ROBERT S. MCNAMARA sat down last week in his Washington, D.C., office with NEWSWEEK'S Jonathan Alter:
What gives me the most anguish today-and I think then-was the recognition of the errors we made, that the course we were on was not going to achieve our objective. I couldn't seem to get us off that course and achieve the objective at less cost of human life. That was the stress.
He [Craig McNamara now a farmer in California] was at Stanford and was eligible for a college deferment, but he decided not to request it. He felt that the war was wrong but that it was immoral for him to get one, because others in his age group didn't qualify. So he wrote the draft board and asked for a medical exam. He was classified 1-A. But he did have then -and had in the past -an ulcer, for which he was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and eventually he was classified 4-E I said, "What would you have done if you were classified 4-F?" Well, he said, "I consider it immoral to fight in Vietnam and kill people. But I would have to go, because as a citizen I felt I had to accept the instructions of my elected government." It was a pretty damn hard thing to talk about.
The fact that it's your son who might be involved may bring it closer to home, but most of them [other policymakers] and I were just as concerned about the names on the Vietnam memorial, which is why it was such an emotional feeling to visit there. But I'm not going to discuss those feelings.
I don't think that's the case. We are not a parliamentary government, where ministers can overthrow the prime minister. A minister in our government is there solely as the representative of the president. Therefore, every cabinet officer must do as the president says, or get the hell out And if he gets out, my view is that he cannot attack the president from outside the cabinet, essentially using the power given to him by the president, I recognize this is not a widely accepted view, but I believe it's the correct view-grounded in the Constitution and shared by such former cabinet officers as Dean Acheson.
Well, as I say in the book, from May of '67 until Feb. 29, 1968 [my last day in office], I fought against sending 200,000 more troops. I stayed because I thought I was effective.
I was willing to quit my job [as president of the World Bank]. if I thought I could have helped stop the war -responsibly -I surely would have done it. But I didn't know of any way to do it. At that point my voice wouldn't have made any difference.
I wasn't capable of it.
I wasn't as Wise.
No, but I sure sweated blood at night about it. I was obsessed by it, and I kept a pen and pad by my bed, and I'd turn the light on three or four times in the middle of the night and jot down ideas.
I do cry easily, but one of the reasons is, I have deep-seated emotions. They're deep-seated today, and they were deep-seated then.
I think so, sure. just because [others] didn't doesn't mean they weren't tormented. Crying is an external manifestation, and I don't like seeing it in myself. I always thought it was just me and Hubert Humphrey who succumbed to that weakness.
Absolutely not. If my friends think I behave differently after Vietnam, they haven't read yet what I write in the book about my days at the Ford Motor Co. At Ford, they basically thought I was an oddball. This guy lived in Ann Arbor, not Grosse Pointe or Bloomfield Hills. He didn't go to Henry Ford's daughter's wedding. He didn't give contributions to the Republican Party. But the deal was, I could live my life as I wanted to so long as I made money for the company, which I did. I was pushing safety, seat belts, environmental considerations, gas economy, which the industry didn't really care about.
I wouldn't call it arrogant. I was single-minded, determined, forceful. And I haven't changed. I catch myself sometimes today. I am much too brutal -or what appears to be brutal. I don't mean to be that way, but I come on strong, and that's not good. But that's not arrogance, it's conviction.
The answer is no, but that is the wrong question. The right question is, did you rely on the wrong strategy-conventional Military tactics instead of winning the hearts and minds of the people-and the answer to that is yes. It was totally wrong.
I'm not arguing that we measured progress right. My point is, I have no apologies that we tried to measure progress. You must set objectives and evaluate your strategy or Plan. If you're committing people to war -risking their lives to achieve a national objective -and you're not going to measure progress, I don't want to have anything to do with you. But we measured the progress very, very poorly. We misjudged how the enemy would react.
Gingrich is wrong. Johnson didn't have to keep the Harvard boys. He wanted them. And he's wrong that political leaders shouldn't use intelligence and education. But what Gingrich is saying---there's something to it. if I could live my life over again, I would try to become one [a politician]. Run for 11 sheriff." In that sense, I lacked experience. I never met a political payroll.
Johnson and I held the lid on unleashing the military One of the reasons was we didn't want war with China and the Soviet Union. The chiefs recommended action that they said might lead to a military confrontation with the Soviets and Chinese, in which case we might have to resort to the use of nuclear weapons. We were just totally opposed to that. If we had invaded North Vietnam, I can't believe they [chinese or Soviets] wouldn't have gotten in. We would either have confronted an escalating conflict with the Great Powers or been bogged down in a hostile environment for years. It's analogous to "Should we go after Saddam Hussein in Baghdad?" Bush and Powell were absolutely right not to.
The Vietnamese are now estimating that they suffered 3 million fatalities. If we'd occupied North Vietnam, they would have just gone to the hills. Should we have carried out Nixon's '72 bombing in '66? The chiefs didn't recommend it then, and it wouldn't have worked anyway. I was in the Marianas during World War 11, and we killed 100,000 people in Tokyo in one day in 1945 with [conventional] bombing. It didn't change Japanese behavior. Short of genocide, it is unlikely that you can break a nation's will by bombing. I know of no thoughtful analysis of the war that says we would have won if we had "unleashed" our military. The military scholars don't say it.
The concluding chapter of the book focuses on this subject. Put very simply: don't misjudge the nature of the conflict. Don't underestimate the power of nationalism. Many conflicts of the future will be about nationalism. Don't overestimate what outside military forces can accomplish-they can't reconstruct a "failed" state. And don't act unilaterally unless the security of our country is directly threatened.