Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

Robert McNamara has died.  Lots of people a little older than me won’t agree with this, but I’ve always felt sorry for him.  I think part of the reason is that his personality is a lot like mine — it’s mine squared or cubed or to the tenth power or something, but still recognizably mine.  And so it’s easy for me to believe that if I had been in his situation I might have ended up doing many of the same things he did: overanalyzing the details, burying myself in work, staying too loyal to a cause for too long, avoiding the moral consequences of what I was doing, and then ending up haunted by it for the rest of my life.

That’s no kind of excuse, of course.  I might have done what he did in the same circumstances, but I didn’t.  He did.  And yet, even at that, at least he figured things out eventually.  That’s a helluva lot more than some of the other architects of Vietnam did.  Most of them didn’t resign, didn’t admit error, and apparently didn’t even feel much anguish over their roles aside from the purely selfish anguish of being objects of public scorn.  McNamara’s anguish may have seemed rather technical and remote to a lot of his critics, but that’s just who he was.  At least it was something.

Anyone old enough to have lived through the 60s as an adult probably won’t feel much sympathy for this point of view.  But it’s hard for me not to.  He’s a cautionary tale for people like me.  R.I.P.

THE END...

of our annual funding cycle is fast approaching, on June 30, and we have a considerable $230,000-plus gap in our online fundraising budget.

If you value the nonprofit journalism you get from Mother Jones, and you can, right now is an important time to help us keep charging hard with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation.

payment methods

THE END...

of our annual funding cycle is fast approaching, on June 30, and we have a considerable $230,000-plus gap in our online fundraising budget.

If you value the nonprofit journalism you get from Mother Jones, and you can, right now is an important time to help us keep charging hard with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate