The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003) Script


Is this chart at a reasonable height for you?

Or do you want it lowered?

Fine. All right.

Earlier tonight...

Let me first ask the TV. Are you ready?

All set?

Let me hear your voice level, so it's the same.

How's my voice level? That's fine.


Now, I remember exactly the sentence I left off on.

I remember how it started, and I was cut off in the middle.

You can fix it up.

I don't want to go back, because I know exactly what I wanted to say.

Go ahead! Okay.

Any military commander who is honest with himself...

...or with those he's speaking to will admit...

...that he has made mistakes in the application of military power.

He's killed people, unnecessarily.

His own troops or other troops.

Through mistakes, through errors of judgment.

A hundred, or thousands, or tens of thousands, maybe even 100,000.

But he hasn't destroyed nations. And the conventional wisdom is...

...don't make the same mistake twice. Learn from your mistakes.

And we all do. Maybe we make the same mistake three times...

...but hopefully not four or five.

There'll be no learning period with nuclear weapons.

Make one mistake and you're gonna destroy nations.

In my life, I've been part of wars.

Three years in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Seven years as secretary of defense during the Vietnam War.

Thirteen years at the World Bank. Across the world.

At my age, 85...

...I'm at an age where I can look back...

...and derive some conclusions about my actions.

My rule has been, "try to learn. "

Try to understand what happened.

Develop the lessons and pass them on.

This is the secretary of defense of the United States, Robert McNamara.

His department absorbs 10 percent of the income of this country...

...and over half of every tax dollar.

His job has been called the toughest in Washington...

...and he is the most controversial figure that has ever held the job.

Walter Lippmann calls him both the best secretary of defense...

...and the first one to ever assert civilian control over the military.

His critics call him a "con man," "an IBM machine with legs"...

..."an arrogant dictator. "

Mr. Secretary, I've noticed in several cabinet offices...

...that little silver calendar thing there. Can you explain that?

Yes, this was given by President Kennedy.

...17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23...

...24, 25, 26, 27, and finally 28, were the dates...

...when we literally look ed down the gun barrel into nuclear war.

Under a cloak of deceit...

...the Soviet Union introduced nuclear missiles...

...into Cuba...

...targeting 90 million Americans.

The CIA said the warheads had not been delivered yet.

They thought 20 were coming on a ship named the Poltava.

We mobilized 180,000 troops.

The first day's air attack was planned at 1080 sorties...

...a huge air attack.

Kennedy was trying to keep us out of war.

I was trying to help him keep us out of war.

And General Curtis LeMay, whom I served under... a matter of fact, in World War II, was saying:

" Let's go in. Let's totally destroy Cuba. "

On that critical Saturday, October 27th...

...we had two Khrushchev messages in front of us.

One had come in Friday night, and it had been dictated... a man who was either drunk, or under tremendous stress.

Basically, he said, " If you'll guarantee you won't invade Cuba...

...we'll take the missiles out. "

Then, before we could respond, we had a second message...

...that had been dictated by a bunch of hard-liners.

And it said, in effect, " If you attack...

...we're prepared... confront you with masses of military power. "

So, what to do? We had the soft message and the hard message.

At the elbow of President Kennedy was Tommy Thompson...

...former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.

He and Jane, his wife, had lived with Khrushchev and his wife on occasion.

Tommy Thompson said, " Mr. President...

...I urge you to respond to the soft message. "

The president said to Tommy, "We can't. That'll get us nowhere. "

Tommy said, " Mr. President, you're wrong. "

Now, that takes a lot of guts.

In Thompson's mind was this thought:

" Khrushchev's gotten himself in a hell of a fix. "

He would then think to himself, " My God...

...if I can get out of this with a deal that I can say to the Russian people:

'Kennedy was going to destroy Castro and I prevented it. "'

Thompson, knowing Khrushchev as he did, thought:

" Khrushchev will accept that. "

And Thompson was right. That's what I call empathy.

We must try to put ourselves inside their skin...

...and look at us through their eyes...

...just to understand the thoughts...

...that lie behind their decisions and their actions.

Khrushchev's advisors were saying:

"There can be no deal...

...unless you somewhat reduce the pressure on us...

...when you ask us to reduce the pressure on you. "

Also, we had attempted to invade Cuba.

Well, with the Bay of Pigs. That undoubtedly influenced their thinking.

I think that's correct.

But more importantly, from a Cuban and a Russian point of view...

...they knew what, in a sense, I really didn't know.

We had attempted to assassinate Castro...

...under Eisenhower and Kennedy, and later, under Johnson.

And in addition to that, major voices in the U.S. Were calling for invasion.

In the first message, Khrushchev said this:

"We and you ought not pull on the ends of a rope...

...which you have tied the knots of war.

Because the more the two of us pull...

...the tighter the knot will be tied.

And then it will be necessary to cut that knot...

...and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you.

I have participated in two wars and know that war ends...

...when it has rolled through cities and villages...

...everywhere sowing death and destruction.

For such is the logic of war.

If people do not display wisdom...

...they will clash like blind moles...

...and then mutual annihilation will commence. "

I want to say, and this is very important:

At the end, we lucked out.

It was luck that prevented nuclear war.

We came that close to nuclear war at the end.

Rational individuals. Kennedy was rational.

Khrushchev was rational. Castro was rational.

