Mr. McNamara’s Other War
Published in the Washington Post, Sunday, April 30, 1995
The bitter controversy unleashed by the publication of former defense secretary Robert S. McNamara’s Vietnam memoir, “In Retrospect,” gives new meaning to the words “McNamara’s war.” Having now slogged our way through the book itself, the outpouring of criticism with which it was met at the moment of publication and some of the relevant history of the time, we conclude the following: In a strange way both Mr. McNamara and those who belabor him for not having either resigned or spoken out at at time when he might have hastened the end of the war are saying the same thing. The critics say he should have done one or the other or both. The author provides a devastating case study of a governmental process, which he did much to create and keep running, that all but guaranteed he wouldn’t. He and the others would instead just keep on improvising, trying one more thing, taking one more step, finding one more reason not to do what both he and his critics now wish he had.