Vail Valley Voices: McNamara unworthy of mourning
Vail, CO, Colorado
There appears to be one standard form for preparing a death announcement. The deceased is described as so and so, born to whomever, in such and such a place and who spent his/her life contributing to the greater community in the following manner.
Then the family or the local paper fills in the blanks with specifics of time, place, and accomplishments. He will be missed by all.
The recent death of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, however, and his role in the Vietnam War necessitates some additional comments.
After a year in Vietnam, I was reassigned as an Army captain to the top military command HQs in Saigon where Robert McNamara worked. We never met, as he had been fired-resigned prior to my arrival.
To begin with, Robert McNamara was obsessed with numbers. There was nothing that couldn’t be proved (disproved) by numbers, charts, a matrix and a full statistical analysis. Numbers didn’t lie, particularly when defined with such clarity by a brilliant mind that McNamara always put forward as his own.
Data for the charts came from many sources, the most significant of which were the province senior advisers, usually West Point colonels on the make. The number of hostile incidents, rice planted, MOPEDs spotted, and so on were duly noted and sent to McNamara. Garbage in; garbage out. (Not the exact words used at the time.)
The amount of fudge in the reports was in direct correlation to the dishonesty and ambitions of the colonels involved. Push the numbers up, push the numbers down, so we look good.
But in fairness, much of the information demanded by McNamara fell in the fuzz if not esoteric categories.
And demand he did. Robert McNamara wants his reports and Robert McNamara wants them NOW. Understand? What arrogance. He would huff and puff and strut around (except, as noted by some, when around Jacqueline Kennedy and then McNamara turned into a puppy).
The data were turned into hundreds of charts with all the numbers and matrix, which McNamara saw as the means to truth. And the truth was there somewhere, but it was hidden in a house-of-cards, on a rolling deck, in high seas, in that fog of war. And the danger in looking for the truth is that you might actually find it.
And all this time McNamara was surrounded by assistants whom he likely saw as military cattle. They went to Barleyville State and if they read at all it was probably one of those Zane Gray cowboy books, and very few, if any, could even discern the differences between fine food and leavings in a corral. Oh, if only he had some military men of vision who could understand what he was trying to do and who would appreciate working with such a rarefied intellect.
And as the war dragged on and the “casualities” mounted (preferred on the charts to the more incendiary “killed” or “dead” or “wasted”) McNamara and the White House put up the barricades. Lies became the norm. “Telling a lie and getting away with it is the same as telling the truth” (attributed to LBJ).
What had been a healthy skepticism about politicians by the American people turned into a robust cynicism toward government service that persists even today.
I’m told that the longest single word in the German language originated during the war crimes trials after WWII. The accused was described as a man-who-sits-behind-a-desk-and-by-signing-pieces-of-paper-murders-people (one word) — a desk murderer, as it were.
Robert McNamara does not fit this description, far from it. His motives were positive as he began his service. He had complete confidence that America was right and that we would prevail in the war.
Over the years, however, he concluded that his analysis was “wrong,” “terribly wrong,” and that the war was “tragic” and “unwinnable” (his words).
But rather that resign after such pronounced insights, McNamara continued to orchestrate the war and in the process sent additional thousands to their deaths in a war that he knew they could not win.
“We are the unwilling, led by the unworthy, doing the impossible, for the ungrateful.”
The natural patriotism of the young was used to send them to their deaths in a war that few of them even understood. An additional 35,000 soldiers are thought to have died during this period. This is abominable. It is beyond obscene.
But Robert McNamara liked power. He enjoyed strutting around and huffing and puffing.
He liked those fancy White House parties, and Robert McNamara had aspirations. And besides, if you want some good news about the war, just go look at the recent charts on Quang Ngai and Quang Tri provinces. Some new numbers just came in that are very impressive indeed. Yes Robert, there was “a light at the end of the tunnel,” but it was a freight train coming at full blast.
Normally, our emotions are heart-rending when we see and old man cry in public, as McNamara often did in his later decades. But the word coming to mind is pathos, from which we get the word pathetic. (That’s right Robert, just cry your eyes out, just cry your eyes out, night and day, until the end of time).
But they are crocodile tears, the type the reptile is said to shed as it consumes its victims.
And in McNamara’s case, there were many tears to be shed in grief and remorse for the additional thousands killed on his long, painful, “unwinnable” watch.
Who speaks for the additional 35,000, the new Mexican immigrant from East L.A., the street negro from Harlem, and that poor farm boy from Kansas? (I can still see their faces.)
They died for you, they died for me, they died in the name of the American people.
They died for nothing.
Robert McNamara was beyond shame. He does not warrant the company of good and decent men. He will be missed by no one.
Mike Mathias is a Vail resident.