July 7, 2009

"Has any single American of this century done more harm than Robert McNamara?"

"No one comes readily to mind. Yes, Lyndon Johnson bears greater responsibility for the damage done the nation by the Vietnam War. But McNamara is a Renaissance man. Before he helped ruin the American polity, he helped ruin the American economy, pioneering at Ford the bloodless, numbers-oriented management methods that helped bring so many corporations to their knees. After Vietnam, as head of the World Bank, he helped ruin the entire world's economy, shoveling out billions of dollars to fund failed 'development' projects. It's a tough record to match."

So wrote Mickey Kaus, in 1995.

Via Jac, who — like me in yesterday's McNamara obit-post — praises the Errol Morris documentary, "The Fog of War."

57 comments:

ricpic said...

Mickey Mouse. J'accuse le mouse of putting the cutesification of America into overdrive.

rhhardin said...

We won Vietnam until Congress withdrew all support.

That's when the media discovered they trumped everything.

mccullough said...

Jimmy Carter was worse.

TitusItisRainingYetAgain said...

I loved the Fog Of War.

I rented when I was home one night in Wisconsin and my dad said, "shut it off, I can't stand that man".

I never knew.

ricpic said...

Your father had the right instincts...and then he went and made you.

traditionalguy said...

The best phrase I heard was that McNamara's band on expert academics conned the Persident and Dean Rusk into "managing the war in VietNam" from the White House.The Generals were to be ignored. That was so stupid that everyone involved should be shot. Of course Obama's band now plans to Manage the Auto Industry, the Insurance Industry and all medical care providers from the White House with the skills of this generation's version of Mcnamara. What could go wrong with that?

Taylor said...

William Brennan is way worse.

Ricardo said...

It's never just one person. True, certain people get things going in certain directions. But there are always a lot of other people along for the ride, people who are profiting in their own little or big ways.

New York said...

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124693370103803869.html :

Now that's old history. But the mentality of the planner remains alive and well in Washington today, along with the aura of cool intellectual certainty. Barack Obama might take a close look at McNamara's obituaries and note that he, too, is the whiz kid of his day.

Richard Fagin said...

Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Even Ronald Reagan couldn't fully undo that collectivist damage.

Smilin' Jack said...

...pioneering at Ford the bloodless, numbers-oriented management methods that helped bring so many corporations to their knees.

Well, to be fair, Ford was hemorrhaging money when McNamara took over--without his numbers-oriented approach, they likely would have gone bankrupt decades ago. And long before McNamara, it was GM chairman Alfred P. Sloan who articulated the philosphy: "We're not in the business of making cars, we're in the business of making money."

hdhouse said...

rhhardin said...
We won Vietnam until Congress withdrew all support. That's when the media discovered they trumped everything."

That is so not true and such a distortion. I am assuming you were not alive at the time and/or braindead and remaining so.

but this thread isn't about your silliness about viet nam, its about Bush...this is about bush isn't it?

DADvocate said...

Michael Jackson - he caused half the nation's brains to turn to Jello.

Chase said...

Harry Blackmun, William Brennan,Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, Lewis Powell All did more harm in Roe v Wade than any other Americans of the last Century.

All of them educated idiots with their heads so far up their behinds they couldn't see the unintended consequences they had wrought for the next 35+ years through their specious reordering of something NO ONE today truly believes was ever in the United States Constitution.

All of them now burning in the everlasting pain in the blackness of darkness forever reserved for the Devil and his Angels. They are not paying eternally because of Roe v Wade. They wrote and concurred on Roe v Wade because they were already willingly headed that way.

section9 said...

MacNamara came up in the XXIst Bomber Command under Twining, which answered directly to Carl Spaatz and through him to Hap Arnold in Washington.

They were looking for more productivity out of the B-29 force that was assigned to the Marianas. They had operated the B-29 out of bases in China with no effect. MacNamara was merely a young colonel assigned to the staff at that time.

In comes a new two-star to replace Heywood Hansell, Curtis LeMay. LeMay had been installed because the Hansell regime wasn't getting productivity out of the new B-29 weapons system. So, he set to work stripping the B-29 of a lot of its weapons and ordering low-altitude strikes. MacNamara was assigned as a statistician to keep track of how things were doing.

