Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …
Robert McNamara’s In Retrospect – The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. [(c) 1995 by Robert S. McNamara, U.S. Publisher – Random House ISBN 0-8129-2523-8]
This man was reviled by the time he left his position in the Johnson administration as its Secretary of Defense. The military was not sorry to see him resign. He has said he was never sure whether he resigned or was fired. What was certain is that he profoundly doubted the capacity of the U.S. to prevail in the Southeast Asian crisis centered on Vietnam. His book details these doubts and how he arrived at them. He provided a great service to the world by writing what he knew about the events, the people and the circumstances leading up to the full-blown military effort by America to prevail in Southeast Asia. Of even greater importance, he successfully prevented the Joint Chiefs of Staff from escalating the effort with nuclear weapons. Because he succeeded in that, we can only imagine how horrific things would have become had he not. The fact that he encountered such difficulty in prevailing, and that the military high command was united in its opposition to him, are cause for very great concern. The world is too often at the brink of nuclear war because there are so many warriors in official positions in the nations possessing nuclear armaments whose policies have only by sheer chance not been implemented, as we now know from numerous sources close to those who were driving events. Mr. McNamara’s account represents an honest, intelligent assessment from the inside of just how serious this problem for the future of life on the planet has become. [beginning page 32]
“Two developments after I became secretary of defense reinforced my way of thinking about Vietnam: the intensification of relations between Cuba and the Soviets, and a new wave of Soviet provocations in Berlin. Both seemed to underscore the aggressive intent of Communist policy. In threat context, the danger of Vietnam’s loss and, through falling dominoes, the loss of all Southeast Asia made it seemed [sic] reasonable to consider expanding the U.S. effort in Vietnam.
“None of this made me anything close to an East Asian expert, however. I had never visited Indochina, nor did I understand or appreciate its history, language, culture, or values. The same must be said, to varying degrees, about President Kennedy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, military adviser Maxwell Taylor, and many others. When it came to Vietnam, we found ourselves setting policy for a region that was terra incognita.
“Worse, our government lacked experts for us to consult to compensate for our ignorance. When the Berlin crisis occurred in 1961 and during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, President Kennedy was able to turn to senior people like Llewellyn Thompson, Charles Bohlen, and George Kennan, who knew the Soviets intimately. There were no senior officials in the Pentagon or State Department with comparable knowledge of Southeast Asia. I knew of only one Pentagon officer with counterinsurgency experience in the region – Col. Edward Lansdale, who had served as an adviser to Ramon Magsaysay in the Philippines and Diem in South Vietnam. But Lansdale was relatively junior and lacked broad geopolitical expertise.
“The irony of this gap was that it existed largely because the top East Asian and China experts in the State Department – John Paton Davies, Jr., John Stewart Service, and John Carter Vincent – had been purged during the McCarthy hysteria of the 1950s. Without men like these to provide sophisticated, nuanced insights, we – certainly I – badly misread China’s objectives and mistook its bellicose rhetoric to imply a drive for regional hegemony. We also totally underestimated the nationalist aspect of Ho Chi Minh’s movement. We saw him first as a Communist and only second as a Vietnamese nationalist.” [McNamara’s book also provides important insight with a comparison of Yugoslavia to Cuba.]