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Learning From McNamara's Misjudgments

May 30, 1995



I read with interest the Monitor's coverage of Robert McNamara and his book, but I believe that the real lesson was missed.

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Mr. McNamara's skill and success as a Whiz Kid during World War II was that of a manager of numbers, not men. He used a framework of statistics in order to increase the productivity of ''things.'' This bloodless, analytic method often blinded him to the real world.

He proved the proverb, ''the fox knows many tricks, the skunk but one.''

McNamara is right when he talks about his misjudgments. He and other bright people were unable to walk in the shoes of the Vietnamese or understand those of us who fought. He blames the McCarthy period for removing the China advisers. Yet Soviet experts could and did illustrate the hatred between the Chinese and the Vietnamese, and the alliance of North Vietnam and Russia. He could have read Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, or Bernard Fall, as I did. The CIA, State Department, and US Army wrote volumes on Vietnam. The Monitor's coverage was excellent. There were voices, but McNamara needed an open mind to hear.

He still does not understand that it is not the justice of the war that is important to veterans, but the feeling that they were wasted in the field, while others sat the war out.

A minister friend advised me to forgive others for what they did to me. Vietnam veterans will find that this act frees them from the silence of sleepless nights and memories that mock the mind. But to remain silent about McNamara's self-delusion or to the sterile morality would mean that we have learned nothing.

Bob Chernow River Hills, Wis.