Rational individuals came that close to total destruction of their societies.

And that danger exists today.

The major lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis is this:

The indefinite combination of human fallibility...

...and nuclear weapons will destroy nations.

Is it right and proper...

...that today there are 7500 strategic offensive nuclear warheads...

...of which 2500 are on 15-minute alert... be launched by the decision of one human being?

It wasn't until January, 1992... a meeting chaired by Castro in Havana, Cuba...

...that I learned 162 nuclear warheads...

...including 90 tactical warheads...

...were on the island at the time in this critical moment of the crisis.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing...

...and Castro got very angry with me, because I said:

" Mr. President, let's stop this meeting. This is totally new to me.

I'm not sure I got the translation right. "

Mr. President, I have three questions.

Number one, did you know the nuclear warheads were there?

Number two, if you did...

...would you have recommended to Khrushchev... the face of a U.S. Attack, that he use them?

Three, if he had used them, what would've happened to Cuba?

He said, "One, I knew they were there.

Two, I would not have recommended to Khrushchev.

I did recommend to Khrushchev they be used.

Three, what would happen to Cuba? It would've been totally destroyed. "

That's how close we were.

And he was willing to accept that?

Yes... Oh, and he went on to say:

" Mr. McNamara, if you and President Kennedy...

...had been in a similar situation, that's what you would've done. "

I said, " Mr. President, I hope to God we would not have done it. "

Pull the temple down on our heads? My God!

In a sense, we'd won.

We got the missiles out without war.

My deputy and I brought the five chiefs over...

...and we sat down with Kennedy. And he said, "Gentlemen, we won.

I don't want you ever to say it, but you know we won, I know we won. "

And LeMay said, "Won? Hell, we lost!

We should go in and wipe them out today. "

LeMay believed that ultimately...

...we'd confront these people with nuclear weapons.

And by God, we better do it when we have greater superiority...

...than we will have in the future.

At the time, we had a 17-to-1 strategic advantage in nuclear numbers.

We'd done 10 times as many tests as they had.

We were certain we could retain that advantage...

...if we limited the tests. The chiefs were all opposed.

They said, "The Soviets will cheat. "

Well, I said, " How will they cheat?"

You won't believe this, but they said:

"They'll test them behind the moon. "

I said, "You're out of your mind. "

That's absurd.

It's almost impossible for our people today... put themselves back into that period.

In my seven years as secretary...

...we came within a hairsbreadth of war with the Soviet Union...

...on three different occasions.

Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year...

...for seven years as secretary of defense, I lived the Cold War.

During the Kennedy administration, they designed a 100-megaton bomb.

It was tested in the atmosphere. I remember this.

Cold War? Hell, it was a hot war.

I think the human race needs to think more about killing...

...about conflict.

Is that what we want in this 21st century?

My earliest memory is of a city exploding with joy.

It was November 11, 1918. I was 2 years old.

You may not believe that I have the memory, but I do.

I remember the tops of the streetcars...

...being crowded with human beings...

...cheering and kissing and screaming.

End of World War I. We'd won.

But also celebrating the belief...

...of many Americans, particularly Woodrow Wilson...

...we'd fought a war to end all wars.

His dream was...

...that the world could avoid great wars in the future.

Disputes among great nations would be resolved.

I also remember...

...that I wasn't allowed to go outdoors to play with my friends...

...without wearing a mask.

There was an ungodly flu epidemic.

Large numbers of Americans were dying, 600,000.

And millions across the world.

My class in the first grade was housed in a shack, a wooden shack.

But we had an absolutely superb teacher.

And this teacher gave a test to the class every month...

...and she re- seated the class based on the results of that test.

There were vertical rows, and she put the person with the highest grade... the first seat on the left-hand row.

And I worked my tail off to be in that first seat.

Now, the majority of the classmates were whites, Caucasians, so on.

Wasps, if you will.

But my competition for that first seat were Chinese, Japanese and Jews.

On Saturday and Sunday, I played with my classmates.

They went to their ethnic schools. They learned their native language.

They learned their culture, history.

And they came back determined on Monday to beat that damn Irishman.

But they didn't do it very often.

One congressman called you "Mr. L- Have-All-The-Answers McNamara. "

And there's been suggestion from some congressmen...

...that you come up there, in spite of their experience...

...prepared to give them lessons in things.

Is that your attitude?

No. Perhaps they don't know how much I don't know.

And there is much indeed.

I do make a serious effort... prepare myself properly for these congressional discussions.

I suppose I spend, perhaps, 100 or 120 hours... testifying before Congress each year.

And each hour of testimony requires three to four hours of preparation.

What about the contention that your attitude is sometimes arrogant?

Have you ever been wrong, sir?

Oh, yes, indeed. My heavens.

I'm not gonna tell you when I've been wrong.

If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you.

Oh, on countless occasions.

I applied to Stanford University. I very much wanted to go.

But I couldn't afford it, so I lived at home and I went to Berkeley.

Fifty-two dollars a year tuition.

I started Berkeley at the bottom of the Depression.

Twenty-five million males were unemployed.

Out of that class of 3500...

...three elected to Phi Beta Kappa at the end of sophomore year.

Of those three, one became a Rhodes Scholar, I went to Harvard...

...the third went to work for $65 a month...

...and was damn happy to have the job.

