BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Robert McNamara, when was the first time you can ever remember thinking about public service?
ROBERT McNAMARA: I hadn't anticipated that question. Very early, I think. In the book, you may have noticed, there's a pictorial section, and I was under contract to do 16 pages of pictures. My wife always took care of photographs and things, and so when I began to work -- she died 14 years ago and I have absolutely zero order in my home with respect to pictures, so I took two or three days out to try to find pictures that I thought they might be interested. I wanted to start with a picture of me as an Eagle Scout, and you may think that's absurd, but that's there for the reason that scouting began to set my values, in addition to exposing me to the mountains, which had become an obsession. But scouting began to set my values.
I, as you can see, I have the Eagle Scout badge on. One of the merit badges -- we had to earn 21 merits -- one of them was in civics, and I learned in the civics merit badge, in a broad sense, it's the responsibility of every citizen to serve. So to answer your question, if it doesn't sound absurd to your audience, I began to think of public service, in various forms, when I was 12 or 13 years old. But then perhaps the time I really began to focus on it was in -- well, by the way, I volunteered for World War II, and I don't say that to gain any credit. Please don't misunderstand me. I had two deferments. I had an educational deferment because I was teaching at Harvard in an Officer Candidate School, and I had a family deferment because I had a 1-year-old child.
But I volunteered, I don't want any glory for it. That's what I think citizens should do. They have an obligation to serve their country. Then it came, more closely hit home because in, I suppose -- I've forgotten the exact year -- but the mid-1950s, when I was an officer of Ford Motor Company, I was asked if I would consider an assistant secretaryship in the Air Force. At that particular time, it didn't sound to me as though I could contribute anything. It wasn't a position of any great responsibility, so I said no. But it was very much on my mind, and I said to Marg, "Would you be willing to think about moving, giving up Ford Motor Company and moving to public service?" and she said, "Look, you believe, I believe in that. That's what we'll do."
LAMB: Where'd you grow up?
McNAMARA: I grew up in California. I was born in San Francisco, and I grew up there. In the book -- and I want to, I hope we can develop this theme later. But you asked me where I grew up. I grew up in San Francisco. My earliest memory is of a city exploding with joy. The date was November 11, 1918, Armistice Day. I was 2 years old. The city was San Francisco. It was celebrating, obviously, the end of World War I, which we'd won. But more fundamentally, it was celebrating the belief that that was a war to end all wars. That was President Woodrow Wilson's view. That was the view of many, many Americans. We were totally wrong! This is the bloodiest century in history. We, the human race, will have killed a 160 million other human beings.
In any event, I grew up in San Francisco and, you know, in a wonderful environment. I went to first grade there in a school that I could walk to. There'd been a slight baby boom in World War I, and by the time I got into the first grade in about 1922, there weren't any classrooms in the normal school buildings; they were full. So I literally went to school in a shack, a wooden shack, but we had a fantastic teacher. In the first grade she gave the class a test every month, and she reseated the class based on the results of that test. And there were vertical rows like this, and I worked my tail off to be in the first seat in the left-hand row.
And I can remember this as though it were yesterday, and my competition were Chinese, Japanese and Jews. There were a lot of WASPs in the class, but I didn't worry about them. It was the Chinese, Japanese and Jews I worried about, and I worked my tail off five days a week to beat them. On Saturday and Sunday, I went and I played with my neighborhood classmates. They went to their ethnic schools. They learned their language, they learned their history, they learned their culture, they learned their values, and they came back on Monday determined to beat that damn Irish. I'm happy to say they rarely did.
LAMB: What were your parents about? What were they like?
McNAMARA: Well, my parents, my father was Irish. As a matter of fact, many, if not most, of my uncles and aunts, his sisters and brothers on my father's side, were actually born in Ireland. My father was much older than my mother, and his father and mother and many of his sisters and brothers -- it was a rather large family -- had been forced out of Ireland beyond the potato famine. The potato famine, as I recall, was 1845-48. And I think they came, as I remember it, in the 1850s to Massachusetts, and then the full family went to California. Then my father crossed the Isthmus of Panama on his way to California on muleback in -- I've forgotten when -- 1863 or something like that. He never went beyond the eighth grade. My mother never went beyond high school. This was one of the reasons I was expected to, I'll call it, achieve. I was expected to learn, to take advantage of the opportunities that were open to me that they hadn't had an opportunity to take advantage of, and this was a tremendous stimulus to me.
LAMB: You ended up going to the University of California-Berkeley, and you talk in the book about you wanted to find the least expensive and the best.
McNAMARA: I was going to -- well, that's not quite correct.
LAMB: It's close.
McNAMARA: You're almost right, but let me put it slightly differently. In a sense, the best was thought to be Stanford at the time. It wasn't the best, but that was the common view, and I think it was thought to be the best because it was quite expensive. So I applied for Stanford, and it was one of the few universities in the country at that time that had entrance exams. Today it's quite common; then it was very uncommon. I took the entrance exam and passed it, and it was only then I understood how much it cost. There was no chance of me going to Stanford. There wasn't any chance of me going anywhere unless it was almost free. And as it happened, I went to the best or certainly one of the two or three best universities in the entire world, the University of California at Berkeley. It cost me $52 a year.
I could not have gone to college had it not been for that. And today that university is under tremendous stress because of Proposition 13 in California. They're denying it the funds that they need to maintain excellence. People have said to me many times in the last 20, 30, 40 years, "You've been in business, why do you think the state of California has been the preeminent state in this country in terms of, I'll call it, industrial advance? Silicon Valley, for example. Why is that?" There's one major reason. It's the educational system, the public educational system. The schools I went to and the university and that university system trained the people that in large measure contributed to the social and economic advance of that state in the last half century, and they're beginning to lose that preeminence because of financial limitations.
LAMB: What did you study?
McNAMARA: I really had, in a sense, three majors. The primary major was economics. But in a sense, the two more important majors were philosophy and mathematics, and I say more important because I think -- I came from a family that almost never read a book, and I had a rather narrow focus of the world and ideas when I went to the University of California. It opened up for me the world -- values. This is what particularly the philosophy courses did -- moral values, ethical values. I was exposed to history, politics, international relations. It was an eye-opener, and I've never forgotten it.
LAMB: Let me jump, if you don't mind, to this photograph right here.
McNAMARA: That's a photograph of what were called the Whiz Kids. There were 10 of us. We had served in the Army together. This is long story, and I don't know how far you want to get into it. We'd served in the Army together, and we were led by one man, Tex Thornton, this man. You just can't believe this story. He went in as a second lieutenant. Robert Lovett, who had been an investment banker in New York, had become Assistant Secretary of the Army. There was no Air Force at that time. There was what was called the Army Air Corps, and Robert Lovett had become assistant secretary of the Army for air. He came in there and they had -- I've forgotten the figures, but these are rough orders of magnitude -- they had maybe a thousand airplanes and maybe 1,500, 1,700 officers, almost all pilots. You recall Roosevelt, one of the things he did was say, "We've got to produce 50,000 airplanes a year." You know, we're going to fight Germany and possibly later Japan, and we had, I'll call it, a thousand airplanes.
So Lovett began to work on that, and the first thing he found, an investment banker, he found there was nothing to work with. Nobody knew how many airplanes they had, what condition they were in, what the plans were for the future, so he thought he had to begin to get some information. Somebody mentioned to him there was some second lieutenant who had been working in one of the departments in Washington as a civilian but who was, I believe, in the Reserve. He could be called up to duty. They said, "He knows something about data and information and facts and statistics. Why don't you get a hold of him?" So Lovett got hold of Thornton, and Thornton built the whole thing. It became known as statistical control, and that was the foundation of the management system for managing what became a tremendous operation, the U.S. Army Air Corps.
LAMB: Fill in the blanks on the Whiz Kids at Ford.
McNAMARA: Let me say one further thing about that photograph. Hold it up again just one second. There are 10 individuals in that photograph, and I'll tell you a little bit about them in a moment. But of the 10, two committed suicide, two became presidents of Ford -- me and R. J. Miller. He, by the way, was, in effect, fired, and we can talk more about him later. He's a fantastic person, and after he was fired, Henry Ford wanted him to stay on. He said, "Of course I want you to stay on vice-chairman of the board." R. J., to his credit, said, "No way." Henry said, "Well, at least you'll stay on the board." He did, and for 40 years after that, R. J. was the most influential director. But, anyway, two committed suicide; two, R. J. and I, became president. And the other six, including -- no two quit -- and the other four, plus R. J. and me, served a total along the order of 150 years. These were 10 people hired, in a sense, in a package.
LAMB: How old were you in that picture?
LAMB: And you had been to Harvard by then?
McNAMARA: I'd graduated from the business school and then I'd gone to San Francisco for a year after I graduated, and the dean at Harvard called me and asked me to go back to teach there. And I was in the midst of courting a young lady, who I'd known since I was 17. Yeah, there's a wonderful -- this is the young lady after we married. Here I am, a captain, and I'd left her behind with our 1-year-old daughter. At that time there was gas rationing and we had what was called an A coupon. You could only get a limited number on it. She couldn't really drive the car much, so she had a bicycle, and this is the young daughter behind it. If I may, I want your audience to see what this lady was like.
LAMB: You said that her name is Margaret. Died 14 years ago?
McNAMARA: She died 14 years ago. There's one photograph of her. I want to show, well, several of them. It may take a second. She's speaking at the University of California in Los Angeles in place of Lady Bird Johnson there. Here she is -- she and I were backpackers, and we backpacked there. But there's one other I want to show if I may take a second. I'll get back to those Whiz Kids in a second. Here she is -- if I might digress a moment. We're going to get back to Vietnam perhaps, but when President Kennedy called the Cabinet wives together in January of 1961 and he said, "You're going to all hate me," and Marg was there, and they said, "Well, why are we going to hate you?" and he said, "Because you're never going to see your husbands."
He said, "We're going to work so hard, you're never going to see them. But," he said, "I tell you what to do." He said, "Do your own thing. Do what brings you satisfaction. Now," he said, "if you think your husbands and I are screwing up the government," he said, "go demonstrate in front of the White House and maybe we'll change." Well, Marg had been a teacher. I met her when we were 17. I met her in the first week I was at Berkeley, in August of 1933 when we were 17. It took me some years to convince her to marry me. But when the dean asked me to go back to Harvard, she was traveling across the country with her mother and aunt, and I said to the dean, "Well, I'm sort of in the midst of this courtship, and I'll tell you this: I'll come if I can persuade the lady to marry me." He wanted me there in six weeks or something like that. I said, "I'll come if I can persuade the lady to marry me before going there. If I can't, no."
So then I tried to find out where she was, and I talked to her father, who lived in Alameda, and he said, "Well, they'll be back in Baltimore." I said, "Where are they going to stay?" Well, he didn't know, but he said, "You might try the YWCA." So I called the YWCA and I got her on a pay telephone and I persuaded her to marry me and she did. But, anyway, she had been a teacher at the time, and to go to back this, that one picture I wanted to show, this one, Kennedy, as I say, said to the Cabinet wives, "Do your own thing." She had been a teacher; she loved kids. So she went into the District public schools, the fifth and sixth grade, just to see what they were like, and she found that children couldn't read.
So she said she could use her position as a Cabinet minister's wife and bring in remedial teachers, which she did. Didn't help a damn bit. They still couldn't read. And she began to probe, to try to find out why, and finally she came to me and she said, "You know, Bob, neither one us of believed then or now in inheritance genetically of inferiority. There is no evidence of that." That wasn't the problem. In one way it was worse. It wasn't inheritance through the genes; it was a cultural inheritance. She said, "You know, Bob, many, if not most, of these children are children of single parents. No father. They're in homes where there has never been a single piece of printed material -- not a book, magazine or newspaper." I said, "I don't believe it. In the capitol of the richest country in the world?" She said, "That's what it is." She said, "You come with me and look at it," so I did, and that was true.
So she kept probing and finally she concluded the kids weren't learning to read because they weren't interested in reading, so she thought, how can I get them interested in reading? As I say, she had been in the homes; she saw there wasn't a single book in the home, never. So, she said, "Well, I'll get some books and see if they might be interested," so she got books, put them on a table and said, "If you're interested, you can take one and it'll be yours. You can take it home, keep it." They just flocked to it! Now, she chose books that she thought they'd read -- comic books. I said, "My God, Marg, why don't you get some classics or something that'll live. Here you are exposing them to comics." She said, "Look, Bob, the first thing to do is get them interested in books, get them interested in reading."
She did, and she started by herself and when she died, there were 70,000 volunteers working on that program. And President Carter, four days before he left the White House, 17 days before she died, he awarded her the Medal of Freedom for that. The program is still going. She had Barbara Bush as a director; she has Lynda Robb, President Johnson's daughter, as a director, and she had Anne Richardson, Elliot Richardson's wife, as a director. After she died -- yes, this is President Carter awarding. This was 14 days before she died, four days before President Carter left the White House.
LAMB: How many children did you have? And how old are they now?
McNAMARA: Three. They're 45, 48 and 54.
LAMB: And where do they live?
McNAMARA: One in California, another here, and a third lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
LAMB: Boys, girls?
McNAMARA: The older two are girls and the middle one's a boy.
LAMB: Have you, by chance, talked to them about this book?
McNAMARA: Oh, I have. I didn't have copies of the book until last Friday, and so I shipped them to them. They haven't read it yet, but one of them was with me last night. Kay Graham, the former publisher of the Post, gave a book party here. I was embarrassed that she did, but it turned out to be a wonderful affair, and my daughter was there, the one that lives in Washington, and she was very excited about it. We were talking about protests. This is a disjointed conversation, but let me mention this. Because my children were of college age -- my son, the youngest, who was nine years younger than the oldest, was, he went to Stanford after I left the Department of Defense. But my oldest child was in Stanford while I was in the Department of Defense, and my middle child was in university as well while I was there.
Of course, they were all exposed, in varying degrees, to protestors in some fashion. Last night at this book party, we got talking about protests, and the middle child, Kathy, was there last night, and I recalled it, and, as a matter of fact, I mention in the book that she had a friend who organized thousands of young people to march against the president and against me on Vietnam. And after one or two of these marches, she invited him to dinner, so he came and had dinner at our home several times. I recall one occasion, after dinner we went in the library and we talked until about 10:30 or so, and as he got up to leave, he said, very seriously, he said, "Well, I guess nobody can be all bad who loves the mountains as much as you do."
