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Robert S. McNamara was secretary of defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, president of the Ford Motor Company, and president of the World Bank. After leaving the World Bank he was active in economic development efforts across the globe and in the arms control and non-proliferation movements. He died in 2009.
McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1967 under both presidents Kennedy and Johnson, has remained silent about U.S. policy toward Vietnam until now. This memoir reveals a decent, loyal, and able man who struggled to remain loyal to the president and yet to get the United States out of Vietnam. When McNamara left office, 15,979 Americans had been killed in Viet Nam; by the time the United States left Vietnam, the number stood at over 58,000. McNamara's recollections are put to rigorous testing by his junior author, VanDeMark, who checked them against the now-declassified written and taped records of the period. Publicly perceived as a "hawk," McNamara documents his attempts from 1966 on to find a way for the United States to exit from the war. The culmination of his effort is a May 19, 1967 memorandum to LBJ, calling for U.S. withdrawal. President Johnson never sent a reply. McNamara reveals that "I do not know to this day, whether I quit or was fired." At any rate, McNamara left the Pentagon to begin a successul ten-year term as president of the World Bank. In looking back, he holds that "we sought to do the right thing...but in my judgment hindsight proved us wrong." McNamara's unpretentious, genuine, and touching memoir should contribute further to healing the wounds of the Vietnam experience; it belongs in all public and academic libraries.‘James Rhodes, Luther Coll., Decorah, Ia.