ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Surprised by Robert McNamara

I watched the documentary about Robert McNamara on The History Channel last night. I was totally surprised by this man. I was prepared to hate him but I came away liking him. I liked him a lot.

Unlike the pis-ant commentators on the show, McNamara was real. He displayed depth, understanding, insightfullness, an analytic mind, determination, loyalty and brilliance. In short, he reminded me a good deal of Donald Rumsfeld.

The "rules" he layed down for when to use military force made a lot of sense. The errors of the Vietnam War he pointed out seemed bang on. He seems to be a man who has learned much from his life. He is a man, in my opinion, well worth listening to.

Watch this show if you get a chance.

I could use a few more surprises like this in this cynical era.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: MontereyJohn


Comment from Gerald in in Nebraska

First, I'm not the least bit impressed with the History Channel as an authoritative source on anything. I've seen them distort history often enough that I rarely visit that channel anymore.

WRT Robert McNamara. He was a car manufacturer who had little actual military experience and lots of theories on management and production. In retrospect those theories didn't hold much water, but he applied them anyway. He had the odd notion that if the US "signaled" the North Vietnamese of our intentions then they would back off and leave the South alone. In his own words, he came by the signaling notion during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The distinction between the Cuban Missile Crisis and our efforts in Vietnam is that we had generated almost our entire nuclear strike force to full alert in response to the Soviets moving nuclear missiles into Cuba. Signaling worked then because we were holding a huge nuclear bat that the Soviets at that time could not begin to match.

Thus we had "escalation," which was the buzzword of the era. I remember reading about it in the Squadron Officers School course and thought that it was a crock even in 1963. McNamara and his helpers (the Bundy brothers come to mind) free-styled a bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The plan put a lot of highly trained Americans in harm's way for very little in terms of military and political payoff. But that was an application of the "McNamara Doctrine." I'm not sure you can find a term like that anywhere, but that's what it was.

The bomb a little, talk a little tactics didn't work. Like our current day antagonists, the North Vietnamese interpreted McNamara's half-measures as a sign of weakness. Since we did little or nothing to stop the inflow of war materiel into North Vietnam, until December 1972, American forces were doomed to smacking down trucks, reinforced bicycles, and pack elephants, under water bridges, etc., one by one on the vast area known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We diddled around with that mode of operation until 1972, when the North Vietnamese tried what I call Tet '72: they invaded South Vietnam from across the DMZ and through Laos. I call it Tet '72 because I think Tet is when the North Vietnamese were planning to launch their attack. Too bad for them, General John Lavelle took the initiative in January/February 1972 and attacked the military buildup that was going on in the south of North Vietnam close to the DMZ and the passes into Laos. Nixon fired him for his efforts.

Even though American ground forces were mostly gone, American airpower was still present and beat back the North Vietnamese attack throughout that bloody summer. When the North Vietnamese continued to play hard to get at the Paris Peace Talks, Nixon (or maybe it was Kissinger, I don't know) ordered a large-scale bombing campaign against Hanoi and Haiphong. That did the trick; the North Vietnamese were stripped of their military capability in eleven days. Imagine how things might have played out if McNamara had convinced LBJ to do that in 1965.

The North Vietnamese gave back our POWs. And then our Congress abandoned South Vietnam.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Gerald

Monterey John's Reponse to an Excellent Comment

With regard to the excellent comment above, I shared many of the opinions expressed in the author's comments before I watched the interview, which incidentally was independently produced. As I noted, The History Channel commentators were pis-ants. I share the author's view of much of what appears on that outlet.

That being said, this was an excellent documentary. There are two sides to any story, and McNamara's side is more than worth listening to and is not to be dismissed out of hand simply because I may have a contrary view.

As to McNamara's military experience, during World War II he served on Curtis LeMay's staff and was instrumental in implementing the hugely successful air campaign against Japan. If that qualifies as limited military experience, I'm not sure what would constitute substantial military experience. In that regard, the commentor was simply wrong.

With regard to Vietnam, McNamara was never for that war. The Oval Office tapes of Johnson and recorded phone calls of Kennedy, make that clear. I thought it was bunk that Kennedy was not planning to expand the war and that it was only the assination led to 500,000 men ending up in country. Now I am reasonably convinced that it was true.

At this point, my emotions begin to cloud my thinking. My turn in this adventure came from 1969-1971. Though trained as a combat engineer and scheduled for OCS at Ft. Benning (that's infantry folks) I was through a series of circumstances not sent to Vietnam. I remember very well how adamently opposed to that war I was though I served. So, to hear how folks were thinking on the inside was important to me.

