Monday, April 6, 2015

Robert McNamara Accepts Defeat

Robert McNamara official portrait.jpg
Robert Strange McNamara was the president of the Ford Motor Company after World War II, president of the World Bank, and most notably served as the 8th Secretary of Defense under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. McNamara has been largely criticized for being part of the leadership of the Vietnam War. In retrospect most historians agree that the conflict was a strategic blunder and escalation of the war was an even worse mistake.

During the Cold War era some widely accepted theories were Domino Theory, the subsequent need to "contain" communism, and that the war in Vietnam was about democracy vs. communism. The public was mostly of this opinion and almost everyone at the Pentagon and White House concurred, including McNamara. Many of the leaders including McNamara also served in WWII. Convinced that a late response by the U.S. in WWII led to vastly more destruction by Hitler, these same individuals were determined not to make the same mistake with the communists.

In this video McNamara outlines how mistaken they were on many of these accounts. These assumptions and mindsets of similar individuals strongly impacted the decision to go to war. As we learned in the Lehrer reading, in order to catch mistakes or identify solutions efficiently it is important to check our assumptions and have a diverse group for discussion of the problem. There were many critics of the Vietnam War but the problem was that they were not popular or afraid of being labeled communist sympathizers. Even, McNamara was called a sympathizer when he simply suggested moderation in the use of the U.S.'s power. It was difficult for those in the leadership to see why the dissenters felt that way because among the leadership certain assumptions were too infallible. 

For example, if they had dialogue with someone from the North Vietnamese leadership and South Vietnamese leadership it would have been plain to see that they were involved in a Civil War, not specifically involving the Soviets. They also could have talked with someone who was a specialist in Chinese government and seen that the Soviets practiced a very different type of Communism so the Domino Theory is not entirely upheld by China turning communist. Fortunately, McNamara has made it a priority that future generations learn from these mistakes, one primarily being checking the widely-accepted givens. He has also produced one of the most critically-acclaimed documentaries of all time teaching 11 lessons from "The Fog of War." 

Here is the final lesson that you may find applicable in your daily lives:

Lehrer, Jonah. "Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing up"

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing! McNamara's ideas post war are really interesting, and it's fascinating to hear him talk about the decisions that they made during the Vietnam War and how they came to those decisions. I read McNamara’s book, In Retrospect, for a class, so I have read about McNamara’s experiences with the war. It’s fascinating to learn about how though some people may have been against certain war decisions, the fear of communism and pressure from others in the government often caused decisions to be made rapidly. It’s definitely cool to hear about McNamara’s opinions now that the war is over, and I do think that a more diverse group and more willingness to hear differing opinions could have changed the events of the war.


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