The society was on the verge of...

...I don't want to say revolution...

...although, had Roosevelt not done some of the things he did... could've become far more violent.

In any event, that was what I was thrown into.

I never heard of Plato and Aristotle...

...before I became a freshman at Berkeley.

And I remember the professor, Lowenberg...

...the freshman philosophy professor...

I couldn't wait to go to another class.

I took more philosophy courses, particularly one in logic...

...and one in ethics.

Stress on values...

...something beyond one's self...

...and a responsibility to society.

After graduating University of California...

...I went to Harvard Graduate School of Business for two years...

...and then I went back to San Francisco.

I began to court this young lady that I'd met when we were 17... our first week at Berkeley:

Margaret Craig.

And I was making some progress after eight or nine months.

I proposed and she accepted.

She went with her aunt and her mother on a trip across the country.

She telegraphed me, " Must order engraved invitations... include your middle name, what is it?"

I wired back, " My middle name is Strange. "

She said, " I know it's strange, but what is it?"

Well, I mean, it is Strange. It's Robert Strange McNamara.

And it was a marriage made in heaven.

At the end of a year, we had our first child.

The delivery costs were $100, and we paid that $10 a month.

Those were some of the happiest days of our lives.

And then the war came.

I'd been promoted to assistant professor.

I was the youngest at Harvard.

And on a salary, by the way, of $4000 a year.

Harvard Business School's market was drying up.

The males were being drafted or volunteering.

So the dean, being farsighted, brought back a government contract... establish an officer candidate school for what was called...

...Statistical Control in the Air Force.

We said, " Look, we're not gonna take anybody you send up here.

We're gonna select the people. "

You have a punch card for every human being...

...brought into the Air Corps.

We're gonna run those punch cards through the IBM sorting machines...

...and we're gonna sort on age, education, accomplishment...

...grades, et cetera.

We were looking for the best and the brightest.

The best brains, the greatest capacity to lead...

...the best judgment.

The U.S. Was just beginning to bomb.

We were bombing by daylight.

The loss rate was very, very high.

So they commissioned a study. And what did we find?

We found the abort rate was 20 percent.

Twenty percent of the planes leaving England... bomb Germany turned around before they got to the target.

That was a hell of a mess. We lost 20 percent of our capability.

I think it was called Form 1-A...

...or something like that was a mission report.

And if you aborted a mission, you had to write down why.

So we get all these things and we analyze them...

...and we finally concluded:

It was baloney.

They were aborting out of fear.

Because the loss rate was four percent per sortie.

The combat tour was 25 sorties.

It didn't mean 100 percent would die...

...but a lot of them were gonna be killed. They knew that...

...and they found reasons to not go over the target.

So we reported this.

One of the commanders was Curtis LeMay.

Colonel in command of a B-24 group.

He was the finest combat commander of any service I came across in war.

But he was extraordinarily belligerent, many thought brutal.

He got the report. He issued an order.

He said, " I will be in the lead plane on every mission.

Any plane that takes off will go over the target...

...or the crew will be court-martialed. "

The abort rate dropped overnight.

Now, that's the kind of a commander he was.

Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

My friends, on this Christmas Eve...

...there are over 10 million men... the Armed Forces of the United States alone.

One year ago, 1, 700, 000 were serving overseas.

By next July first, that number will rise to over five million.

Plenty of bad news for the Japs in the not-too-far-distant future.

The U.S. Air Force had a new airplane, named the B-29.

The B-17 s and B-24s in Europe bombed from 15, 16,000 feet.

The problem was that they were subject to antiaircraft fire...

...and to fighter aircraft.

To relieve that, this B-29 was being developed...

...that bombed from high altitude...

...and it was thought we could destroy targets more efficiently and effectively.

I was brought back from the 8th Air Force...

...and assigned to the first B-29s, the 58th Bomb Wing.

We had to fly those planes from the bases in Kansas to India.

Then we had to fly fuel over the hump into China.

The airfields were built with Chinese labor.

It was an insane operation.

I can still remember them hauling these huge rollers... crush the stone and make them flat.

Somebody would slip, the roller would roll over him...

...everybody would laugh and go on.

We were supposed to take these B-29s...

There were no tanker aircraft there. We were to fill them with fuel... from India to Chengdu, offload the fuel, fly back to India...

...make enough missions to build up fuel in Chengdu... to Yawata, Japan, bomb the steel mills and go back to India.

We had so little training on this problem of maximizing efficiency...

...we actually found, to get some of the B-29s back...

...instead of offloading fuel, they had to take it on.

To make a long story short, it wasn't worth a damn.

And it was LeMay who really came to that conclusion and led the chiefs... move the whole thing to the Marianas, which devastated Japan.

LeMay was focused on only one thing:

Target destruction.

Most Air Force generals can say how many planes they had... many tons of bombs they dropped, or whatever it was.

But he was the only person that I knew... the senior command in the Air Force who focused solely...

...on the loss of his crews per unit of target destruction.

I was on the island of Guam, in his command, in March of 1945.

In that single night, we burned to death...

...100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo.

Men, women and children.

Were you aware this was going to happen?

Well, I was...

...part of a mechanism that, in a sense, recommended it.

I analyzed bombing operations, and how to make them more efficient.

I.e., not more efficient in the sense of killing more...