I think on balance McNamara was right. Vietnam violated all the rules that guide when one uses military force. We got involved in a revolution and were involved on the wrong side. Diem, the president we suported before we aided in his assination, followed a few short weeks later by Kenndy's own assination, was a French speaking Roman Catholic who had supported the colonial French against an indiginous fight for independence. We simply were blind to what was motivating the Vietnamese. By stepping into that situation, we were perceived as the successor colonial power to the French. We failed to see things through the enemy's eyes. There was no way the Vietnamese were going to quit short of victory or total defeat. They had not thrown off the French and Japanese only to have us take their place. This is key to McNamara's look back. The war was a mistake, an honorable mistake, but a mistake.

I loathed McNamara during the Johnson years. It was my impression he was part of the problem. He was part of the problem. 50,000 Americans are dead in part because of the things he did, or at least 25,000 as that was how many were killed before he left the Johnson administration. If he felt as he did as early as he did, he should have done the honorable thing and resigned.

We have rules of honor for a reason, they work.

Likewise we have guidelines as to when to use force. One of those guidelines, according to McNamara, is to not go to war with someone whose motives you do not understand. Without understanding their motives, you will never know what the enemy will do next. Nor will you get a clear idea as to your chances of succeeding. This is not the sort of touchy/feely understanding of which John Kerry (who served in Vietnam - ha!) spoke during the presidential campaign. It is the cold-eyed steely understanding of what drives, as Patton might have said, the other son-of-a-bitch.

Yes, McNamara had his faults, I give you the F-111. But his un-apologetic clear look back is more than worth listening to. He has things to say from which we can learn even if we disagree with him.

Thanks for the excellent comment and feel free to respond in the comments section below, or by sending an email to rovianconspiracy "at" charter "dot" net.

Comments (1)
St Wendeler said...

From a reader in Nebraska:

*****
First, I'm not the least bit impressed with the History Channel as an authoritative source on anything. I've seen them distort history often enough that I rarely visit that channel anymore.

WRT Robert McNamara. He was a car manufacturer who had little actual military experience and lots of theories on management and production. In retrospect those theories didn't hold much water, but he applied them anyway. He had the odd notion that if the US "signaled" the North Vietnamese of our intentions then they would back off and leave the South alone. In his own words, he came by the signaling notion during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The distinction between the Cuban Missile Crisis and our efforts in Vietnam is that we had generated almost our entire nuclear strike force to full alert in response to the Soviets moving nuclear missiles into Cuba. Signaling worked then because we were holding a huge nuclear bat that the Soviets at that time could not begin to match.

Thus we had "escalation," which was the buzzword of the era. I remember reading about it in the Squadron Officers School course and thought that it was a crock even in 1963. McNamara and his helpers (the Bundy brothers come to mind) free-styled a bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The plan put a lot of highly trained Americans in harm's way for very little in terms of military and political payoff. But that was an application of the "McNamara Doctrine." I'm not sure you can find a term like that anywhere, but that's what it was.

The bomb a little, talk a little tactics didn't work. Like our current day antagonists, the North Vietnamese interpreted McNamara's half-measures as a sign of weakness. Since we did little or nothing to stop the inflow of war materiel into North Vietnam, until December 1972, American forces were doomed to smacking down trucks, reinforced bicycles, and pack elephants, under water bridges, etc., one by one on the vast area known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We diddled around with that mode of operation until 1972, when the North Vietnamese tried what I call Tet '72: they invaded South Vietnam from across the DMZ and through Laos. I call it Tet '72 because I think Tet is when the North Vietnamese were planning to launch their attack. Too bad for them, General John Lavelle took the initiative in January/February 1972 and attacked the military buildup that was going on in the south of North Vietnam close to the DMZ and the passes into Laos. Nixon fired him for his efforts.

Even though American ground forces were mostly gone, American airpower was still present and beat back the North Vietnamese attack throughout that bloody summer. When the North Vietnamese continued to play hard to get at the Paris Peace Talks, Nixon (or maybe it was Kissinger, I don't know) ordered a large-scale bombing campaign against Hanoi and Haiphong. That did the trick; the North Vietnamese were stripped of their military capability in eleven days. Imagine how things might have played out if McNamara had convinced LBJ to do that in 1965.

The North Vietnamese gave back our POWs. And then our Congress abandoned South Vietnam.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Gerald