Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The legacy of Robert Strange McNamara

The legacy of Robert S. McNamara is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have the architect of the Vietnam War, the man responsible for the buildup of forces in one of the most tragic and ill-fated wars in American history. On the other hand, the man also helped keep the peace between the U.S. and its Cold War adversaries during a very tumultuous time.

McNamara was an instrumental player in the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event in which the United States and the Soviet Union came closest to direct nuclear warfare. McNamara, some historians assert, was responsible for averting a proposal to hit Russia with an air strike, a move that would have undoubtedly led to retaliation with the U.S.S.R.

Following his "stint" at the Pentagon -- McNamara served the longest term as Defense Secretary since the post was created -- he became president of the World Bank, where he championed the idea of improving lives of others around the world as a means towards peace rather than the militaristic methods he once espoused.

In his later years (and even during the end of his tenure with the Pentagon), McNamara had serious misgivings about the war being fought in Indochina. His change in attitude of the war is reflective of the views most Americans were having as well -- the population favored the war initially, but after seeing the effects of the war and its toll it took on American soldiers' lives, many began to see the failings of the domino theory of Cold War containment. Most saw our presence there as being a mistake -- including Robert S. McNamara.

"The Fog of War" is a great documentary worth checking out, as it details the life of Robert Strange (yes, that's his real middle name) McNamara, especially the era of the Vietnam War. My personal feelings on McNamara aside (I feel his actions were gravely wrong), as a student of the Cold War era, it's worth getting to know one of the major players of that period and doing so in-depth research on the man who ran the war America wish it never fought.

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