Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Wrong, Terribly Wrong"

With the passing of Robert McNamara this week, comes the recognition that at least one of the original architects of the Vietnam War had thought a good deal about all the lessons of that huge mistake. In film and writing, McNamara had the guts to say he was wrong. That translates to "us." That we were wrong. Yes, it's too little too late. But at lest it's something. For those of us who survived that dismal time, those of us who made it back in whatever form that took, it's quite something.
Nobody embodies the image of a stubborn federal government more than Robert Strange McNamara. With his rimless glasses, and slicked down hair, as if parted by a scalpel, he was every government bureaucrat incarnate. Back then, in the late 1960s, Robert McNamara conjured up images of flag-draped coffins, death certificates, draft lottery numbers, and the weekly scoreboard on the CBS Evening News. It must be Thursday because here's Walter Chronkite with American, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese flags over his shoulder. Hundreds, sometimes thousands each week. Death count in living color.
Ironically, McNamara becomes increasingly important for those of us who see the complete picture. His Vietnam memoir, "In Retrospect" explains that he and his peers misjudged the political realities of Vietnam. He admits that they lacked cultural understanding and often misjudged the intentions of their enemy. No doubt, Robert McNamara took this realization, and its consequences, to his grave. That was unavoidable. Yet, he validates the stance many of us took back then. He now becomes our ally; the one we look to for clarification, to defend our stance and ultimately to remind those who forget that we have nothing to apologize for, nothing to be ashamed of, nothing but true patriotism. His legacy must be re-examined because his perspective on all those decisions and their consequences grows ever more crucial if we are to learn anything from that awful mistake.
Yesterday 4 American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. I hope Obama and his policy advisors have read McNamara's book. When we look at the Republic of Vietnam today, we see a vigorous economy, a valued trading partner with the U.S. and Americans traveling to the Mekong Delta for everything form romantic getaways to cheap labor. All in the name of the domino theory. A theory no more.

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