LeMay's results paid off. The B-29 worked like a charm as a bombing platform, especially when used in mass fire raids. It was MacNamara's job to suggest improvement in how the bomber was to be used.

section9 said...

Harry Blackmun, William Brennan,Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, Lewis Powell All did more harm in Roe v Wade than any other Americans of the last Century.

Unless you happen to be a resident of one of the three component nations of IndoChina.

TitusItisRainingYetAgain said...

I think the state of Massachusetts has done the most harm. Followed closely by San Francisco and then NYC.

Mississippi on the other hand has been our savior.

TitusItisRainingYetAgain said...

Actually Obama has done more harm in these past 6 months than anyone else ever.

I am crowning. Another pinched loaf is on it's way. The high fiber english muffies make me pinch quite a bit.

TitusItisRainingYetAgain said...

I am angry and I am not going to take it anymore. So instead I will type.

Off to the lou.

dbp said...

hdhouse said...
rhhardin said...
We won Vietnam until Congress withdrew all support. That's when the media discovered they trumped everything."

That is so not true and such a distortion. I am assuming you were not alive at the time and/or braindead and remaining so.

Read A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam by Lewis Sorley.

The myth that Vietnam was unwinnable is just that--a myth.

Fred4Pres said...

He certainly cried alot.

Say what you will about Rumsfeld, I doubt he will cry like a little girl.

Floridan said...

Lewis Sorley's analysis of the Vietnam War is very good in its parts, but his conclusion that the United States could have won the conflict is little better than the post World War I "stabbed in the back" position of German nationalists.

Moreover, Sorley's position is not accepted by most Vietnam War military historians and scholars.

In fact, Sorley makes the same mistake the "best and the brightest" made during the war in not acknowledging that the political dimension was not an outside force that impinged on the military effort, but rather was an integral part of the war (something the North Vietnamese realized early on).

To claim that American could have won the war if the military had been given complete support is akin to claiming that if one just had an unlimited supply of money it would be possible to always come out a winner in Las Vegas.

NKVD said...

hdhouse steps up to the plate - he swings, he misses again.

English is so foreign to him that he can just barely form words into sentences. Poor old guy - thinks he contributes as much as Titus, but ultimately he is just a turd circling the drain.

richard said...

barack obama's grandmother.

Hoosier Daddy said...

I blame the French. It was their fucking colony after all.

TitusItisRainingYetAgain said...

I blame the Indians.

They should of fought back.

Pussies.

Dan said...

Eh. Carter was recoverable. It took Reagan a while, but there was no permanent damage. FDR deserves a mention for his legacy of centralized government, and the extension of the Depression through misguided policy, but he does get points for Lend-Lease, and for wartime leadership.
I'll vote LBJ as the worst, mostly for his work destroying the family with the Great Society, but also for mishandling Vietnam and for trying to turn the Supreme Court into a body which would answer to him. That is a heck of a trifacta.

The Exalted said...

congress cutting off the then paltry amounts of aid going to S. Vietnam "lost" the war that 1 million American troops did not win...beliefs like these are the unique province of true ignoramuses (ignorami?)

bearbee said...

Via Jac, who — like me in yesterday's McNamara obit-post — praises the Errol Morris documentary, "The Fog of War."

The Fog of War can be seen online.

Watched a portion then ordered it from Amazon

It was war and the Japanese military was brutal but the way he spoke of fire bombing Tokyo make my stomach lurch.

vnjagvet said...

McNamara as SECDEF was a duplicitous wretch IMNSHO. As a 27 year old, I believed the BS he was peddling.

As a 55 year old I read his mea culpa book in which he sought forgiveness from those who served and the anti-war crowd alike for his "mistakes". I read it and found it to be a pathetic performance. But I realize he was a somewhat bereft old man when he wrote his apologia, and in time, I forgave him for writing it.

I will leave it to the Lord, though, to forgive him for the way he conducted himself as Secretary of Defense.

dbp said...

Floridan said...
...but his conclusion that the United States could have won the conflict is little better than the post World War I "stabbed in the back" position of German nationalists.

This is nonsense on stilts. No serious person thinks South Vietnam would have fallen if there had still been significant US forces there. It is well documented that Germany at the end of WWI was economically and militarily spent.

