ROBERT McNamara, the man who fought the NVA with an MBA, didn’t agree with the bombing of North Vietnam, but he went along with it because, as he said, we had to try to prove it would not work.
Can you imagine anything more cold-blooded than that? McNamara allowed the military to carpet-bomb North Vietnam so that he could prove a point. In 1965, Operation Rolling Thunder carried out 55,000 sorties, and dropped 33,000 tons of bombs. It continued throughout 1966, 1967 and most of 1968 – the longest sustained aerial bombardment in history.
McNamara was the brains behind the US assault on Vietnam, and his advice ultimately led to the deaths of at least 1 million Vietnamese, and up to 2 million slaughtered during the Khmer Rouge reign in Cambodia.
He was the quintessential bean counter, a man who applied Harvard management principles to everything, including the business of killing. He was a statistics freak, and everything he did was based on what he considered to be rational analysis.
Unfortunately for millions of Vietnamese, his analysis was based on false assumptions and was therefore never capable of producing the correct answers. It was based on a belief in the domino theory, that if one country became communist, its neighbours would follow. He assumed, without any sound basis, that communist Asian countries were a threat to the security of the West. He assumed that conventional warfare would succeed against guerrilla forces, ignoring the humiliating defeat of the French only ten years earlier.
It’s true that he spent the rest of his life regretting his actions, and it’s also true that he openly acknowledged his errors, but in hindsight, is that enough? Robert McNamara was responsible for immeasurable misery, causing far more civilian deaths than Saddam ever did, and more than Milosevic by many orders of magnitude. It’s arguable that McNamara killed as many people as Pol Pot, and yet he was never called to account for anything, except by his own conscience.
I have no doubt he was a tortured man as a result of what he did, but if remorse was enough to excuse a crime, nobody would ever stand trial for anything.