Now, the man's name is Sam Brown. He was nominated by President Clinton to be ambassador to the CSE, the Council on Security and Cooperation in Europe, about a year and a half ago. Senator [Jesse] Helms said, "Hell, no. That guy was a traitor. We're not going to confirm him." So Sam wrote me a note and said, "Bob, would you write Senator Helms and say whatever you want, but I hope you'll say I wasn't a traitor, that I believed in this nation and I was trying to save the nation from what I considered to be mistakes. Maybe I was wrong, but that was my belief. I surely wasn't a traitor." So I wrote Senator Helms and told him that. It had no impact. They refused to confirm him. But he's dedicated to public service, too, so he is serving over there now as the U.S. representative to the Council on Security and Cooperation in Europe, but not as ambassador.
LAMB: When did you literally say to yourself, "I'm going to do this book"?
McNAMARA: Well, not until relatively recently and with -- let me give a long answer to that, if I may. In the preface of the book, I mention that Marg brought to my attention 35 or 40 years ago four lines from T.S. Eliot. I think they're from his fourth Quartet. It's in the preface.
LAMB: It's the "Little Gidding?"
McNAMARA: Yes, yes. That's right, that's right. Exactly. And the lines -- I can't read them from here, but I know them, I know what they say. They say, "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, I haven't ceased from exploring, but I'm a little farther along than I was 15 or 30 years ago, and I think I see a little more clearly -- not as clearly as I will a few years hence or before I die -- but I see more clearly today than I saw five, 10, 30 years ago, events. And to tell you the truth, I didn't really see clearly enough to be confident in my judgment about the mistake we had made in Vietnam until two or three years ago. I saw clearly for a long time -- at least I believed it was a failure.
I believed this: in 1966, that's when I first had the idea for the Pentagon Papers, and I thought then, this is a failure; we're not achieving our objective; scholars should and I hope will wish to review what happened. How did we get in this damn mess? And I knew enough about government to know it isn't that people consciously destroy documents; that isn't the problem. But in a government as large as ours, the documents get misplaced, they get lost, they're not brought together. So I started the Pentagon Papers to bring these things together.
To come back now to your question, after I left the department I went to the World Bank. I was there 13 years. After I left that, I've been involved in a number of subjects we can talk about if you're interested. But it was only about two and a half years ago that I thought I understood the lessons. I had understood and believed, long before, it was a failure, but I wasn't completely clear in my mind why it was, and particularly I wasn't clear what the lessons were. About two and a half or three years ago, I was in my office one day and I just felt compelled to try to write down -- I don't use a computer; I write longhand -- and I just felt compelled to write down off the top of my head -- with no research, no documentation, no reference to books that had been written on it at all -- just off the top of my head what I thought were the lessons. I wrote them down, and the last chapter, which includes 11 mistakes, is almost, the statement of the 11 lessons, almost verbatim what I wrote down at that time.
Then having written that, I thought, well, maybe -- people had been pressing me to go much farther -- maybe I could go farther. Coincidentally at that time, a young man began to write a biography of me. I never heard of him, and he called and asked if I would be willing to talk to him about this biography. He said, "Of course, there'll be no opportunity to see what I write, no opportunity for you to, I call it, censor it. If you're willing to do it on that basis," he said, "I'd like to talk to you." So he came and we talked once. He came again and we talked twice. It turned out that he is a very, very young assistant professor at the Naval Academy, professor of history. Moreover, he had written -- yeah, his name is on the cover, because he had written, Brian VanDeMark, he had written one book, one small book, on Vietnam and he had assisted Clark Clifford and Dick Holbrooke in writing Clark's book.
So VanDeMark came in after these two or three interviews with reference to his biography, and he said, "You know, I'm a historian. I'm a professional historian." He said, "My advance in the scholarly world will depend on what I write, and, in a sense, I should write Vietnam or write your biography, whatever." "But," he said, "I've begun to understand that really the only person that can talk authoritatively about Vietnam is you, and you say that you're never going to do it because you didn't take any papers out of the Defense Department excepting one little three-ring binder of very highly classified memos to Presidents Johnson and Kennedy. You didn't take any papers out. You didn't keep a diary. You don't have any classification, access to classified materials. You say you can't, by yourself, develop the documentary base. You say you don't want to write off the top of your head. You don't want to write from memory. You don't trust your memory. It isn't, you say, that you would" -- he's speaking about me -- "It isn't that you would consciously distort, but you've told me, McNamara, you've told me, Brian VanDeMark, that it's your experience that people writing about themselves and their own decisions look at that through glasses that are favorable to them, and you say you don't want to do that and that's one of the reasons you haven't written."
"Well," he said, "I would be willing to do the research and, moreover, I would be willing to review everything you write and adhere to the strictest standard of scholarship, and if you ever deviate from, I'll call it, the written record in any way or if you appear to express judgments which you might not have had at the time or if you appear to be writing in ways that put a favorable gloss on your position, your action," he said, "I will agree that I will check that and bring it to your attention." So I said, "OK, we'll start." I signed a contract to write an autobiography. After he'd said he'd work with me on an autobiography, I developed a written proposal covering my life -- the early years, my education at Berkeley and Harvard, my experience in World War II, my 15 years at Ford Motor Company, my seven years in the Defense Department, and my 13 years in the World Bank. I laid out for each of those sections of my life what I'll call the story line that I was going to use as a foundation for the autobiography.
I hired an agent, Sterling Lord, a wonderful agent, and asked him to take this to the publishers. He did. A number were interested. Four put forward very substantial proposals, and out of that I chose one. Then I knew that I obviously had to cover Vietnam, and I knew that would be, or thought it'd be, the most difficult part of it. So I said to Brian VanDeMark, "I'm going to start there. I was secretary for seven years during that period when we went through a whole series of decisions on Vietnam. I'm going to break the seven years into nine periods, not equal in length, but nine periods related to the substantive decisions, the policy decisions of those periods. I'm going to give those calendar periods to you, and I want you to go to all the libraries, all the depositories of documents -- Defense Department and the Library of Congress, the LBJ Library, the Kennedy Library, etc. -- and I want you to, for each one of these nine periods, bring me the piles of documents, and I'll draft the chapter based on that. And then you take my draft and you go over and compare to the documents and be damn sure that it's founded in documentation and in reality and not in my desire to make the decisions look wise today." And that's the way we worked. I'm way off of the Ford, and we should get back to it.
LAMB: One of the reasons I wanted to ask you is that two years ago we did this book by Deborah Shapley where you participated in some 20 interviews, and I wondered if you had read this, if this had anything to do with spiking your interest?
McNAMARA: It had nothing to do with it. I've glanced at it; I haven't read it.
LAMB: I've got a quote here. As you well know, there's been a little written about this in the last week. What's this experience like for you to go from studio to studio, from show to show, from network to network?
