Robert Strange McNamara (June 9, 1916 – July 6, 2009) was an American business executive and the eighth Secretary of Defense, serving from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. During his tenure time he played a major role in deescalating the Cuban Missile Crisis and escalating the United States involvement in the Vietnam War. Following that, he served as President of the World Bank from 1968 to 1981. McNamara was responsible for the institution of systems analysis in public policy, which developed into the discipline known today as policy analysis.
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- I must say I don't object to its being called McNamara's War. I think it is a very important war and I am pleased to be identified with it and do whatever I can to win it.
- In: United States. Congress. Senate (1964) Hearings, Vol. 4, p. 177: Of the Vietnam War
- Management is the gate through which social and economic and political change, indeed change in every direction, is diffused through society.
- Robert McNamara (1967); quoted in: Bruce Rich (1994) Mortgaging the Earth: The World Bank, Environmental Impoverishment and the Crisis of Development, p. 83
- You can never substitute emotion for reason. I still would allow a place for intuition in this process, but not emotion. They say I am a power gabber. But knowledge is power, and I am giving them knowledge, so they will have more power. Can't they see that?
- In: Henry L. Trewhitt (1971) McNamara, p. 119
- It would be our policy to use nuclear weapons wherever we felt it, necessary to protect our forces and achieve our objectives.
- In: Herbert Y. Schandler (1975), US Policy on the Use of Nuclear Weapons, 1945-1975. p. 55
- Lesson #7: Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
Lesson #8: Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
Lesson #9: In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
Lesson #10: Never say never.
Lesson #11: You can't change human nature...
- Robert S. McNamara (2004), Official Teacher's Guide for The Fog of War, p. 5
- I would rather have a wrong decision made than no decision at all.
- Quoted in: Charles A. Stevenson (2006), SECDEF: The Nearly Impossible Job of Secretary of Defense, p. 28
Quotes about Robert McNamara edit
- McNamara became a strong advocate of a Keynesian approach to government, using mathematical models and statistical approaches to determine troop levels, allocation of funds, and other strategies in Vietnam. His advocacy of "aggressive leadership" became a hallmark not only of government managers but also of corporate executives. It formed the basis of a new philosophical approach to teaching management at the nation's top business schools, and it ultimately led to a new breed of CEOs who would spearhead the rush to global empire...
As we sat around the table discussing world events, we were especially fascinated by McNamara's role as president of the World Bank, a job he accepted soon after leaving his post as secretary of defense. Most of my friends focused on the fact that he symbolized what was popularly known as the military-industrial complex. He had held the top position in a major corporation, in a government cabinet, and now at the most powerful bank in the world. Such an apparent breach in the separation of powers horrified many of them; I may have been the only one among us who was not in the least surprised...
I see now that Robert McNamara's greatest and most sinister contribution to history was to jockey the World Bank into becoming an agent of global empire on a scale never before witnessed. He also set a precedent. His ability to bridge the gaps between the primary components of the corporatocracy would be fine-tuned by his successors.
- In early July, Alain Enthoven had arranged for me to have a brief luncheon with McNamara, to discuss my work on the guidance to the JCS on the war plan, which he had already approved and sent to the Chiefs. We ate at his desk, in his office. It was scheduled to last only half an hour, but it went on nearly an hour longer. I told him about the astonishing answers the JCS had given to the questions I had drafted in the name of the president, in particular about the effects they anticipated on our own European allies from their planned attacks on the Sino-Soviet bloc. I’d had no prior intention to bring up my own strongly heretical view on first use, but midway through our talk, he raised the issue himself. There was no such thing as limited nuclear war in Europe, he said. “It would be total war, total annihilation, for the Europeans!” He said this with great passion, belying his reputation as a cold, computer-like efficiency expert. Moreover, he thought it was absurd to suppose that a supposedly “limited use” would remain limited to Europe, that it would not quickly trigger general nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union, to disastrous effect. I’ve never had a stronger sense in another person of a kindred awareness of this situation and intensity of his concern to change it. Thirty years later, McNamara revealed in his memoir In Retrospect that he had secretly advised President Kennedy, and after him President Johnson, that under no circumstances whatever should they ever initiate nuclear war. He didn’t tell me that, but it was implicit in everything he had said at this lunch. There is no doubt in my mind that he did give that advice, and that it was the right advice. Yet it directly contradicted the mad “assurances” on U.S. readiness for first use he felt compelled to give repeatedly to NATO officials (including speeches I drafted for him) throughout his years in office, as the very basis for our leadership in the alliance.
- Daniel Ellsberg, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions from a Nuclear War Planner (2017)
- McNamara, characteristically, transformed this reliance on irrationality into a new kind of rationality in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis. He now repudiated his earlier ideas of targeting only military facilities: instead each side should target the other’s cities, with a view of causing the maximum number of casualties possible. The new strategy became known as “Mutual Assured Destruction”—its acronym, with wicked appropriateness, was MAD. The assumption behind it was that if no one could be sure of surviving a nuclear war, there would not be one. That, however, was simply a restatement of what Eisenhower had long since concluded: that the advent of thermonuclear weapons meant that war could no longer be an instrument of statecraft—rather, the survival of states required that there be no war at all.
- John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (2005), pp. 80-81
- We're also here to ask -- We are here to ask and we're here to ask vehemently, Where are the leaders of our country? Where is the leadership? We're here to ask: Where are McNamara, Rostow, Bundy, Gilpatric, and so many others. Where are they now that we the men whom they sent off to war have returned? These are commanders who have deserted their troops and there is no more serious crime in the law of war. The Army says they never leave their wounded. The Marines say they never leave even their dead. These men have left all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude. They've left the real stuff of their reputations, bleaching behind them in the sun in this country.
- John Kerry, Statement Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered 22 April 1971, Washington, D.C.