Only the good die young

Reason magazine’s Jesse Walker has a great piece on war criminal Robert McNamara, a former Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and a key architect of the Vietnam war who died this week at the age of 93, more or less proving the adage popularized by Billy Joel that only the good die young. An excerpt:

At the Pentagon, McNamara oversaw the escalation of the Vietnam War as though the conflict were an industrial assembly line; he sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers into combat, and he killed countless civilians by bombing Vietnamese villages. In 1968, with growing doubts about the efficacy of those approaches, he jumped to the World Bank. He brought the same technocratic mentality to his duties there, with similarly destructive results: He sponsored vast white-elephant “development projects” whose most notable effect was to evict peasants from their land, and he doled out dollars to dictators from the right-wing regime in Argentina to the Stalinist state in Romania.

By this time you might expect McNamara to have been exiled from polite society. Instead, the worst sanction he suffered came one summer in the ’60s when antiwar vacationers on Martha’s Vinyard refused to play tennis with him, leaving his household with no partners but McGeorge Bundy’s family. With time those old animosities faded, and through it all McNamara stayed atop the World Bank, a job he didn’t leave until 1981. It’s easy to fall out of favor in the circles of American power, much harder to be expelled from the establishment entirely.

And as Walker concludes, if you think “the old McNamara mentality has died, think again. Obama’s best and brightest seem intent on retracing the dead man’s footsteps, sending one passel of planners to run the auto industry and another to escalate a war in southern Asia. The Organization Man may belong to an earlier era, but hubris is alive and well.” Read the rest.

About Charles Davis

A writer and producer with whose work has aired on television and radio and been published by outlets such as Al Jazeera, The Intercept, The Nation and The New Republic.
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