Errol Morris on Robert McNamara
On Monday I pointed to The Fog of War, an Errol Morris documentary about Robert McNamara, former US Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam era. Yesterday, Morris posted a thoughtful blog entry on McNamara called McNamara in Context, and I think it's worth reading for those who are still curious about McNamara -- and in particular, how we should remember him. Here's a tidbit:
He said, "We were wrong." He was reluctant to use the first person. It was always "we," not "I." But he did say it. It might not have been enough for many people, but it was an unmistakable admission of error. Still, how do you say you're sorry for history? It's impossible to see him as unaware of the role he played in World War II or in Vietnam. What he did give us was his struggle to understand the meaning of what he had done. We got to see him wrestle with history. And thus he serves as an object lesson to many of us.
His refusal to come out against the Vietnam War, particularly as it continued after he left the Defense Department, has angered many. There's ample evidence that he felt the war was wrong. Why did he remain silent until the 1990s, when "In Retrospect" was published? That is something that people will probably never forgive him for. But he had an implacable sense of rectitude about what was permissible and what was not. In his mind, he probably remained secretary of defense until the day he died.
One angry person once said to me: "Loyalty to the president? What about his loyalty to the American people?" Fair enough. But our government isn't set up that way. He was not an elected official, he said repeatedly. He served at the pleasure of the president.