    Now that's in a sense where I'm beginning to be.

Obituary, Boston Globe, July 6, 2009[edit]

  • I don’t object to its being called McNamara’s war. 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.
    • Of the Vietnam War
  • You can’t substitute emotion for reason.
  • I would rather have a wrong decision made than no decision at all.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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