McNAMARA: Well, to tell you the truth, I'm so pleased to be here, because I've been trying to tell a very complicated story with nuances and sound bites, and that's almost impossible. Moreover, I've been dealing with people who haven't read the book. I'll just give you one illustration, and I hope we can talk a little more about this later. And if your audience is interested in the book, I'll hope they'll do this. There's an appendix in it, a nuclear appendix. Now, it's there because today I think the world faces a very serious risk of nuclear war. That's not justification for putting a nuclear appendix in a book on Vietnam. It's there because during Vietnam, at times there were reference to possible use of nuclear weapons, and it should be understood that the possible use of nuclear weapons remains part of our contingency war plans today. So that appendix is put there to describe the risks as I observed them, both in relation to Vietnam and particularly in relation to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The American people today do not understand how close we came to an absolutely catastrophic nuclear war in October 1961 in connection with Cuba. But we also faced a possible use of nuclear weapons in connection with Vietnam, and Johnson and I were determined to avoid that. Today, if the world follows the agreement that Yeltsin and Bush made, the terms of which require that the U.S. reduce its strategic nuclear forces to 3,500 weapons by the year 2003 and the Soviets to 3,000, if you add tactical weapons and the weapons of France, Britain and China to that, in the year 2003, there'll be about 10,000 nuclear warheads in the world, compared to, let's just say, 40,000 today. I don't think a survivor of a nuclear war in which 10,000 warheads had been exchanged could tell the difference between that world and a world in which 40,000 had been exchanged. Both would be absolutely devastating. Now, that's a problem we ought to focus on. That's why the appendix is there, and it's related to some of the risks in Vietnam.
LAMB: But go back to the question of what has it been like in these interviews? Are you reading all the newspapers?
McNAMARA: I read as much as I can. I haven't had breakfast the last three days because I've been on the morning shows, and I've gone from morning until close to midnight. The answer is, I read a lot. I haven't read, by any means, all.
LAMB: What does it feel like to have ...
McNAMARA: Well, there's been a lot of controversy. Some of the articles are very, very thoughtful. Some have, I think, been quite superficial. There are still open wounds relating to Vietnam. One of my hopes was -- and you will think exactly the reverse has occurred; I don't think so; I'll come to that -- one of my hopes was that the book would help close wounds rather than open them. I knew there were open wounds, and what we've seen in the last week is a reflection of that. But I hope it will close them, and it may.
Give me a second to find a paper. This is unbelievable. Yeah. In the book I relate that -- I talk about the protestors. I had great sympathy for the protestors. My wife and my children and my friend's wives and children shared many of the views of the protestors. But in any event, one day -- I believe it was 1965 -- a man burned himself to death in front of my window. His name was Morrison. As the flames were consuming him, he had a child in his arms, and passers-by were observing this and they shouted, they screamed, "Save the child!" He threw the child out of his arms.
McNAMARA: I believe it was 1965. The child is alive today. The mother of the child, the wife of Morrison, wrote me a note, and I'd like to read it if I can. It's a beautiful, beautiful letter. He was a Quaker, by the way, and she obviously is as well. She says, "To heal the wounds of war, we must forgive ourselves and each other, and we must help the people of Vietnam to rebuild their country. I am grateful to Robert McNamara for his courageous and honest reappraisal of the Vietnam War and his involvement in it. I hope his book will contribute to the healing process." Now, that is, of course, what I had in mind. But to have it come from her is fantastic. I talked to her on the telephone this morning. We had quite an extended discussion. She is a noble person.
LAMB: Where does she live today?
McNAMARA: She lives in North Carolina. He and she, the man who burned himself, were members of the Stony Run Friends Meeting House in Baltimore at the time, and she wrote this statement and sent it to the Quaker Meeting House and she sent me a copy.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
McNAMARA: I live here in Washington. I live in the same house I've lived in for 35 years, a wonderful house.
LAMB: Seventy-eight years old?
McNAMARA: Yeah. I'll be 79 in three or four weeks, five weeks.
LAMB: Do you exercise?
McNAMARA: You won't believe this. A month ago I was on the Continental Divide. I crossed the Continental Divide at 12,500 feet on skis, and I'd wish you'd open the book. Obviously it's not the picture that was taken a month ago. It was a fantastic ski trip, ski mountaineering trip. But I was with the man that's in the picture there. Why don't they put page numbers on pictures? I don't know why. That's it. This photograph was taken two years ago just about two or three miles from where the same man -- this is Dr. Eiseman. He is former vice-chairman of the American College of Surgeons, one of the most outstanding surgeons in the world. He and I four or five weeks ago were three or four miles from there crossing the Continental Divide at 12,500. That photograph is at the top of Homestake Peak, 13,200 feet. We were there two years ago. It is an unbelievably beautiful country. So the answer is I do exercise, and I love it.
LAMB: I want to get back to the book because this is something everybody's writing about. This is from Curtis Westphal, retired Air Force colonel, Austin, Texas, USA Today a couple days ago. I warn you this is strong. "McNamara ranks with Hitler and Stalin as a perpetrator of crimes against humanity. Now he has torn open Vietnam's wounds throughout this country. Any profits from his book should be labeled reparations and should go to families who lost loved ones and to disabled Vietnam veterans. He should not profit from the tragedy he caused."
McNAMARA: Well, let's deal first with the "crimes against humanity," "ranks with Hitler and Stalin." I think that's a basic point that needs to be addressed, and I try to address it, and maybe I can read from the preface, because it deals with that. I don't know whether I can -- yeah, here it is. I say, "We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation. We made our decisions in the light of those values." The principles and traditions of this nation -- not the principles of Hitler, not the principles of Stalin -- the principles and traditions of this nation. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why. I go on to say, "I want Americans to understand why we made the mistakes." The colonel is half right. We weren't -- what were his words? I don't believe we rank with Hitler and Stalin, but he's right in the sense that we made mistakes and the nation paid a terrible price. I go on to say, "I want Americans to understand why we made the mistakes we did and to learn from them," and I hope we will.
LAMB: What about the profits?
McNAMARA: The profits -- to tell you the truth, I really haven't had time to focus on them. I don't know what they'll be, but I didn't think they'd be very much, and I haven't focused on them. Whatever I do in the way of giving them to charity will be done privately, and I just haven't made up my mind. I have one or two projects that I would very much like to -- that would be in the public domain -- that I'd very much like to see furthered and I'm in negotiations with some people now to see whether that can be done, and those are the kinds of thing that I do. But I'm not prepared to discuss it now.
LAMB: Would you give all of the profits to charity?
McNAMARA: Well, I don't know. I don't know what the profits are, to tell you the truth, and I don't know what I'm going to do with them. There's one project that would take all the profits, I mean, would need all the profits. I don't know whether I'm going to do it or not. It depends on parties that are outside my control as to whether we pursue it or not.
LAMB: Well, let me ask it differently. Did you do this to make money?
McNAMARA: Oh, my God, no. My God, no. You know, long ago, I mention in the book, that money has never been a motivating factor for me. Now, people say I'm wealthy, and, you know, in the sense that my children are well-educated, that I have a nice house, sure. But, in the sense of wealthy, no way. It never mattered to my children. We moved to -- the book mentions this. It wasn't that I was trying to stick my finger in the eyes of my fellow auto executives, but, my wife and I wanted to bring our children up in an academic atmosphere, not in the wealthy suburbs of Detroit in which the auto executives lived, Bloomfield Hills and Grosse Pointe. So, we moved to Ann Arbor, and we lived in a modest house.
When I was president of Ford Motor Company, we lived in a house that cost around $50,000. Marg and I talked after I'd said to President Kennedy I wasn't qualified and I couldn't possibly accept his offer to be secretary of defense. He kept pressing me, and I went home one weekend. We talked about it, and we brought in the children. We said, "Now, this is what we're considering, and if we do it, we'll be going from" -- in today's dollars what would have been, I suppose, $2.5 million a year down to what then, in those dollars, was $25,000. It's hard for people to believe that the Cabinet officers' salary was $25,000. My children could care less. Marg didn't care.