...but more efficient in weakening the adversary.

I wrote one report analyzing...

...the efficiency of the B-29 operations.

The B-29 could get above the fighter aircraft and above the air defense... the loss rate would be much less.

The problem was, the accuracy was also much less.

Now, I don't want to suggest that it was my report...

...that led to... I'll call it the firebombing.

It isn't that I'm absolving myself of blame for the firebombing.

I don't want to suggest that it was I...

...that put in LeMay's mind...

...that his operations were totally inefficient...

...and had to be drastically changed. But, anyhow, that's what he did.

He took the B-29s down to 5000 feet...

...and he decided to bomb with firebombs.

I participated in the interrogation...

...of the B-29 bomber crews that came back that night.

A room full of crewmen and intelligence interrogators.

A captain got up, a young captain said:

"Goddamn it, I'd like to know who the son of a bitch was...

...that took this magnificent airplane, designed to bomb from 23,000 feet...

...and he took it down to 5000 feet, and I lost my wingman.

He was shot and killed. "

LeMay spoke in monosyllables.

I never heard him say...

...more than two words in sequence.

It was basically, "Yes," " No," "Yep"...

..."That's all," or " Hell with it. " That was all he said.

And LeMay was totally intolerant of criticism.

He never engaged in discussion with anybody.

He stood up.

"Why are we here?

Why are we here?

You lost your wingman. It hurts me as much as... does you.

I sent him there.

And I've been there, I know what it is.

But you lost one wingman...

...and we destroyed Tokyo. "

Fifty square miles of Tokyo were burned.

Tokyo was a wooden city, and when we dropped firebombs... just burned it.

The choice of incendiary bombs...

...where did that come from?

I think the issue... not so much incendiary bombs. I think the issue is... order to win, should you kill 100,000 people in one night?

By firebombing or any other way?

LeMay's answer would be, clearly, "Yes. "

" McNamara, do you mean to say...

...that instead of killing 100,000...

...burning to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in that one night...

...we should have burned to death a lesser number or none?

And then had our soldiers cross the beaches in Tokyo...

...and been slaughtered in tens of thousands?

Is that what you're proposing? Is that moral? Is that wise?"

Why was it necessary to drop the nuclear bomb...

...if LeMay was burning up Japan?

And he went on from Tokyo to firebomb other cities.

58 percent of Yokohama. Yokohama is roughly the size of Cleveland.

58 percent of Cleveland destroyed.

Tokyo is roughly the size of New York. 51 percent of New York destroyed.

99 percent of the equivalent of Chattanooga, which was Toyama.

40 percent of the equivalent of Los Angeles, which was Nagoya.

This was all done before...

...the dropping of the nuclear bomb.

Which, by the way, was dropped by LeMay's command.

Proportionality should be a guideline in war.

Killing 50 to 90 percent...

...of the people in 67 Japanese cities...

...and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs... not proportional, in the minds of some people... the objectives we were trying to achieve.

I don't fault Truman for dropping the nuclear bomb.

The U.S. -Japanese War was one of the most brutal wars... all of human history.

Kamikaze pilots, suicide, unbelievable.

What one can criticize... that the human race prior to that time and today...

...has not really grappled with what are, I'll call it "the rules of war. "

Was there a rule then that said you shouldn't bomb, shouldn't kill...

...shouldn't burn to death 100,000 civilians in a night?

LeMay said, " If we'd lost the war...

...we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals. "

And I think he's right.

He, and I'd say I...

...were behaving as war criminals.

LeMay recognized that what he was doing...

...would be thought immoral...

...if his side had lost.

But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?

At some point, we have to approach Vietnam, and I want to know... you can best set that up for me.

Yeah, well...

...that's a hard, hard question. I think...

I think we have to approach it in the context of the Cold War.

But first I'll have to talk about Ford.

I've got to go back to the end of the war.

I had a terrible headache... Marg drove me in to the Air Force regional hospital.

A week later, Marg came in...

...many of the same symptoms.

It's hard to believe, and I don't think I've heard of another case...

...where two individuals, husband and wife...

...came down, essentially, at the same time with polio.

We were both in the hospital on V-J Day.

A friend of mine said:

"We're gonna find a corporation in America that needs...

...the advice and capabilities of this extraordinary group...

...I'm forming and you gotta be in it. "

I said, "To hell with it. I'm going back to Harvard.

Marg and I wanna do that. I'm gonna spend my life there. "

He said, " Look, Bob, you can't pay Marg's hospital bills.

You're crazy as hell. " He said, " By the way...

...the company that most needs our help in all the U.S. Is Ford. "

I said, " How'd you learn that?" " I read an article in Life magazine. "

Of the top 1000 executives at Ford...

...I don't believe there were 10 college graduates...

...and Henry Ford II needed help.

They were gonna give us tests.

Two full days of testing...

...intelligence tests, achievement tests, personality tests, you name it.

This sounds absurd, but I remember a question on one of the tests was:

"Would you rather be a florist or a coal miner?"

I had been a florist. I worked as a florist...

...during some of my Christmas vacations.

I put down coal miner. I think the reasons are obvious to you.

This group of 10 people had been trained... the officer candidate school at Harvard.

In some tests we had the highest marks that had ever been scored.

In other tests, we were in the upper one percentile.

From 1926 to 1946, including the war years...