The stabbed in the back myth is equivalent to the Vietnam is unwinnable myth. Neither has any basis in fact, but were widely believed.

Hoosier Daddy said...

congress cutting off the then paltry amounts of aid going to S. Vietnam "lost" the war that 1 million American troops did not win...beliefs like these are the unique province of true ignoramuses (ignorami?)

Maybe my history is fuzzy but didn't the North Vietnamese sign the Paris Peace accords after Nixon ordered Linebacker II and bombed the piss out of Hanoi?

I guess you can say we 'lost' it after ceasefire and just decided not to re-intervene when the ceasefire failed. I'm used to the leftist tactic of changing definitions I just wish I could get on the mailing list for the new editions.

dbp said...

Had we not done the surge, the same folks who "know" Vietnam was unwinable would be telling us Iraq was unwinable too.

Oops! They did say Iraq was unwinable...Sorry, my bad.

They are strangely silent now.

Hoosier Daddy said...

They are strangely silent now.


Give it a bit. We'll be hearing about the 'graveyard of Empires' soon.

Greg Hlatky said...

I'm used to the leftist tactic of changing definitions I just wish I could get on the mailing list for the new editions.

Haven't gotten your extra-long paste-in article on the Bering Strait yet?

Brian O'Connell said...

I'm with Dan. LBJ ruined many more lives with the Great Society than he did with the Vietnam War. It's not even close. The war casualties, at least, are coming to a close. The welfare state is still destroying people in large numbers.

jr565 said...

Hoosier wrote:
Maybe my history is fuzzy but didn't the North Vietnamese sign the Paris Peace accords after Nixon ordered Linebacker II and bombed the piss out of Hanoi?

I guess you can say we 'lost' it after ceasefire and just decided not to re-intervene when the ceasefire failed. I'm used to the leftist tactic of changing definitions I just wish I could get on the mailing list for the new editions.

Don't confuse them with actual facts and history lessons. They have trouble handling complicated concepts. They're better with slogans like "Hey Hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today?" and "Bush Lied, People Died". Because it rhymes you see.
(I do note that the latest batch of slogans have gotten even more simplistic. Either they've learned that brevity is the soul of wit (unlikely), or, if possible have gotten even dumber over the years).

Kansas City said...

Great thread.

Kaus is a fascinating guy and his 1995 column on McNamara is very good.

I think most of the criticism of McNamara is justified. I can't believe it has been 14 years since his book, but I remember watching him at the time and finding him very offputting. He was clearly trying to make himself look good and he did it with a combination of smugness, confidence, superiority and self pity that I found offensive. I also thought his analysis was not very persuasive.

Finally, Chase's comment about Blackmun, Brennan, Marshall, Stewart, and Powell [he forgot Douglas even Burger in a concurrence] burning in hell is the most interesting one and something that I have sometimes thought about. Specifically, (1) can you imagine the fear that each of them must have felt as they approached death?; and (2) how could a surpreme court justice who believed in God and any type of post death judgment possibly vote for abortion on demand rights? If there is a hell, don't they almost have to be there?

Cedarford said...

You cannot understand history if you go into the pitfall of trying to explain it all through a "Single Great Man" or "Single Bad Man" as the only causative factor of events.

=========
Floridan said...
Lewis Sorley's analysis of the Vietnam War is very good in its parts, but his conclusion that the United States could have won the conflict is little better than the post World War I "stabbed in the back" position of German nationalists.


The "stab in the back theory" is flawed, but there is still great truth to it as a factor.
In 1918, Germany had won in the East. The Allies to the West had not touched German soil and faced a dominant punishing defense had they chosen to push forward. Millions more would have died. The French morale had collapsed and had already suffered a general mutiny of the troops. Britain had lost 1 in 9 of its young men between 18 and 24 and had a society trying to cope with around 500,000 grievously maimed and gassed.
What Germany had was a collapsed Austrian-Hungarian Empire along with victory over Russia...with chaos to the East...and Red Terror. Inside Germany, radicals and Jews who had dominant positions in labor unions had responded to the twin calls of Communism and Britain's championing of Zionism - and used worker wartime suffering and lack of food to launch a series of strikes that paralyzed industry and military resupply.