As a matter of fact, because I was president of the company, I had to drive a new car or new cars. Once a month we turned them over, and I gained experience in the various models. Marg had one of the cars, and she turned them over. Occasionally, every four weeks or so, I'd have a Lincoln Continental. The children wouldn't let her drive them to school in a Lincoln Continental. They didn't want to be seen in a luxury car. Now, all this has to do with your question. My God, the last thing in the world that motivated me here was money. I couldn't care less.
LAMB: The second point on this same kind of an issue. You've been asked to come to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Wall, and confront the veterans.
McNAMARA: I've gone to the Wall, so there's not a -- I don't want to confront the veterans. I want the veterans to be respected and admired by our people in ways that they haven't been. And I hope the book will contribute to that. It wasn't the veterans who caused this. They're the ones who did their duty, and we should respect and admire them. The greatest help we can give them is to ensure that their sacrifice isn't repeated in the future.
LAMB: Let me go back to this. If it turns out that the two things that bother people the most after this book, that you say you want to help, are that you're going to keep the money and they don't know where it goes, and that you won't talk to the veterans in some kind of a formal setting, would you change your mind?
McNAMARA: Well, I think the answer is I think so. I'm not going to give you an answer today. I think so. The purpose of the book is to, as I say, heal wounds. And, my God, I don't want to open wounds. I say in the book what I believe, in part because I've served myself, but most of all because I understand some of the trauma that they've gone through. I believe our nation owes them respect, affection, recognition, and I think the greatest respect we can give them is to understand what caused this tragedy to ensure that it doesn't occur again.
LAMB: Regular viewers think we're out of time, but this is a two-hour conversation.
McNAMARA: We haven't talked about the book! I haven't answered your question about Ford or how the -- I'm terribly sorry I've taken so long.
LAMB: I just want to mention it because I'm sure folks who watch us say, "He hasn't talked about this war yet," and I'm going to get to that. I do want to go quickly over the points. UC-Berkeley, the United States Army, Ford Motor Company. You became president of Ford Motor Company. What year, at what age?
McNAMARA: I became president at 44. I was the first president of the company ever who had not been a member of the Ford family. I was elected president in early November 1960, and I left five weeks later.
LAMB: How did you leave?
McNAMARA: President Kennedy asked me to serve as Secretary of Defense.
LAMB: Before I get to that, though, the Edsel. I know you deal with it in the book.
McNAMARA: Oh, this is going to take more time than you have. Let me take the Edsel for a moment.
LAMB: Tell me what the Edsel was.
McNAMARA: You'll never believe this. First you have to understand that Ford Motor Company had totally dominated the auto industry up until 1926. Henry Ford Sr.'s basic view was, he's going to build the cheapest cars so that the ordinary working man in this country could buy it, and he was going to pay wages -- I think it was, if I recall correctly -- of $5 an hour, so that the working man would have money to buy this very cheap, utilitarian car. Among other things Henry Ford Sr. said was, "It'll be painted any color they want so long as it's black." Now, I mention this because he was, in a sense, forcing onto the public an austere product.
Then General Motors came in. Du Pont bought into it in 1919, and they put in some Du Pont executives, and it really began to advance. They had some of the finest industrial leadership this country has ever seen. It began to advance. They began to change their product. They began to take market share away from Ford, and finally in about 1926, Henry Ford recognized he had to change the model and offer other colors than black, if you will, but, most importantly, offer other than the Model T. So he went and introduced the Model A, but they were out of business for a couple of years, in effect, and they began to lose market. It was in a hell of a mess.
So, that's why, in effect, -- we were at Ford. I didn't get to finish the story about that picture of 10. At the end of the war, Tex Thornton -- he was a fantastic promoter. At the end of the war, he had perhaps illusions of grandeur. He thought that this group of fellows that he had put together -- and let me digress a moment again and say that I was at Harvard. The Harvard graduate school of business recognized that this market of ordinary students would begin to dry up as the draft came in. So the dean, very intelligently, sent some professors down to Washington and said, "Can't we help in the educational process to train officers?" Thornton needed officers, so he said yes. He gave a contract to Harvard, and we trained officers.
We thought, we're going to get the ablest people in the Air Force, and the way to do that -- as candidates -- we'll bring them up to Harvard and we'll give them this course and they'll be, without any question, the ablest people in the whole Air Force for non-flying jobs. So we went down to Miami and we went through all of the, I'll call it, the recruitment statements for every single individual drafted or volunteering for the Air Force. We put them through IBM machines. We sorted them out on the basis of college education, grades, every other quality you could think of. And out of all that, we selected the candidates to come to Harvard. We put them through the course, and then we took the brightest and ablest of those and we recommended them to Thornton. Out of that, he took this group of 10. They were very able people. He thought, by God, we can run anything in this country.
LAMB: Whiz Kids.
McNAMARA: Whiz Kids. We can run anything in this country. So, he, in a sense -- who needs our help? He had read in Life magazine that Edsel Ford had died in 1943. A sidelight on that is that Mrs. Edsel Ford, when I left Ford Motor Company, I talked to her because she felt that Henry Ford Sr. had in a very real sense killed his son Edsel Ford by thrusting him into an extraordinarily complex situation that caused him ulcers and other physical ailments from which he died. She was determined that was not going to happen to Henry Ford II, and I was supposed to be the one that would prevent that. In any event, Edsel Ford died in 1943, as I recall. Henry Ford Sr. was still alive, and they brought Henry Ford II out of the Navy to come back to run the company. So, Tex Thornton read in Life magazine that this young man who'd attended Yale -- I don't think he'd graduated from Yale -- was being brought back to run this company, which was in a hell of a mess.
Ford Motor Company from 1926 to 46, at a time when General Motors made billions, barely broke even, including the war. After we arrived there, in the first eight months, we lost $50 million in cash. It was a hell of a mess. So, in any event, Tex had illusions of how competent this group was. So he said to Henry Ford, "I've got just the bunch you need. We'll make you a deal, 10." Tex said to me, "You've got to come, Bob. You'll be second in command. I'll run it, and you'll be my deputy." I said, "No way, Tex. I'm on leave from Harvard." The three years Marg and I spent at Harvard when I was a young instructor and then a very young assistant professor were the happiest I could ever imagine. "We're going back to Harvard." He said, "Look, you don't seem to understand. You and Margaret had polio, and your case was relatively light. You got out in a month or two. She's still in the hospital." She was in Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital.
LAMB: You both had polio?
McNAMARA: We both had polio. On V-J Day in August of 1945, we were both in the Air Force regional hospital in Dayton, Ohio, with polio. It's unbelievable. My case was relatively light. I got out in a couple of months or a month and a half. She had to be transferred from the Air Force hospital, where they couldn't care for her. I got the dean of the medical school at Harvard to help me, and she was transferred to Children's Hospital in Baltimore, associated with Johns Hopkins, and they did a fantastic job. But at that time, they said she'd never lift an arm or a leg off the bed again.