...Ford Motor Company just barely broke even.

It was a God-awful mess.

I thought we had a responsibility to the stockholders...

...and God knows you cannot believe how bad the situation had been.

They had no market research organization. I set one up.

Manager said, "What do you want studied?"

I said, " Find out who's buying Volkswagens.

Everybody says it's a no-good car.

It was only selling about 20,000 a year...

...but I want to know what's gonna happen.

Is it gonna stay the same, go down, or go up?

Find out who buys them. "

He came back six months later, he said:

"Well, they're professors, and they're doctors and they're lawyers...

...and they're obviously people who can afford more. "

Well, that set me to thinking about what we in the industry should do.

Was there a market we were missing?

At this time nobody believed Americans wanted cheaper cars.

They wanted conspicuous consumption.

Cadillac, with these huge, ostentatious fins...

...set the style for the industry for 10 or 15 years.

And that's what we were up against.

We introduced the Falcon as a more economical car...

...and it was a huge success profit-wise.

We accomplished a lot.

I said, "What about accidents? I hear a lot about accidents. "

"Oh, yes, we'll get you some data on that. "

There were about 40,000 deaths per year from automobile accidents...

...and about a million, or a million-two injuries.

I said, "What causes it?" " It's obvious.

It's human error and mechanical failure. "

I said, " If it's mechanical, we might be involved. Find out.

If it's mechanical failure, I want to stop it. "

Well, he said, "There's really very few statistics available. "

I said, " Damn it, find out what can we learn. "

"The only place we can find that knows anything about it... Cornell Aeronautical Labs. "

They said, "The major problem is packaging. "

They said, "You buy eggs and you know how eggs come in a carton?"

I said, " I don't buy eggs. My wife does it. "

They said, "Well, you ask her, when she puts that carton down...

...on the drain board when she gets home, do the eggs break?"

I asked Marg and she said no.

Cornell said, "That's because they're packaged properly.

Now, if we packaged people in cars the same way...

...we could reduce the breakage. "

We lacked lab facilities, so we dropped human skulls... different packages, down the stairwells of the dormitories at Cornell.

Well, that sounds absurd, but that guy was absolutely right.

It was packaging which could make the difference.

In a crash, the driver was often impaled on the steering wheel.

The passenger was often injured because he'd hit the windshield...

...or the header bar, or the instrument panel.

So in the 1956 model Ford we introduced steering wheels...

...that prevented being impaled. We introduced...

...padded instrument panels, and we introduced seat belts.

We estimated if there would be 100 percent use of the seat belts...

...we could save 20-odd thousand lives a year.

Everybody was opposed to it.

You couldn't get people to use seat belts.

But those who did saved their lives.

Now, let me jump ahead.

It's July, 1960.

John Bugas, vice president, industrial relations...

...clearly had his eyes on becoming president.

I'm the group vice president in charge of all of the car divisions.

Henry was a night owl. He always wanted to go out.

You know, it's 2 a. m. Or something.

He said, " Come up, have a nightcap. " " I don't want one, I'm going to bed. "

John said, " I'll come up, Henry. " " I didn't ask you. I asked Bob. "

He said, " Bob, come on up. " So I finally went up.

That's when he asked me to be president.

I was the first president in the history of the company...

...that had ever been president other than a member of the Ford family.

And after five weeks, I quit.

The telephone rang...

...a person comes on and says: " I'm Robert Kennedy.

My brother, Jack Kennedy, would like you... meet our brother- in-law, Sergeant Shriver. "

Four o'clock, Sarge comes in. Never met him.

And he said, " I've been authorized by my brother- in-law...

...Jack Kennedy, to offer you the position of secretary of the treasury. "

"You're crazy. I know a little about finance...

...but I'm not qualified for that position. "

"Anticipating you might say that, the president-elect...

...authorized me to offer you the secretary of defense. "

" I was in World War II for three years...

...but secretary of defense? I'm not qualified for that. "

He said, "Anticipating that...

...would you do him the courtesy of agreeing to meet with him?"

So I go home. I meet with Marg.

If I could appoint every senior official in the department...

...and if I was guaranteed I wouldn't have to... part of that damn Washington social world.

She said, "Well, okay, why don't you write a contract with the president...

...and if he'll accept those conditions, do it. "

My total net worth at the time was on the order of $800,000...

...but I had huge unfulfilled stock options worth millions.

And I was one of the highest-paid executives in the world.

And the future was brilliant.

We had called our children in.

Their life would be totally changed.

The salary of a cabinet secretary then was $25,000 a year.

So we explained to the children...

...they'd be giving up a few... They could care less.

Marg could care less.

It was snowing.

The Secret Service took me in the house by the back way.

I can still see it. There's a loveseat...

...two armchairs with a lamp table in between.

Jack Kennedy is sitting in one...

...and Bobby Kennedy's sitting in the other.

" Mr. President, it's absurd. I'm not qualified. "

" Look, Bob... "

He said, " I don't think there's any school for presidents either.

Let's announce it now. I'll write the announcement. "

So he wrote out the announcement, we walk out the front door.

All of these television cameras and press, till hell wouldn't have it.

That's how Marg learned I had accepted.

It was on television, live.

All right, why don't we do some pictures afterwards.

I've asked Robert McNamara... assume the responsibilities of secretary of defense.

