Bob Herbert has an Op-Ed about the life and death of Robert McNamara.
Robert McNamara, Lyndon Johnson’s icy-veined, cold-visaged and rigidly intellectual point man for a war that sent thousands upon thousands of people (most of them young) to their utterly pointless deaths, has died at the ripe old age of 93. [...]
The hardest lesson for people in power to accept is that wars are unrelentingly hideous enterprises, that they butcher people without mercy and therefore should be undertaken only when absolutely necessary.
Kids who are sent off to war are forced to grow up too fast. They soon learn what real toughness is, and it has nothing to do with lousy bureaucrats and armchair warriors sacrificing the lives of the young for political considerations and hollow, flag-waving, risk-free expressions of patriotic fervor.
McNamara, it turns out, had realized early on that Vietnam was a lost cause, but he kept that crucial information close to his chest, like a gambler trying to bluff his way through a bad hand, as America continued to send tens of thousands to their doom. How in God’s name did he ever look at himself in a mirror?
Has a lesson been learned?
It is time to correct the mistakes. Bring all the troops home!
Lessons learned from Vietnam? None.
As The Times’s Tim Weiner pointed out in McNamara’s obituary, Congress authorized the war after President Johnson contended that American warships had been attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964. The attack never happened. As Mr. Weiner wrote, “The American ships had been firing at their own sonar shadows on a dark night.”
But McNamara, relying on intelligence reports, told Johnson that evidence of the attack was ironclad. Does this remind anyone of the “slam dunk” evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction?More than 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam and some 2 million to 3 million Vietnamese. More than 4,000 Americans have died in Iraq, and no one knows how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Even as I was writing this, reports were coming in of seven more American G.I.’s killed in Afghanistan — a war that made sense in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, but makes very little sense now.