People today don't understand polio. It was a terrible scourge, and, of course, Dr. Salk and others eliminated that. But at that time it was terrible. She'd never lift an arm or a leg off the bed again. So Tex said to me, "Look, Bob, you can't go back to Harvard. You know what those damn medical bills are. There's no way you can pay. You've got to come to Ford." So finally I said, "OK, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll go out there with you. I think it's insane. I want to go back to Harvard. Some way or other I'll pay the damn bills." "No," he said, "you come." So I went out there. I said, "I'll go only if we all go out there and we meet Henry Ford and we find out what in the hell he has in mind to take 10 people he doesn't know to run the company."
So we go, and we're in a meeting. He had a person named John Bugas, his vice-president of industrial relations with him. It was clear Bugas didn't want us hired, and I learned later the reason. Bugas thought he was the rising star, and he thought he would become president of the company. This is November '45. We're all out there. At one point, John Bugas said to Henry, "Well, now Henry, if you want to hire ..." And Henry said, "What are you talking about? What do you mean, if I want to hire them? I've already told you I want to hire them. It's a done deal." It wasn't a done deal. So we were hired, and we were going to start the first of February, '46. We're eager beavers. We get out there three or four days ahead of time.
We report in, and they say, "Well, we're happy you're here a few days early." They said, "There are two days of tests we're going to give you." They gave us every test in the world -- intelligence tests, achievement tests, personality tests, you name it. Bugas thought he could get rid of us; we'd do poorly on the tests. As I mention in there, I didn't know the results of the tests until a book came out a year or so ago. I happened to see it while I was writing this. Four of us scored in the upper percentile. I mean upper 1 percent, or what's called the hundredth percentile on intelligence tests. Several of us scored the highest grades ever on a judgment test.
Well, John wasn't able to get rid of us. Fifteen years later, in an elevator in Cologne, Germany, in July of 1960 -- Henry Ford and John Bugas and I had been over there visiting our Cologne plant. Henry liked to go out on the town, and the three of us got back to the hotel about 2 a.m. We were in an elevator going up to Henry's and our rooms. His room was on a floor higher than mine and John's. We get to our floor and John and I start to get out, and Henry Ford said, "Bob, come on up. Let's have a nightcap." I said, "Henry, I don't want a nightcap. I'm going to go to bed." He said, "Come on up and have a nightcap." Bugas said, "Henry, I'll come up with you." Henry said, "John, I asked Bob, not you." I went up there, and he said, "Bob, I want you to be president." I said, "Henry, I'll have to think about it. I'll talk to Marg, and I'll let you know in a week." And that's when it occurred.
LAMB: But you didn't build the Edsel?
McNAMARA: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm terribly sorry; I got way off. The point is that I go on and finally I'm appointed general manager of the Ford Division. What I started to say, and I went way off the subject, is that at that time, General Motors had Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac. Ford only had three. We had Ford, Mercury and Lincoln. They had five and we had three. So how are we going to get as much of the market as they did? We have to put another line in there. That was the Edsel. The Edsel was named for Henry Ford's father. It was a total disaster. I had nothing to -- I was general manager of the Ford Division. I was a director of the company at that time. The car divisions were under the control of what was called a group vice-president, Louis Caruso.
He believed that because the Edsel would to some degree compete with the Ford, as the Pontiac did with the Chevrolet, that I would oppose the Edsel. He wouldn't allow me to have copies of the papers, even though I was a director of the company. Then he died. The Edsel had been approved. It had been designed. It had been tooled. We were within, whatever, three, four, five months of its introduction on the market. The assembly plants were receiving the parts. The parts were being machined in the other plants. I was put in charge, and I had to bring that damn car out. It was a total fiasco, total failure. At that time, it was the biggest loss that any industrial company had ever suffered. We had to stop it. Some of the dealers committed suicide. One of those 10 people -- Caruso had made him general manager of one of the divisions -- I had to fire him, and he committed suicide. It was a God-awful mess.
To go on, Senator Goldwater, in the 1964 campaign, was campaigning as much against me, and I mention this in the book. I describe why he was opposed to me. He thought I was disarming the nation, and that's why he was opposed. But he was campaigning against me as much as he was against President Johnson. He was making the most outrageous statements, which are quoted there. One of his chief financial associates helping to finance the Goldwater campaign had been the executive vice-president of Ford Motor Company when the Edsel had been approved -- Ernest R. Breech. To his everlasting credit, he wrote Goldwater a letter and said, "Dear Senator, I'll never give you another dime if you once again say McNamara was responsible for the Edsel. He had nothing to do with it." That charge haunted me for years. Finally I took that Breech letter -- he sent me a copy -- and I sent it to every newspaper or magazine that printed it and finally it stopped.
LAMB: In the second part of this two-hour conversation about the In Retrospect book by Robert S. McNamara, we'll talk about Vietnam.
LAMB: Robert McNamara, author of "In Retrospect," you tell a story after you've gotten to the Kennedy administration about a backgrounder in the missile gap.
McNAMARA: Oh, yes. I blush to even think about it.
LAMB: What happened?
McNAMARA: Well, this is going to take a little while, too. The 1960 campaign -- President Kennedy won the election against Nixon -- was fought in part on Kennedy's charge that the Republicans had left the U.S. facing a missile gap that threatened its security. The Soviets had more missiles than we had. Now that came about because at that time there was no coordinated intelligence organization in the government. The CIA reported, the Air Force intelligence reported, the Army intelligence, State Department, Navy intelligence and so on. The Air Force had estimated that the Soviets had more missiles than we had. They weren't trying to deceive anybody. It was just the blinders that the Air Force had. But, in any event, the report had been leaked to Senator Kennedy. He had accepted it at face value, and he charged Eisenhower and the Republicans with having endangered this nation with the missile gap.
So, obviously, one of my first responsibilities as secretary, starting on Jan. 21, 1961, was to determine how large the missile gap was and what action was necessary to close it. So I spent a large part of the first three or four weeks doing that. My deputy, Ros Gilpatric, and I did. We met with the major general in the Air Force, the so-called A-2 in charge of intelligence, who had been the source of that. We went over everything he had. He was an honest guy, but he was looking at this, I'll call it, from an Air Force point of view. In a sense, if they had more missiles than we did, then that would justify more Air Force missiles. It wasn't a conscious deception at all. It was an erroneous conclusion.
We came to that conclusion, we told the President, about the same time my assistant secretary for public affairs said to me, "Bob, you haven't met the Pentagon press. They're a great bunch." And they were a great bunch, but in terms of newspapers, they were sharks. They were out after a story. So I said, "My God, Arthur, I'm not prepared. I'm from the auto industry. I don't know Washington. I don't know the press. I'm not prepared to meet them." He said, "Come on up. They're great people. There'll be no problem at all."
So, we have a press conference -- I've forgotten when. Early in February, I guess, mid-February maybe. They were all in the room next to me. There might have been 40 there. He introduced me, and I thought he said it was all off the record. Now, he probably said it was for background. I didn't know the difference for background and off the record. For background means that they can report it, not in my exact words, but they can report it. So, the first question was, "Mr. Secretary, you've been here three or four weeks. The missile gap obviously was an important element in the campaign and a major security issue. What are you doing about it?" "Well," I said, "you're quite right, it was important, it is important. I focused on that, and I've determined there wasn't a missile gap, or if there is, it's in our favor."
