Robert McNamara and the Ghosts of Vietnam


“Not long after dawn, Robert S. McNamara set out on a rapid walk through the half-light of Hanoi. A steamy drizzle soon soaked his dark blue jogging shorts and shirt. He stared intently ahead, barely glancing at the Vietnamese along the way as he marched in a loping stride through the city he ordered bombed some 30 years ago. He walked too quickly for the beggars or the barefoot children selling postcards to keep up with him. He did not seem to notice a boy hawking copies of The Quiet American. He raced across currents of whizzing motorbikes and bicycles laden with impossibly huge bundles of fruit and shoes and large tin boxes, balanced as ingeniously as weapons had once been on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Peasant women in conical hats crisscrossed in front of him, moving gracefully beneath shoulder poles slung heavily with round baskets of bananas and litchi nuts. One woman squatting at the curb made an enticing gesture toward her pile of reddish litchis but got no reaction. He did not look into the faces of the people. He did not linger to gaze at their colorful wares. He was driven by another agenda, a mission he talked about incessantly as he walked. In a few hours on this Friday in June, one of the more unusual efforts in the history of warfare was to begin. McNamara, three other former American officials, two retired generals and six historians would sit down with former North Vietnamese officials, diplomats, generals and scholars led by Nguyen Co Thach, a courtly former Foreign Minister, for a four-day discussion of what Americans call the Vietnam War and Vietnamese call the American War. Their main focus would be defined by McNamara’s growing conviction that ‘each of us could have achieved our geopolitical objectives without that terrible loss of life,’ that both sides missed concrete chances to end the fighting during his tenure as Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968. The thesis amounted to a confession of profound error, and this return to Vietnam — McNamara’s second since the war — seemed likely to be a lonely journey into a regretful past. Despite his coterie of aging officials and younger historians, it was he above all who bore the burden. …”
NY Times: David K. Shipler (Aug. 10, 1997)

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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This entry was posted in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh Trail, R. McNamara, Saigon, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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