And I'm glad and happy to say that he has accepted this responsibility.

Mr. McNamara leaves the presidency of the Ford company... great personal sacrifice.

That's the way it began.

You know, it was a traumatic period.

My wife probably got ulcers from it...

...may even ultimately have died from the stress. My son got ulcers.

It was very traumatic but...

...they were some of the best years of our life...

...and all members of my family benefited from it.

It was terrific.

October 2nd.

I had returned from Vietnam.

At that time, we had 16,000 military advisors.

I recommended to President Kennedy and to the Security Council...

...that we establish a plan and an objective...

...of removing all of them within two years.

Kennedy announced we were going to pull out all our military advisors... the end of '65, going to take 1000 out at the end of '63, and we did.

But there was a coup in South Vietnam.

Diem was overthrown...

...and he and his brother were killed.

I was present with the President...

...when together we received information of that coup.

I've never seen him...

...more upset. He totally blanched.

Kennedy and I had tremendous problems with Diem, but my God...

...he was the authority. He was the head of state.

And he was overthrown by a military coup.

And Kennedy knew and I knew, that to some degree...

...the U.S. Government was responsible for that.

I was in my office in the Pentagon...

...when the telephone rang and it was Bobby.

The President had been shot in Dallas.

Perhaps 45 minutes later, Bobby called again...

...and said the president was dead.

Jackie would like me to come out to the hospital.

We took the body to the White House about whatever it was, 4 a. M...

...and called the superintendent of Arlington Cemetery.

And he and I...

...walked over those grounds.

They're hauntingly beautiful grounds.

White crosses, row and row.

And finally I thought I'd found the exact spot...

...the most beautiful spot in the cemetery.

I called Jackie at the White House...

...and asked her to come out there. She immediately accepted.

And that's where the president is buried today.

A park service ranger came up to me and said that he...

He had...

...escorted President Kennedy on a tour of those grounds...

...a few weeks before.

And Kennedy said...

...that was the most beautiful spot in Washington.

That's where he's buried.

I will do my best.

That is all I can do.

I ask for your help...

...and God's.

Make no bones of this.

Don't try to sweep this under the rug.

We are at war in Vietnam.

And yet the president...

...and his secretary of defense continues to mislead...

...and misinform the American people, and enough of it's gone by.

On August 2nd...

...the destroyer Maddox reported it was attacked... a North Vietnamese patrol boat.

It was an act of aggression against us. We were in international waters.

I sent officials from the Defense Department out and we recovered...

...pieces of shells that were clearly identified... North Vietnamese from the Maddox's deck.

So there was no question in my mind that it had occurred.

But, in any event, we didn't respond.

And it was very difficult.

It was difficult for the president.

There were very, very senior people, in uniform and out, who said:

" My God, this president is... "

They didn't use the word "coward," but in effect...

..." He's not protecting the national interest. "

Two days later the Maddox and the Turner Joy, two destroyers...

...reported they were attacked.

There were sonar soundings. Torpedoes had been detected.

Other indications of attack from patrol boats.

We spent 10 hours that day trying to find out what the hell had happened.

At one point the commander said, "We're not certain of the attack. "

Another point they said, "We're positive. "

Then finally, late in the day, Admiral Sharp said:

"Yes, we're certain it happened. "

So I reported this to Johnson, and as a result...

...there were bombing attacks on targets in North Vietnam.

Johnson said, "We may have to escalate.

I'm not gonna do it without Congressional authority. "

And he put forward a resolution, the language of which...

...gave complete authority to the president to take the nation to war:

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution.

Now, let me go back to the August 4th attack.

It was just confusion. And events afterwards showed...

...that our judgment that we'd been attacked that day was wrong.

It didn't happen.

And the judgment that we'd been attacked on August 2nd...

...which we'd made, was right. We had been.

Although that was disputed at the time.

So we were right once and wrong once.

Ultimately, President Johnson authorized bombing in response... what he thought had been the second attack.

It hadn't occurred, but that's irrelevant to the point I'm making here.

He authorized the attack on the assumption it had occurred.

And his belief that it was a conscious decision... the North Vietnamese political and military leaders... escalate the conflict...

...and an indication they would not stop short of winning.

We were wrong.

But we had in our minds a mindset that led to that action.

And it carried such heavy costs.

We see incorrectly, or we see only half of the story at times.

We see what we want to believe. You're absolutely right.

Belief and seeing.

They're both often wrong.

We Americans know, although others appear to forget...

...the risk of spreading conflict.

We still seek no wider war.

We introduced " Rolling Thunder"...

...which, over the years, became a very, very heavy bombing program.

Two to three times as many bombs as were dropped...

...on Western Europe during all of World War II.

This is not primarily a military problem.

It's a battle for the hearts and minds of the people of South Vietnam.

As a prerequisite, we must be able to guarantee their physical security.

It was announced today that total American casualties in Vietnam... number 4877 including 748 killed.

Secretary of Defense McNamara, on each of his seven trips to Vietnam...

...has found some positive aspect of the course of the war.

The most vivid impression I'm bringing back is...

...that we've stopped losing the war.

The North Vietnamese, we believe, have nine regiments of their army...

Some of the men had a little training in a park in Kentucky before coming.

But it didn't prepare them for thick et of trees, spiked vines, thorn bushes...