You couldn't hold the damn doors closed. They broke the doors down. That was about 2:30 in the afternoon. The afternoon edition of the evening Star carried that story: "McNamara denies missile gap." The next morning, Ev Dirksen, the majority leader of the Republicans in the Senate called for my resignation and called for a rerun of the election because the president had won under false pretenses. I was devastated. I went over to see the president, and I said, "Mr. President, I came down here to help you, and all I've done is engender requests for your resignation or a rerun of the election. I'm prepared to resign." "Oh," he said, "hell with it, Bob." He said, "We all put our foot in our mouth occasionally. Forget it. It'll blow over." It did, I loved him for it.
LAMB: The same man you mentioned, Arthur Sylvester, who was your press spokesman, allegedly said at one time the government has a right to lie.
McNAMARA: I think he probably said it. I would have a hard time putting my finger on the quote, but I think he probably said it. If he did -- I'm not positive of this -- but I'd think it was in connection with the Cuban Missile Crisis or one of those crises. This is a terrible dilemma. If the situation is dangerous for the country -- for example, in the case of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the president refused to allow any information to the public and very, very little to people in the administration, excepting the top people, for a week, so we could think what in the hell to do. During that time, as I remember it -- I may be wrong on this -- I think he called or asked some of us to call one or two key newsmen who might have had the information and asked them not to use it.
Suppose for the minute that somebody had come in during that period and said, "Mr. President, we hear there are missiles in Cuba. What are you going to do about nuclear missiles in Cuba? What are you going to do about it?" It's under those circumstances that Arthur Silvester might have said, "I think we're justified in lying until we have time to think about this." I don't think he was right, but you have to understand the kind of a problem it was. Now, I'm not at all sure that that quote, which I think was an accurate quote, I'm not at all sure it related -- it either related to the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban Missile Crisis. I've forgotten which. It was an unfortunate quote, I'll say that.
LAMB: One of the things that you find in the book was you say many times that you stretched the truth or didn't tell the truth or lacked candor.
McNAMARA: Well, I don't say many times. This is an important point, and let me get some of this. Let me give you an illustration of just exactly what you're talking about. In December 1963, I had gone to Vietnam to appraise what the situation was, just shortly after Kennedy died. By the way, and we should get on to this, it was within a few weeks of the time that, on my recommendation, he had announced we were going to plan to withdraw all U.S. military personnel by the end of 1965, and that we would withdraw 1,000 before the end of '63, within 90 days of the date he made the announcement -- and furthermore, that we could announce it publicly then, which we did.
So, here it is, within that 90-day period. We're withdrawing. We did withdraw the thousand. But what I said to the press was, when they asked me, I said, "We observed the results of a very substantial increase in Viet Cong enemy activity." That was true. But then I added, "We reviewed the plans of the South Vietnamese government, and we have every reason to believe they will be successful." That was an overstatement at best because I said to the president in a written report, "The situation is very disturbing." That's the kind of thing you're talking about.
But I think you should also understand -- or your people should, and when they read the book they'll see -- that to the press in 1964, I said, "The situation is serious." Again in '64, I said, "The situation in South Vietnam is unquestionably worsened." In '65, I said, "It'll be a long war." In August of '67, after I spent all day before the Stennis committee, Senator Thurmond said, "Your words are the words of a communist appeaser. It's a no-win policy." So, at times, I was excessively optimistic, no question about it. But, at other times, I was candid and accurate and charged with being a communist appeaser.
LAMB: On President Kennedy, you said he had announced that all troops would come out by '65, but you quote a comment that he made shortly before he was shot, on the Huntley-Brinkley show, where he said he was going to stick it out.
McNAMARA: This is an important point. Let's take a second, because there's another quote right before that. We won't take the time to find it. I know the two quotes almost verbatim. They came within a week of each other. They were in September of 1963. Kennedy died, as you know, November 23, and in September ...
McNAMARA: Twenty-second. I'm sorry. And in the first week of September, say eight weeks before he died, he had two interviews, one with Cronkite and one with Brinkley. In the Cronkite interview, he said, in effect, it's a South Vietnamese war; only they can win it. In a later interview with Brinkley, he said just what you said, that ...
LAMB: I got it here. "I think we should stay. We should use our influence in as effective a way as we can. We should not withdraw."
McNAMARA: That's right, but there was an implicit qualification there, which he had outlined earlier. And the implicit qualification was twofold. Number one, that there was a sufficiently stable political regime that outside troops could be effective. That condition was not met. Secondly, that the South Vietnamese would be willing to carry the brunt of the war. He said to Cronkite very, very clearly, "It's their war; only they can win it." I think what he meant when he talked to Brinkley that way was, we're going to stay as long as those conditions are met. His statements before and after the Brinkley thing were totally consistent with his statement to Cronkite. So I know what you're saying. I put it in there just for the reason that, in a sense, you've quoted it. I wanted to have the public record clear. He said both things. But the Brinkley statement was qualified by the Cronkite statement.
LAMB: You speak very highly of John F. Kennedy, and in the book, at almost every point, you say that he was your favorite and that ...
McNAMARA: No, I didn't say he was my favorite. Compared to Johnson. I
never said that.
LAMB: He's not?
McNAMARA: I'm not going to say. Let me put it this way. I loved and respected and admired both of them. They were totally different people. I mentioned that. Johnson was a paradoxical figure. At the end -- we won't have time to go over it, but I hope your audience will read -- I got so emotional when I left, because Johnson and I -- I say to this day, I don't know if I quit or I was fired. On my ideals, you don't quit. If your president wants you, you stay. It was certainly not my intention to quit. Frankly, I don't think I did. I was with Kay Graham, the former publisher of the Washington Post last night, and I made this statement to her. She said, "Bob, you're crazy! Of course you were fired." Now, I don't think I was.
But, in any event, at the end, it was so emotional. He awarded me the Medal of Freedom in a glittering ceremony in the East Room of the White House, all the diplomats and the members of Congress and executive branch and judiciary and my family and friends and so. And after he'd finished reading the citation, I was so emotional, I couldn't speak. But, in there I say what I think I might have said, if I had spoken. I describe him as he was. I said, "Many in this room believe him to be crude, devious, mean, but he's much, much more. I think he'll go down in history" -- I believed it then; I believe it today -- "as one of our greatest presidents, drawing our attention to the ills of our society, the poor, the disadvantaged, the racial problems." We still have them. He was sensitive to that. I admired him and respected him immensely for it.
LAMB: You say Mac Bundy, the head of the National Security Council in the White House, was the best public servant you'd seen in that job in 40 years, except ...
McNAMARA: No, no, I don't say "except."
LAMB: No, but you've got an asterisk on Henry Kissinger.
McNAMARA: No, I didn't say "except." Let me just take a second. You're rather humorous. I say that McGeorge Bundy, who served as National Security Adviser to President Kennedy and also later for President Johnson, was the ablest national security adviser I've seen in observing them for 40 years. Footnote: Henry Kissinger, my friend, is going to take exception to that. I've already thought of the answer I'm going to give him. While he was in the White House, presumably National Security Adviser, he wasn't. He was Secretary of State.
LAMB: You can hear the folks saying, if he was so good as the National Security Adviser, and if Henry Kissinger was so good as Secretary of State, why is this Vietnam War so devastating to a country? And how did they all get us into it?
