Robert McNamara's recent controversial memoir In Retrospect has helped to renew focus onto arguably the most divisive event of modern American history, the Vietnam War. As such, Jerry Brown interviews Paul Hendrickson, author of The Living and the Dead. This illuminating book, the culmination of 12 years of research, focuses on the endless contradictions that is Robert McNamara, as well as provinding an in-depth look at some of the lives affected by him.
Hendrickson's contention is that McNamara, unlike his carefully cultivated cold technocratic public persona, was in reality a genuinely humane and sensitive man with a deep conscience. The ultimate tragedy of Robert McNamara, then, is that for years he continually betrayed this conscience. For as early as 1966, this architect of America's military intervention had ceased believing in all that he had made and masterminded, to the point where he no longer believed that the war could be won on the battlefield. And yet, it was not until 1968 that he resigned from the Johnson administration. Furthermore, he remained notably silent about the war during its continuation in the Nixon/Kissinger years, in which thousands more young Americans needlessly lost their lives.
As Hendrickson eloquently states in the interview, "the most interesting aspect to McNamara is the character of the man. He is a haunted, tragic man skulking in the shadow of his own history. He knows the truth, and is spending the rest of his life paying for it. Because you can't live a lie forever."
This raises some of the provoking questions that Brown and Hendrickson discuss, such as - is Robert McNamara an aberration or an indicator of the times? And what does all of this reveal about the state of our politics and governmental institutions?
Synopsis by Howard Wang