July 07, 2009
McNamara’s Truth

My contribution to the outpouring of love that followed news of Robert S. McNamara’s death:

A friend of mine once spent months working with McNamara on a literary project. Once she mentioned how difficult it must have been for him to find out what was really happening in Vietnam, given the institutional pressure in bureaucracies to lie to the boss when the news is bad.

McNamara said that wasn’t a problem at all; in fact he had never been lied to by his subordinates in the Defense Department. Never, she asked. Not even once?

Never, he insisted. Right from the start, he had made it very clear to his staff that he wanted nothing but the facts, no matter how unpalatable they might be. Thus the whole building knew that the best way to please the boss was to tell him the plain, unvarnished truth.

“Bear in mind,” my friend told me, “that this was coming from probably the most lied-to man in the world.” She found it astonishing and so did I. Certainly McNamara wasn’t stupid. How then could a man in his position be so blind?

Until it occurred to me that from his point of view he wasn’t being stupid at all. Stupid was for men like the sick, tormented James Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense, who jumped to his death in 1949 from his room on the 16th floor of Bethesda Naval Hospital. Smart and healthy was being able to believe that you were never lied to, even by yourself. Especially by yourself.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at July 07, 2009 04:13 PM
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Smart and healthy might also be considering the boogeyman Communists to be Over There but headed this way, as opposed to under your personal physical bed, which was apparently Forrestal's belief.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree on July 7, 2009 4:35 PM

There were communists under Forrestal's bed, McCarthy was right. It's very likely that Forrestal was given LSD for his depression at Bethesda Naval Hospital. The CIA had it by then and the CIA had many Trotskyites among its ranks, those who wanted Palestine partitioned.

Posted by: on July 7, 2009 8:36 PM

McNamara's fascination with statistics were his only truth. What you say verifies my understanding of McNamara - he believed that statistics never lie. Even the dead ones, although he always valued the numbers and the dollars more than he did humanity. He was one of many "numbers men" of a certain educational strain of educated men who made names for themselves after the US became the manufacturing center of the world, supplying the rest of the world with products and weapons after WWII. They were responsible for making automobiles like the Ford Pinto, a vehicle which blew up in collisions due to the savings of a few dollars by, if I remember correctly and I probably don't, reducing the fuel line length. I remember reading that only a couple of dollars or so worth of fuel line or something of basically that costs would have saved the thousands of people killed in that vehicle when its gas tank blew up.

He was of the type that when a savings in the manufacturing cost of the product was valued much more than safety concerns or the cost in lives when a product produced in volume was manufactured at lesser cost and in the process became dangerous. When these men killed people with these products, it only mattered if the cost in payouts to the victims was greater than the savings from reducing the numbers of dollars in savings in the production of the product. To McNamara and those educated the way he was, dead people didn't count in the same way that most of consider human life as more precious than money. There is a name for the folks in this category and they were educated during a certain period of US history but I can't remember the name given them. They were a combination of accountant and manufacturing and the cost of the production of the products. McNamara was supposedly hired to reduce the cost of making bombers and eliminating the many types of aircraft used by the various Armed Forces. So he was hired to save the government money, but it didn't work out that way.

So it goes.


Anybody remember what these guys were called? McNamara was one of many of them.

Educated fools I guess.


Posted by: Buck on July 7, 2009 9:05 PM

Dresden fire bombing planned by McNamara.
Tokyo and a hundred innocent towns in Japan fire bombed under McNamara planning.
Hiroshima bombed under his personal control.
Nagasaki bombed under his personal control.
Personally chose Westmoreland (more kills means we win even if we wiped out villages of 100 and recovered one broken shotgun) to command in Vietnam.

Die Kissinger, die, the devil needs you to baste McNamara as he toasts in napalm and white phosphorus.

Number 5 war criminal in 20th century for murdering unarmed innocents. Stalin, Hitler, Chiang Kaishek, Mao, McNamara, then Pol Pot. I am sure that he was deeply troubled in his declining years for not being number one. All but Hitler died happily in bed of old age. Human race? Cheney is a choirboy compared to this super evil semihuman thug.

Posted by: evil is evil on July 8, 2009 11:11 AM

I believe he was a leader of the wiz-kids at Ford that were tasked with quantifying every thing.

Posted by: mark on July 8, 2009 7:33 PM
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