Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Robert McNamara dead at 93 -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Listen to MP3 of this story ( minutes)

Alternate WMA version | MP3 download

PETER CAVE: Robert McNamara, the architect of the US's involvement in the Vietnam War, died today
at the age of 93.

He was perhaps the most influential US Defence Secretary of the last century. He oversaw the build
up of half a million troops in Vietnam, which became one of America's greatest military blunders.

After he resigned as defence secretary, he became President of the World Bank, reshaping it and
winning praise for his fight against poverty.

But no matter what Robert McNamara did in later years, he could never escape the Vietnam War and
after almost 30 years of silence on the subject he wrote his memoirs, describing the war as
"terribly wrong".

From Washington correspondent John Shovelan reports.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Cocksure of himself, a dynamo and the "smartest man I've ever met" according to
President John F. Kennedy, Robert Strange McNamara - the middle name was his mother's maiden name -
was born June 9th, 1916.

He was the secretary of defence under President Kennedy and retained - after Kennedy was
assassinated - by President Lyndon Johnson.

A brilliant man with his frameless glasses and slicked-back hair, he was a distinctive figure. His
critics though made much of the fact that his middle name was Strange.

From 1961 to 1968, he oversaw the escalation of US involvement in the bitterly divisive Vietnam

ROBERT MCNAMARA: My children were of the generation that was protesting. One of them was at
Stanford for example and was involved in the protest there.

JOHN SHOVELAN: He was such a force behind the early years of the Vietnam War in April 1964, Senator
Wayne Morse, a Democrat, dubbed it McNamara's War.

Mr McNamara didn't object. At the time his response was "I am pleased to be identified with it."

But it didn't stay that way.

Long before he left the Pentagon he reached the view the war was futile.

As The New York Times put it today, "The war became his personal nightmare. Nothing he did, none of
the tools at his command - the power of American weapons, the forces of technology and logic, or
the strength of American soldiers - could stop the armies of North Vietnam and their South
Vietnamese allies, the Vietcong."

While he privately lost faith in the war, he still maintained publicly it could be won and it took
three decades after he left the Defence Department before he shared in his memoirs his personal
views with the American public.

ROBERT MCNAMARA: As I say in the preface, I believe it was an error, a tragic error. Assume for the
minute that my judgement is correct, then I think we owe an explanation to future generations of
what happened and how to avoid that in the future.

JOHN SHOVELAN: The book wasn't an apology for Vietnam but an explanation for his actions and The
New York Times editorial wrote in 1995, "Surely he must in every quiet and prosperous moment hear
the ceaseless whispers of those poor boys in the infantry, dying in the tall grass, platoon by
platoon, for no purpose. What he took from them cannot be repaid by prime-time apology and stale
tears, three decades late."

ROBERT MCNAMARA: A man, a Quaker, one of the finest human beings. His name was Morrison. He burned
himself to death under my window in the Defence Department. I was aware of the way people felt.

JOHN SHOVELAN: In the Oscar winning documentary The Fog of War in 2003, McNamara again discussed
the issues surrounding the Vietnam War but he also spoke of his role in planning the firebombing of
Tokyo along with General Curtis LeMay.

While he believed that World War II was a just war, he also grew to believe he along with the other
American Generals were guilty of criminal conduct in that "just" war.

ROBERT MCNAMARA: I don't fault Truman for dropping the nuclear bomb. The US-Japanese war was one of
the most brutal wars in all of human history. Kamikaze pilots, suicide, unbelievable.

What one could criticise is that the human race prior to that time and today has not really
grappled with what are, I'll call it the "rules of war". Was there a rule then that said you
shouldn't bomb, shouldn't kill, shouldn't burn to death 100,000 civilians in a night? LeMay said if
we'd lost the war we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals and I think he is right.

He and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Robert McNamara was secretary of defence for seven years, longer than anyone else
since the job's was created in 1947.

He left on the verge of a nervous breakdown and became president of the World Bank for the next 12

At his retirement ceremony, he was overcome with emotion and couldn't speak. President Johnson put
an arm around McNamara's shoulder and led him from the room.

Robert McNamara was 93 when he died.

John Shovelan, Washington.