From .......... COMMENTARY Magazine

165 E. 56th St., NYC 10022

October 1995

pg 15



Reviewers and others commenting on Robert S. McNamara's book on Vietnam all seem to agree that he harbored doubts and misgivings as early as 1965. I do not believe he did.

As the military reporter for the Associated Press based at the Pentagon, I observed McNamara closely throughout his seven-year tenure as Secretary of Defense ..... More importantly, I took part in weekly background sessions where reporters and McNamara engaged in freewheeling discussion; he also dined from time to time with small groups of reporters. In such background settings, McNamara knew he could speak freely because the ground rules forbade reporters from quoting him directly.

Never, until the war was more than five years old, did I detect any signs that McNamara was under stress. Until well into 1967 - only months before he was eased out - McNamara exuded confidence. He was quick to show irritation during those years whenever his war policies or strategic assumptions were questioned by reporters or others.

I am prepared to believe that McNamara had become discouraged by mid-1967 - but only because all the assumptions on which he and his "whiz-kid" disciples had based their war strategy had failed. Thus, in my view, McNamara was suffering from a badly bruised ego. Remember, this was the man who had been hailed as a kind of superchief, a master manager and driving intellect. This was a Cabinet officer who could dominate congressional hearings and quell criticisms with a torrent of alleged facts.

I do not think for a minute that McNamara was overwhelmed by remorse for the poor "grunts" he sent to Southeast Asia. If he had misgivings as early as 1965, when we were just getting deeply involved in the ground fighting, why did he persist in a war that cost thousands of additional lives?

Yes, President Johnson bears ultimate responsibility for the debacle. But he largely relied on the advice of Robert McNamara, who was for a long time the towering figure in the Johnson administration.

Vietnam was truly "McNamara's war."


Alexandria, Virginia

From ................. U.S. News & World Report 1995

McNamara recants: In your story about Robert McNamara's recent visit to Vietnam [ 20 Years After His War, A Return to Vietnam, November 20 ], Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap confirmed to him that North Vietnam never launched the second attack in the Gulf of Tonkin. This may be news to your readers. But are we to believe McNamara has not known this for decades?

My late father commanded the USS Gridley, the guided-missile flagship of the Tonkin Gulf squadron. He told me then, over 30 years ago, that the North Vietnamese had not attacked our ships a second time. He said that two of our destroyers had confused each other and fired accordingly.

Opposed to the war from the outset, my father served two tours there. In the subsequent phases of the conflict, he despised the limited rules of engagement. As secretary of defense, McNamara was quick to commit our military and shameful in his use of it. America is a forgiving country. But we should remain skeptical of an old man burnishing his image, or we will suffer hubris again.

William R. Loomis Jr. New York

In his memoirs, McNamara describes concise and powerful reasons supporting his current conclusions that the Vietnam War was wrong, that the manner in which the conflict was conducted was flawed and that the war should have been wound down and ended years earlier than it was.

Those of us who lived through that era recall vividly that many of the conclusions McNamara holds today are the same arguments presented by those who opposed the war. Those who early on disagreed with the war were criticized for not believing the nation's leaders who were entrusted with the benefit of greater knowledge about the situation. The assumption of that trust was that our leaders were making decisions in the best interest of our country.

The ultimate tragedy may be that the leaders of this country during the Vietnam War are unable to present one acceptable reason why any of the 58,000 people whose names appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial were asked to endure death. Regardless, with his courage and candor, McNamara is revealing much of the truth about the Vietnam War and this will remain as a benefit to the nation.

Morris E. Bellis, M.D. Grand Forks, N.D.


LBJ inherited the war in Vietnam from John F. Kennedy, and

LBJ inherited McNamara from John F. Kennedy.

Under JFK, the involvement of the USA in the war in Vietnam

was substantially increased.

McNamara [and of course, JFK] is a Roman Catholic.

John McCone, head of CIA under JFK, was also a RC.

In Vietnam, the USA supported an explicitly Roman Catholic ruling class.