Robert McNamara's reign as Secretary of Defense ended 40 years ago today.
McNamara began as Secretary under Kennedy, and last almost all the way through the Johnson regime. He was known for bringing the strategies of the business managerial class to government. He was an integral part of the team that led the American response to the Vietnam War. In later years, he apologized ... and apologized ... and apologized.
Alexander Cockburn wrote of McNamara:
"Management," McNamara declared in 1967, "is the gate through which social and economic and political change, indeed change in every direction, is diffused throughout society." Substitute "party organization" for "management" and you have Lenin. From "democratic centralism" to bureaucratic centralism.
The managerial ideal for McNamara was military dictatorship. McNamara threw money at Pinochet's Chile after Allende's overthrow and at the military dictators of Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, the Philippines and Indonesia. The darker the dictatorship, the more lavishly McNamara rewarded it.
Noam Chomsky also had some things to say about McNamara:
He is a dull, narrow technocrat who questioned nothing. He simply accepted the framework of beliefs of the people around him. And that's their framework. That's the Kennedy liberals. We cannot commit a crime. It's contradiction in terms. Anything we do is by necessity not only right, but noble. Therefore, there can't be a crime.
If you look at his mea culpa, he's apologizing to the American people. He sent American soldiers to fight an unwinnable war, which he thought early on was unwinnable. The cost was to the U.S. It tore the country apart. It left people disillusioned and skeptical of the government. That's the cost. Yes, there were those three million or more Vietnamese who got killed. The Cambodians and Laotians are totally missing from his story. There were a million or so of them. There's no apology to them.