When Germany agreed to an Armistice, it allowed an opening for the Royal Navy to cut off food shipments...and start a famine until Germany was forced to cede to ruinous reparations terms never brought up at the Armistice table. With over a million starving to death After Armistice, Germany had no choice but to accept the harsher terms.

The 1920s though, were consumed by German suffering, anger....and trying to understand which forces had caused Germany's surrender to such ruinous conditions.
The Nazis theory of course, is now thought by modern Germans as well as historians in other nations to be flawed, incomplete, overly exculpatory of German High Command and Kaiser-led bungling. And exaggerating the role Jews and Communists had in the internal sabotage, defeat, and the Reparations. (But with Communism's fall and the Red democide that exceeded even the Nazis killings...and knowing what was planned for the West...the German "stab in the back theory" was not totally wrong.)

=====================
DBP - This is nonsense on stilts. No serious person thinks South Vietnam would have fallen if there had still been significant US forces there. It is well documented that Germany at the end of WWI was economically and militarily spent.

The stabbed in the back myth is equivalent to the Vietnam is unwinnable myth. Neither has any basis in fact, but were widely believed.


1. Vietnam would not have fallen if Congress hadn't stabbed them in the back.

2. At the same time the conflict was not truly winnable. S. Vietnam falling was a possibility (and thanks to Dems, an eventuality). But the idea of a triumphant invasion of US troops to N Vietnam and us accepting a defeated Ho Chi Minh's surrender in Hanoi as China stood by is ridiculous.

3. The stabbed in the back theory of WWI DOES have basis in fact. The only debate is whether or not it was prime, or just contributory to Germany's defeat. With most people, after the Nazi nightmare, taking a position that "no stab in the back ever happened" is politically acceptable. Just as their taking a position that Joe Stalin was a hero who saved humanity is clearly independent of reality..but still politically acceptable in some quarters.
Historical revisionism, though, is quite strong about rethinking WWI's conclusion, the germination of Reparations and how the Bolsheviks were behind the worst of the Terror created, not Stalin - who now is seen as the ruthless, brilliant operator who took control of the Revolution to put ethnic Russians in charge and save what was left of Christianity in the Soviet Union from liquidation.

dbp said...

Cedarford, you make some good points but miss some too.

If the Germans thought they could win, they would never have agreed to an armistice. Exhausted and with the prospect of fresh American troops and plenty of US supply, they knew it would be a matter of time before they were defeated.

It is understandable that many Germans believed the stabbed in the back theory. It is more pleasant to believe than the truth and how can you expect most Germans of the time to understand that their economy had been pushed to the brink of collapse?

Kansas City said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kansas City said...

I've always thought it was obvious that we could have "won" the Vietnam War if we were sufficiently motivate and willing to pay the price and bear the criticism.

I have never heard what Colin Powell had to say about the issue, but I assume his doctrine of overwhelming force could have been applied. For that matter, as some have mentioned here, just keeping up a decent level of support for the South after the "peace" treaty or punishing N. Vietnam for violating the treaty would have been enough to keep S. Vietnam from losing. The anti-war liberals won the political battle in the U.S. and, as a result, we lost the war. Without getting into right or wrong, isn't it as simple as that?

James Williams said...

Back in 1963 the girl I was going with was a big fan of JFK, and thought McNamara was the grestest American alive. I told her that I thought McNamara was a disaster; I was unimpressed by what he did in WWII, at Ford, and with his reorganization of Defense Dept. procurement. She dumped me. She was a rich liberal, so things wouldn't have worked out between us anyway. I was really opposed to the US getting involved in Vietnam at the time, which she supported because JFK and McNamara were doing it. Later after Nixon was elected and ended McNamara's disasterous attrition approach to wa based on statistics I thought we had a moral obligation to try to save South Vietnam since we escalated the war in the first place. I often wondered if the girl changed position later. Being a liberal I would bet that she turned on LBJ and the war. McNamara's performance in office met my low expectations and I think he was the biggest American failure of the 20th century.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Jamie Gorelick is catching up fast.

vnjagvet said...

James:

You were a much better judge of character than I was.

