Robert McNamara

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Robert McNamara in 1961

Robert Strange McNamara (June 9, 1916July 6, 2009) was an American business executive and the eighth Secretary of Defense, serving from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, during which time he played a major role in escalating the United States involvement in the Vietnam War. Following that, he served as President of the World Bank from 1968 to 1981. McNamara was responsible for the institution of systems analysis in public policy, which developed into the discipline known today as policy analysis.

See also
Fog of War


  • I must say 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.
    • In: United States. Congress. Senate (1964) Hearings, Vol. 4, p. 177: Of the Vietnam War
  • Management is the gate through which social and economic and political change, indeed change in every direction, is diffused through society.
    • Robert McNamara (1967); quoted in: Bruce Rich (1994) Mortgaging the Earth: The World Bank, Environmental Impoverishment and the Crisis of Development, p. 83
  • You can never substitute emotion for reason. I still would allow a place for intuition in this process, but not emotion. They say I am a power gabber. But knowledge is power, and I am giving them knowledge, so they will have more power. Can't they see that?
    • In: Henry L. Trewhitt (1971) McNamara, p. 119
  • It would be our policy to use nuclear weapons wherever we felt it, necessary to protect our forces and achieve our objectives.
    • In: Herbert Y. Schandler (1975), US Policy on the Use of Nuclear Weapons, 1945-1975. p. 55
  • Lesson #7: Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
    Lesson #8: Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
    Lesson #9: In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
    Lesson #10: Never say never.
    Lesson #11: You can't change human nature...
    • Robert S. McNamara (2004), Official Teacher's Guide for The Fog of War, p. 5
  • Neither conscience nor sanity itself suggests, that the United States is, or should or could be the global gendarme.
    • In: Charles E. Miller (2010) Conscience, Denied, p. 21

Quotes about Robert McNamara[edit]

  • McNamara became a strong advocate of a Keynesian approach to government, using mathematical models and statistical approaches to determine troop levels, allocation of funds, and other strategies in Vietnam. His advocacy of "aggressive leadership" became a hallmark not only of government managers but also of corporate executives. It formed the basis of a new philosophical approach to teaching management at the nation's top business schools, and it ultimately led to a new breed of CEOs who would spearhead the rush to global empire...
    As we sat around the table discussing world events, we were especially fascinated by McNamara's role as president of the World Bank, a job he accepted soon after leaving his post as secretary of defense. Most of my friends focused on the fact that he symbolized what was popularly known as the military-industrial complex. He had held the top position in a major corporation, in a government cabinet, and now at the most powerful bank in the world. Such an apparent breach in the separation of powers horrified many of them; I may have been the only one among us who was not in the least surprised...
    I see now that Robert McNamara's greatest and most sinister contribution to history was to jockey the World Bank into becoming an agent of global empire on a scale never before witnessed. He also set a precedent. His ability to bridge the gaps between the primary components of the corporatocracy would be fine-tuned by his successors.
  • McNamara, characteristically, transformed this reliance on irrationality into a new kind of rationality in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis. He now repudiated his earlier ideas of targeting only military facilities: instead each side should target the other’s cities, with a view of causing the maximum number of casualties possible. The new strategy became known as “Mutual Assured Destruction”—its acronym, with wicked appropriateness, was MAD. The assumption behind it was that if no one could be sure of surviving a nuclear war, there would not be one. That, however, was simply a restatement of what Eisenhower had long since concluded: that the advent of thermonuclear weapons meant that war could no longer be an instrument of statecraft—rather, the survival of states required that there be no war at all.
  • We're also here to ask -- We are here to ask and we're here to ask vehemently, Where are the leaders of our country? Where is the leadership? We're here to ask: Where are McNamara, Rostow, Bundy, Gilpatric, and so many others. Where are they now that we the men whom they sent off to war have returned? These are commanders who have deserted their troops and there is no more serious crime in the law of war. The Army says they never leave their wounded. The Marines say they never leave even their dead. These men have left all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude. They've left the real stuff of their reputations, bleaching behind them in the sun in this country.

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