Will Robert Macnamara’s legacy be recognised as a positive one
Robert Macanamra, American Defense Secretary under John F Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson has died today Monday July the 6th. Will his legacy be overshadowed by his role in Vietnam or will it be seen as positive legacy of which Vietnam was only a part of
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Known for putting seat belts into cars and saving lives
As the first chief executive of Ford from outside the ford family aside from turning the business around Robert Macnamara was responsible for making Ford the first car company to install seatbelts in its new models ( optionally as part of its Lifeguard package) and modifying the dashboards so there were less of a risk of people being impaled on them. This In this respect Macnamara has been described as being ahead of his time as in 1965 the US congress passed the first federal standards making amongst other things seatbelts compulsory. Even though safety didn't sell the regulations saved lives and made Ford a trailblazer because of doing the research.[["Richard Johnsonhttp://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/2007/1/2007_1_29.shtml]]
The Lifeguard package was optional rather than standard so the safety didn't come cheap. Furthermore Mcnamara can be argued to be the person who introduced the safety as opposed to speed conflict with regard to cars as demonstrated by Henry Ford II's comment "McNamara is selling safety but Chevrolet is selling Cars" [["Richard Johnsonhttp://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/2007/1/2007_1_29.shtml Accessed 20.07.09]] In fact Saab was the first car company to introduce seatbelts as standard rather than as an optional package placing itself well ahead of all of it's rivals [[Swade "Saab Innovations" Saabs united http://www.saabsunited.com/2005/12/saab-innovations.html Accessed20.07.09]]
His work for the World Bank
There are some good reason Robert Macnamara has a Fellowship established in 1982 by the World Bank in his name which balance his damage in Vietnam [[http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/WBI/EXTWBISFP/EXTRSMFP/0,,contentMDK:21588587~menuPK:4502116~pagePK:64168445~piPK:64168309~theSitePK:551843,00.html]]. Aside from being the person who coined the term absolute poverty as opposed to relative poverty his thirteen years in charge lead to some major successes including an increase in the banks budget and a growth in it's prominence with the bank's commitments exceeding $10 billion for the first time. Aside from that Mcnamara was responsible for a successful campaign against river blindness and helping to challenge the established view of global security primarily being a military based one. [[http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTABOUTUS/EXTARCHIVES/0,,contentMDK:20100171~pagePK:36726~piPK:36092~theSitePK:29506,00.html]]
Maybe so but to say his work for Ford and the World Bank cancelled each other out in terms of lives lost as opposed to lives saved would be to try and quantify something that can't be qualified.
Many, including Naomi Klein, would also question the assumption that the World Bank has been a force for good.
McNamara apologised for the Vietnam war
Robert McNamara apologised for his role in the war’s buildup admitting that the war policy had been wrong. The assumptions upon which it had been fought were wrong, the Department of Defence and the White House approached Vietnam, with "sparse knowledge, scant experience and simplistic assumptions." Making them victims of their own "innocence and confidence," ignoring potential splits in communism thereby making it a monolithic enemy that could cause a domino effect throughout South East Asia. That they misunderstood how nationalist the North Vietnamese were and therefore the amount of damage they were willing to take. He regrets not being more open to the public and for failing to explore possibilities that might have lead to peace or a de-escalation.[[George C. Herring, The Wrong Kind of Loyalty -- McNamara's Apology for Vietnam, Foreign Affairs, May/June 1995, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/50985/george-c-herring/the-wrong-kind-of-loyalty-mcnamara-s-apology-for-vietnam%5D%5D
He could have spoken out much sooner and possibly have saved lives in the process. The anti-war lobby was seen as being draft dodgers and communists, McNamara would have given the movement credibility with the establishment and have tipped the balance towards a withdrawal.
Similarly, an apology after the fact doesn't make up for the decision to send so many young Americans to their deaths for a cause that many questioned, and many did not feel was just.
Architecht of the Vietnam War
Macnamara was responsible for pushing for Kennedy and then Lyndon Baines Johnson into escalating the US involvement in Vietnam. He was also responsible for pushing the Gulf of Tonkin incident as a key pretext for invasion.
The Vietnam War claimed a total of 1.5 million soldiers with millions more being wounded and or suffering psychological trauma on both sides and had a massive impact on American society. Not to mention the millions of civilians who died in the countries the conflict spread to and that wasn't just Vietnam Cambodia was also sucked into the conflict as well as fighting in Laos. Macnamara may not be responsible for all of the deaths that happened in that country but his insistence on trying to grind down the Vietnamese forces and his grave misunderstanding of the rationale behind the North Vietnamese contributed significantly.
McNamara was also among the first in the Kennedy administration to want to get out of Vietnam. As early as 1965 he believed that the war was impossible to win ‘short of genocidal destruction’. He was forced to resign over his urging President Johnson to completely withdraw from Vietnam. He argued that a continuing war would be a disaster for the US, "There may be a limit beyond which many Americans and much of the world will not permit the United States to go... It could conceivably produce a costly distortion in the American national consciousness and in the world image of the United States." Tapes of cabinet discussions exist, with Mcnamara urging Kennedy to get out of Vietnam as early as October 1963.[[Robert McNamara, The Telegraph, 6th July 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/politics-obituaries/5760914/Robert-McNamara.html%5D%5D
McNamara himself in The Fog of War says of the firebombing of Japanese cities in which he was involved writing reports to try to maximise the efficiency of the bombing; ‘LeMay said, "If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals." And I think he's right. He, and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?’[[http://www.errolmorris.com/film/fow_transcript.html]] Yet he himself in the Vietnam was involved in equally disproportionate losses in Vietnam. Vietnam released figures on April 3, 1995 that a total of one million Vietnamese combatants and four million civilians were killed in the war. On the other side 58,226 American soldiers or are missing in action.[[ http://www.vietnam-war.info/casualties/%5D%5D So as someone who helped get the USA into the war, ordered bombings, failed to find a peaceful solution, and as someone who from his above statement believes in some form of collective responsibility was he a war criminal?
There's a harsh argument here and that is that the history and judgements of war is decided by the victors despite somethings being universal like the Holocaust a total war is total war which is fought until one side unconditionally surrenders or both sides agree to a peace agreement. This is why Macnamara and Le May were feted after Victory in Japan day instead of put in handcuffs and in prison to await trial for War Crimes [[ Curzon "On War Crimes what makes it immoral if you lose but not if you win"http://cominganarchy.com/2005/10/31/on-war-crimes-or-%E2%80%9Cwhat-makes-it-immoral-if-you-lose-but-not-if-you-win%E2%80%9D/]]. Hindsight may be a great thing but if you're in the situation at the time based on the knowledge you have to make the calls.
With regard to Vietnam, Mcnamara while he may have been responsible for Agent Orange and Rolling Thunder operations was not responsible for dropping the Little Boy and Big Boy atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (something that was partly responsible for ending WWII amongst other things. And more importantly he was not responsible for the Vietnamese Equivalent.[[Michael Lind "All Sides blame McNamara for Vietnam]] So Mcnamara wasn't a war criminal all things considered
What do you think?