...almost perpendicular cliffs, 90-degree temperatures, insects...

This has changed from a nasty little war to a nasty middle-sized war.

The Vietnamese are still doing most of the fighting and most of the dying...

...but week after week, American casualty figures go up.

Now, America wins the wars that she undertakes. Make no mistake about it.

And we have declared war on tyranny and aggression.

If this little nation goes down the drain and can't maintain independence...

...ask yourself what's gonna happen to all the other little nations.

Let me go back one moment.

In the Cuban Missile Crisis, at the end...

...I think we did put ourselves in the skin of the Soviets.

In the case of Vietnam, we didn't know them well enough to empathize.

And there was total misunderstanding as a result.

They believed we had simply replaced the French as a colonial power...

...and we were seeking to subject South and North Vietnam... our colonial interests, which was absolutely absurd.

And we, we saw Vietnam as an element of the Cold War.

Not what they saw it as, a civil war.

There aren't many examples... which you bring two former enemies together... the highest levels, and discuss what might have been.

I formed the hypothesis that each of us could have...

...achieved our objectives without the terrible loss of life.

And I wanted to test that by going to Vietnam.

The former foreign minister of Vietnam...

...a wonderful man named Thach said, "You're totally wrong.

We were fighting for independence. You were fighting to enslave us. "

We almost came to blows. That was noon on the first day.

" Do you mean to say it was not a tragedy for you...

...when you lost 3,400,000 Vietnamese killed...

...which on our population base is the equivalent of 27 million Americans?

What did you accomplish?

You didn't get more than we were willing to give at the start.

You could've had the whole damn thing: Independence, unification. "

" Mr. McNamara, you must never have read a history book.

If you had, you'd know we weren't pawns of the Chinese or the Russians.

Didn't you know that?

Don't you understand that we've been fighting the Chinese for 1000 years?

We were fighting for independence, and we'd fight to the last man.

We were determined to...

...and no amount of bombing or U.S. Pressure would've ever stopped us. "

What makes us omniscient?

Have we a record of omniscience?

We are the strongest nation in the world today.

I do not believe we should ever...

...apply that economic, political or military power unilaterally.

If we had followed that rule in Vietnam, we wouldn't have been there.

None of our allies supported us.

Not Japan, not Germany, not Britain or France.

If we can't persuade nations with comparable values...

...of the merit of our cause, we'd better re- examine our reasoning.

Americans suffered the heaviest casualties of the war last week.

543 killed in action. Another 1247 were wounded and hospitalized.

The deaths raise the U.S. Total in the war so far to 18, 239.

South Vietnamese put their losses for the week at 522 killed.

Communist losses were not reported.

Contributing to those casualties has been the Communist bombardment...

...of the Marine outpost at Khe Sanh.

There, the North Vietnamese have been tightening their ring around...

The military expects a full-scale assault.

To what extent did you feel that you were the author of stuff...

...or that you were an instrument of things outside of your control?

Well, I don't think I felt either.

I just felt that I was serving at the request of a president...

...who'd been elected by the American people.

And it was my responsibility to try to help him... carry out the office as he believed was in the interest of our people.

What is morally appropriate in a wartime environment?

Let me give you an illustration.

While I was secretary...

...we used what's called "Agent Orange" in Vietnam.

A chemical that strips leaves off of trees.

After the war, it is claimed that that was a toxic chemical...

...and it killed many individuals...

...soldiers and civilians exposed to it.

Were those who issued the approval to use Agent Orange criminals?

Were they committing a crime against humanity?

Let's look at the law.

Now, what kind of law do we have that says...

...these chemicals are acceptable in war and these chemicals are not.

We don't have clear definitions of that kind.

I never in the world would have authorized an illegal action.

I'm not really sure I authorized Agent Orange, I don't remember it.

But it certainly occurred, the use of it occurred while I was secretary.

Norman Morrison was a Quaker.

He was opposed to war, the violence of war, the killing.

He came to the Pentagon, doused himself with gasoline.

Burned himself to death below my office.

He held a child in his arms, his daughter.

Passers-by shouted, "Save the child!" He threw the child...

...out of his arms, and the child lived and is alive today.

His wife issued a very moving statement:

" Human beings must stop killing other human beings. "

And that's a belief that I shared.

I shared it then and I believe it even more strongly today.

How much evil must we do in order to do good?

We have certain ideals, certain responsibilities.

Recognize that at times you will have to engage in evil, but minimize it.

I remember reading that General Sherman, in the Civil War...

...the mayor of Atlanta pleaded with him to save the city.

And Sherman essentially said to the mayor...

...just before he torched it and burned it down:

"War is cruel. War is cruelty. "

That was the way LeMay felt.

He was trying to save the country.

He was trying to save our nation.

And in the process, he was prepared to do whatever killing was necessary.

It's a very, very difficult position for sensitive human beings to be in.

Morrison was one of those. I think I was.

50,000 people came to Washington to demonstrate against the war.

About 20,000 of them marched on the Pentagon.

The Pentagon is a very, very difficult building to defend.

We placed troops carrying rifles around it.

U.S. Marshals in front of the soldiers.

But I told the president, not a rifle would be loaded...

...without my personal permission.

And I wasn't gonna grant it.

What effect did all of this dissent have on your thinking?

I mean, Norman Morrison is '65. This is '67.

