Editorial: McNamara leaves quietly once more

Published 12:45 pm Monday, July 13, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s noisy departure overshadowed the passing of Robert McNamara, defense secretary for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
McNamara, later president of the World Bank, died quietly at 93 compared to the furor ignited by his unexplained “resignation” at the height of Vietnam.
McNamara had been in the 1960s the primary architect of the American escalation of the war.
By 1967, after six years at the Pentagon, McNamara concluded that no matter how many more troops he added to the U.S. buildup, a definitive victory over the Viet Cong would elude America.
The war was dividing the nation at home, so McNamara memoed LBJ that it was time to negotiate an end to the war with our enemy.
Johnson wanted no part of that and summoned his defense secretary to the White House.
McNamara would recall later that he remained unsure whether he was fired or resigned. Either way, Johnson dispatched him to the World Bank.
Decades passed before McNamara published an apologetic memoir in 1995 about his grave doubts about the Vietnam war he never shared at the time.
Public reaction was swift and negative, since 58,000 American lives were lost.
How many might have been saved if McNamara publicly reviewed the reasoning for his “resignation” and pressured LBJ to exit Southeast Asia seven years sooner?
It was a different era. Cabinet officials didn’t go around blowing whistles and quickly cashing in with tell-all tomes.
He felt loyalty for Johnson, chosen by voters. His judgment took a back-seat to his boss.
Secretary of State Colin Powell made a similar call when it came to the general’s reservations about invading Iraq more than six years ago, torn between his conscience and his sense of loyalty to the administration in which he served.