Monday, July 6, 2009

Robert McNamara: "An American tragedy, our tragedy."

In one of the very first posts on p3, I compared former Defense Secretary McNamara to the title character in Graham Green's urtext of Vietnam fiction The Quiet American, whom the narrator described as "a leper without a bell."

McNamara, perhaps because his sense of American rightness remained tone-deaf to the end, died over Independence Day weekend.

But, as Will Bunch observes:

The life of Robert McNamara was a personal tragedy, but it was also an American tragedy, our tragedy -- because even after McNamara spelled out everything that went so horribly wrong in Vietnam, he lived long enough to see a new generation of the self-appointed "best and brightest" in Washington pay absolutely no mind to the lessons of our recent past.

In Iraq, as in Vietnam, our policy-makers knew nothing or cared little about the long history and convoluted ethnic and religious politics of Mesopotamia's Fertile Crescent. In Iraq, as in Vietnam, there was no plan for the proper military follow-up to a period of "shock and awe" bombing. In Iraq, as in Vietnam, we totally misjudged the "nationalism" of the people who lived there and how they would react to a long American occupation. And perhaps most importantly, In Iraq, as in Vietnam, there was no real "public debate" as we marched headlong and foolishly into the 2003 -- with way too many "unexamined assumptions," "unasked questions," and "readily dismissed alternatives."

I didn't have much sympathy for McNamara's suffering; I grew up at the wrong time for that. But, as Bunch suggests, perhaps it was his penance to live so long, so aware of the consequences of the evil he'd helped set in motion even if he remained unable to grasp the fundamental cause of his error.

If that's the way it works, I suppose we have no choice but to wish a long, healthy, and lucid life to Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, George W. Bush, et al.

But I'm not that optimistic.


Roadrunner said...

McNamara and Johnson truly are a Tragedy, because they were poised for greatness, and their fatal flaw ruined it.

That's what distinguishes them from the Bush Leaguers is that GeorgeDick was never going to achieve greatness.

The Johnson admin was great in many ways, but what they did in Vietnam scewed the pooch. Without that, Johnson is Mt. Rushmore material.

Chuck Butcher said...

Sometimes I'm sorry to not believe in Hell because if I were to wish them a long anything it would be a stay there contemplating their failures and suffering the same as they imposed. Oh well...

Nothstine said...

Reminds me a little of a quote by one of the more cynical [hence, memorable] characters on Babylon 5:

>"You know, I used to think
>it was awful that life was
>so unfair. Then I thought,
>wouldn't it be much worse
>if life were fair and all
>the terrible things that
>happen to us come because
>we actually deserve them.
>So now I take great comfort
>in the general hostility
>and unfairness of the universe."