I bought the Kennedy charisma and the McNamara efficiency stuff. Remember, Kennedy was billed as strong on national defense and out Nixoned Nixon in that category. McNamara and the "whiz kids" were gong to apply industrial standards to the hidebound Defense Department. I knew I was wrong after I got in the service and found out we had two diametrically opposed objectives in RVN. MACV (advisory force) was there to "win hearts and minds"; USARV (conventional combat force) was there to "kill gooks". McNamara and Westmoreland allowed that to happen, doubled down, and escalated forces involving millions of troops while failing to pick a winning strategy. When that strategy began, we had only lost about 3,000 troops through the end of 1965. Thereafter we lost 55,000. A tribute to a bone-headed strategy.

PatCA said...

I also like Fog of War. But if I remember correctly, I didn't see it as an anti-war piece but more the portrait of a man who didn't know right from wrong at the end.

Elliott A said...

@section9 The low level bombing was successful, but incredibly expensive, nearly a 10% loss of aircraft per mission. My father was there as soon as the airfield was in on Saipan, sleeping in a tent next to his airplane. He was a flight engineer, 1st lt. Anyway, the real success of the B-29 missions came when they combined the firebombing with high altitude bombing. The fires would light up the targets, (all missions were at night), and at 35000 ft., they were safe from Japanese fighters. They maintained both topside and tail gunners. Once they began this strategy, they lost almost no planes. My dad did his missions and earned a distinguished flying cross while there. Unlike most of the greatest generation, he talked about the war a lot as I was growing up, although I didn't find out about the DFC until after he died and we found it in his things. He kept his records of every mission, target, altitude,etc.

Elliott A said...

Addendum- My dad spoke often of LeMay, McNamara was never mentioned.

Ralph L said...

My father specialized in mine warfare, the backest backwater of the Navy, but he just happened to be advisor to the CNO for it when we mined the North's harbors in 1972. He and a civilian PhD did the planning for it at the Pentagon.

Why it wasn't done sooner is a mystery to me, because it was effective.

TitusItisRainingYetAgain said...

FYI Ripic my pop adores me. I am well educated, make a shitload of money, am a self made man.

Yes, I am a big fudgie but he overlooks that knowing that I achieved more than him.

I am smart like an alley cat too.

And let's not forget my bod.

TitusItisRainingYetAgain said...

also, when I was home in Wisconsin I went to our lake home. All the single girls wanted me.

My mom and pop kept telling me that so and so wanted to go on a boat ride with me.

I was truely flattered but I didn't want to lead anyone on. I am fag and I wouldn't do that do a girl.

TitusItisRainingYetAgain said...

Also, NKVD wanted to lick my dirty ass after a very unfortunate loaf pinching.

Just saying.

John Lynch said...

Richard Nixon. Duh. He destroyed faith in American government forever.

And he lost the Vietnam war on his watch.

And he made friends with the genocidal Mao.

Not to mention his elevation of political expedience to something laudable in itself.

From selling out Taiwan to breaking and entering, the only thing that mattered was power.

Maggie45 said...

On the majority of the military blogs there are no tears being shed over him.

Read H. R. McMaster's "Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam"

http://tinyurl.com/nvkh9t

Eli Blake said...

McNamara was an evil man and he will burn in hell for helping engineer the Gulf of Tonkin incident and resolution.

Not many Americans are as directly responsible as he is for the deaths of 50,000 other Americans, and for what?

Ralph L said...

He destroyed faith in American government forever.
This is a bad thing?

Juba Doobai! said...

I see McNamara, like GW, graduated from Harvard Business School. He's an Ivy product. He's described as a "brainy Pentagon chief." So, he must've been a Democrat. Since he's a Democrat, that must mean he was a genius. I guess if he was a genius, that means he was smarter than Dubya and Sarah Palin who graduated from the University of Idaho (communications-journalism; Dubya only did history and business; McNamara did hard stuff like math and philosophy). I wonder how come if Dubya and Palin are so dumb, their actions haven't resulted in a lost war or hundreds of thousands of American lives? (Please, don't tell me about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead; talk to Al Qaeda about that.) I wonder how dumb Dubya managed to have had seven and a half years of a good economy; Alaska isn't in the tank either.

Hmm. There must be something to being dumb, you know. It sorta seems to keep you from doing seriously dumb things like cutting and running after you've won a war or wrecking the global economy.