It took him way too long to figure it out, but in 1995, Robert Strange McNamara finally admitted he was wrong, terribly wrong. However, it was far too late for the 58-thousand soldiers who died in the VietNam War between 1959 and 1975. The man who was Defense Secretary to JFK and LBJ thought the war, which he started in ‘59, would be over in ‘65 and that the South Vietnamese would win their independence.
Boy, was he wrong. But at least, he admitted it.
A lot of guys my age hated his guts in the 60’s and 70’s, as our high school buddies got shipped to ‘Nam and either got killed or got really messed up physically or mentally. Popular artists lampooned McNamara, who was a big-shot at the Ford Motor Company before President Kennedy asked him to run the Pentagon in 1961.
McNamara and his colleagues were called the “whiz kids”. A lot of folks over 30 thought these guys were whip-smart and the cream of the crop. Uncle Sam was gonna kick some Commie butt over there in the rice paddies and win the hearts and minds of those folks.
Not so much.
When it became obvious to Walter Cronkite and everybody else that the war was a mistake in the first place and was being horribly mis-managed and that we were being lied to by the Pentagon, McNamara wrote in his memoirs that he wasn’t sure if he quit - or if President Johnson fired him.
McNamara should have learned something when the Bay of Pigs invasion of southern Cuba to overthrow Fidel Castro, three months after JFK took office, failed so miserably. McNamara and the CIA were confident we could just barge in there and effect regime change.
McNamara and the CIA thought the Cuban people would join the invasion, rise up, and throw Castro out. Exactly the opposite happened. The “smartest guys in the room” didn’t learn from that failure, and replicated the failure in Viet Nam.
Don’t tell me that you can’t see the parallels with the Iraq war. Remember how we were going to roll into Baghdad, put on a shock and awe show, and the Iraqis would shower our troops with love and flowers and give them parades?
“Mission accomplished” - NOT.
McNamara admitted, three decades later, that the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Viet Nam War were wrong. I don’t think we’ll be hearing about any mistakes made by George W. Bush or Donald Rumsfeld three decades from now - or ever.