Well, it was a very tense period.

Very tense period for my family, which I don't want to discuss.

How was your thinking changing during this period?

I don't think my thinking was changing.

We were in the Cold War. And this was a Cold War...


Some commentators have said the war is turning into a kind of stalemate.

No, no. I think on the contrary... General Westmoreland has pointed out... recent weeks in Saigon, the military operations...

...the large-unit military operations continue to... very substantial progress.

One of the lessons I learned early on: Never say never.

Never, never, never.

Never say never.

And secondly...

...never answer the question that is asked of you.

Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you.

And quite frankly, I follow that rule.

It's a very good rule.

When you talk about the responsibility for something like the Vietnam War...

...whose responsibility is it?

It's the president's responsibility.

I don't want to fail to recognize...

...the tremendous contribution I think Johnson made to the country.

I don't want to put the responsibility for Vietnam on his shoulders alone...

...but I do... I am inclined to believe that if Kennedy had lived...

...he would've made a difference. We wouldn't have had 500,000 men there.

Two very telling photographs.

One of them has Johnson like this:

You can just see him thinking, " My God, I'm in a hell of a mess.

And this guy is trying to tell me to do something...

...that I know is wrong and I'm not gonna do.

But how the hell am I gonna get out of this?"

The other photograph, you can see me saying:

"Jesus Christ. I love this man, I respect him, but he's totally wrong.

What am I gonna do?"

Johnson couldn't persuade me, and I couldn't persuade him.

I had this enormous respect and affection, loyalty... both Kennedy and Johnson.

But at the end, Johnson and I found ourselves poles apart.

And I said to a very close and dear friend of mine, Kay Graham...

" Even to this day, Kay, I don't know whether I quit or was fired. "

She said, "You're out of your mind. You were fired. "

November 1, 1967.

I presented a memo to Johnson that said:

"The course we're on is totally wrong.

We've gotta change it.

Cut back at what we're doing in Vietnam.

We gotta reduce the casualties," and so on.

It was an extraordinarily controversial memo.

And I took it to him. I delivered it myself.

" Mr. President, nobody has seen this.

Not Dean Rusk, not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Nobody. "

" I know that it may contain recommendations and statements...

...that you do not agree with or support. "

I never heard from him.

Something had to give.

There was a rumor I was facing a mental breakdown...

...I was under such pressure and stress.

I don't think that was the case at all.

But it was a really traumatic departure.

That's the way it ended.

Except for one thing.

He awarded me the Medal of Freedom... a very beautiful ceremony at the White House.

And he was very, very warm in his comments.

And I became so emotional, I could not...


Mr. President...

...I cannot find words... express what lies in my heart today.

And I think I'd better respond on another occasion.

And had I responded, I would have said:

" I know what many of you are thinking.

You're thinking this man is duplicitous.

You're thinking that he has held things close to his chest.

You're thinking that...

...he did not respond fully... the desires and wishes of the American people.

I wanna tell you you're wrong. "

Of course he had personal idiosyncrasies.

No question about that.

He didn't accept all the advice he was given.

On several occasions, his associates advised him to be more forthcoming.

He wasn't.

People did not understand there were recommendations and pressures...

...that would carry the risk of war with China and of nuclear war.

And he was determined to prevent it.

I'm arguing that he had a reason in his mind for doing what he did.

And, of course, shortly after I left...

...Johnson concluded that he couldn't continue.

At this point, how many Americans had been killed in Vietnam?

About 25,000. Less than half...

...of the number ultimately killed, 58,000.

Historians don't really like to deal with counterfactuals...

...with what might have been.

They want to talk about history.

" How the hell do you know, McNamara, what might have been?

Who knows?"

Well, I know certain things.

What I'm doing is thinking it through with hindsight.

But you don't have hindsight available at the time.

I'm very proud of my accomplishments.

And I'm very sorry that in the process of accomplishment, I've made errors.

We all make mistakes.

We know we make mistakes.

I don't know any military commander who is honest...

...who would say he has not made a mistake.

There's a wonderful phrase:

"The fog of war. "

What "the fog of war" means is:

War is so complex it's beyond the ability of the human mind... comprehend all the variables.

Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate.

And we kill people unnecessarily.

Wilson said, "We won the war to end all wars. "

I'm not so naive or simplistic to believe we can eliminate war.

We're not gonna change human nature any time soon.

It isn't that we aren't rational. We are rational.

But reason has limits.

There's a quote from T.S. Eliot that I just love:

"We shall not cease from exploring...

...and at the end of our exploration, we will return to where we started...

...and know the place for the first time. "

Now that's, in a sense, where I'm beginning to be.

After you left the Johnson administration...

...why didn't you speak out against the Vietnam War?

I'm not going to say any more than I have.

These are the kinds of questions that get me in trouble.

You don't know what I know about how inflammatory my words can appear.

A lot of people misunderstand the war...

...misunderstand me.

A lot of people think I'm a son of a bitch.

Do you feel in any way responsible for the war?

Do you feel guilty?

I don't want to go into further discussion.

It just opens up more controversy.

I don't wanna add anything to Vietnam.

It is so complex that anything I say...

...will require additions and qualifications.

Is it the feeling that you're damned if you do...

...and if you don't, no matter what...?

Yeah, that's right.

And I would rather be damned if I don't.

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