McNAMARA: This is so important, and I can't give a short answer. You've got to read it. But let me deal with an important aspect of it. Let me go back just one second, and I know you're limited in time, but I want to tell you something about us, "us" being McGeorge Bundy, "us" being Dean Rusk. Dean Rusk was one of the greatest patriots this nation's ever had. I'm so glad he died. Now, that sounds inhuman. He died December 20. I'm so glad he died. I thought often after I sent that book into the press -- he died after it went to press -- I thought, my God, I can't face Dean when he reads it. It's going to hurt him. To the day he died, he believed we were right. The subtitle of the book is "The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam." He didn't believe it was a failure. He didn't believe it was a tragedy. He thought it was an essential step to defend this nation. Now, why did he think that and why did the rest of us err, as you say we did? And as we did.
LAMB: No, you say you did.
McNAMARA: I did. You're absolutely right. Now, why did we err? You've got to understand where we came from. Dean Rusk, John Kennedy and I had all served in World War II, three or four or five years. Churchill has said millions were killed in World War II whose lives would have been saved if the West had earlier addressed the menace of Hitler taking over all of Western Europe. And by implication, he said, for God sakes don't allow that ever to happen again. So after World War II, the Soviets took Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia. They sought to subvert the established governments of France and Italy. In my years, in seven years in the Defense Department, in August of '61, they tried to take West Berlin. We came very, very close to war then. I called the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Larry Norstad, to my office, and I said, "Look, Larry, how's this thing going to evolve?" We talked about it, and finally he said and I said, "What do we do then?" He said, "Well, we're going to have to think of using nuclear weapons." It was a very dangerous situation. A year later, Khrushchev put nuclear weapons in Cuba. To this day, our people don't know how close we came to nuclear war.
In June of 1967, the Egyptians were determined to erase Israel from the face of the earth. They thought they'd have the help of Syria and the Soviets. The Israelis knew it as we did. The Israelis knocked the hell out of the Egyptians, plus Jordan. The Soviets began to be concerned about what was going to happen to Syria. The hotline had been in use three years. For the first time it was used, they sent a message to Johnson and said, "If you want war, you'll get war."
At the same time, we had the Soviets and Chinese supporting the North Vietnamese. We totally misjudged the threat. We believed that Vietnam, as Eisenhower said in 1954, was a domino, and if the Soviets and Chinese controlled it, the rest of Southeast Asia would fall -- Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Indo-China, and maybe India -- and that the communist strength would be so increased that Western Europe would be in danger. Now, that's what we thought. We were totally wrong. But that's what motivated us. That's why we acted as we did. It's very hard for people today to understand that.
LAMB: What did you think the impact of the press was?
McNAMARA: Well, I think two things. Number one, this was the first war -- and people don't understand this to this day -- the first war in which the press acted without censorship, and I think that was good. The second point is that many people today -- and I've heard it expressed within the last week or so -- believe that, well, it was the press that lost the war, that if they'd just kept their mouth shut, the people wouldn't have turned away from it and we'd have had the American people behind it and we could have won. That is totally wrong. We were fighting -- and we didn't realize it -- a civil war. Now, true, obviously there were Soviet and Chinese influence and support and no question that the communists were trying to control South Vietnam, but it was basically a civil war. And one of the things we should learn is you can't fight and win a civil war with outside troops, and particularly not when the political structure in a country is dissolved. So it wasn't the press that was the problem. The problem was that we were in the wrong place with the wrong tactics.
LAMB: You quote David Halberstam in your book as being supportive of America's commitment in Vietnam. How come?
McNAMARA: Well, I mention other press. What I was trying to say was -- this is a rather subtle point, but it's true. Let me digress. I'll come back to Halberstam in a moment. Last week a friend of mine who worked for Bill Fulbright ...
LAMB: Former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
McNAMARA: Yes. And Fulbright was an early -- well, he managed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which, in effect, gave the president authorization, although neither the Congress nor the president at the time it was passed intended to use the authorization, but it gave the president authorization to go to war. Fulbright managed that and pushed it through and supported it. Later Fulbright turned against the war. One of his close associates called me two or three days ago, and he said, "My God, Bob. I'm reading all this press, and you'd think that" -- I mean "all the comments on your book" -- "and you'd think that the Congress opposed the war at the time you were talking about it or that the public opposed it." He said, "They don't seem to recognize I, working for Fulbright, tried with Fulbright to get the Congress to pass a resolution," I'll call it, "withdrawing the Tonkin Gulf authorization or otherwise limiting it." He said, "We didn't have the votes." At that time, the polls were showing the public was for the war. The press was for the war, and the Congress was for the war.
Now, I want to tell you, that doesn't relieve us -- this was in 65, 66, 67 -- that doesn't relieve the leaders at all of the responsibility for the war. The leaders shouldn't be captives of the polls. The leaders should lead. And we were leading in the wrong direction, and it was our responsibility. It wasn't the responsibility of the press. It wasn't the responsibility of the public. It wasn't the responsibility of the Congress. It was our responsibility, and we were wrong.
LAMB: Let me read this from Newsweek. This is David Halberstam. "The book is shallow and deeply disingenuous. For him to say we couldn't get information borders on a felony, because he was the creator of the lying machine that gave him that information. The point was to make a flawed policy look better. It's almost a time warp. He sees Mac Bundy as the best national security adviser ever and Maxwell Taylor as a soldier statesman. Taylor actually hammered anyone who told the truth and said the war wasn't going well."
McNAMARA: That's a libel. Max Taylor was one of the greatest soldiers this nation ever produced. He put his life at risk for us over and over again. He was a soldier scholar. He spoke seven languages. He jumped with his division in the Battle of the Bulge and helped save us in World War II. That is a libel. That man, Max Taylor, was a great patriot. He didn't keep anybody from speaking up. He encouraged people to speak up. I understand why Halberstam is writing it, but that's just wrong. You should read the Newsweek -- maybe you have -- that came out on Monday of this week.
LAMB: Colonel Hackworth.
McNAMARA: The article is written by Colonel Hackworth. Colonel Hackworth is today the most decorated soldier alive. He has 101 medals. He was wounded four times in Vietnam. He fought in the Korean War and in the Vietnam War. Read what he says. What he basically says -- and I don't repeat this -- he says, "McNamara is telling the truth." He hopes it will be a healing process. He hopes it will show us why we went wrong and where the mistakes were made so we won't create them again, and he basically says, "McNamara's telling the truth." And I just urge you to read that article. It was, to me, a very, very moving statement. I'd never met Hackworth.
LAMB: In the back, you have a whole scenario of when the troops were sent, a chart. But in the time you were Secretary of Defense, seven years, 1961 to right at the beginning of 68, how many trips did you make to Vietnam and back?
McNAMARA: I'll just give you a figure off the top of my head. Vietnam or Honolulu? Because we sometimes brought our Vietnam personnel into Honolulu at the CINCPAC headquarters to meet. I'd say Vietman or Honolulu, 30 times.
LAMB: You keep talking in your book about how you would come back and make one statement in front of the press and then you would have a private report.
McNAMARA: I did, but only once or twice were they significantly different, and I mentioned one of them.
LAMB: When you do that, though, what was the thinking?
McNAMARA: This is a good point. One of the things I've learned in my life is you can't compartmentalize your audience. When I was asked planeside in Saigon or planeside in Honolulu or planeside at Andrews Air Base as I arrived, what I'd found, I was speaking not only to the American people; I was speaking to the enemy -- to the Chinese, to the Soviets and to the Viet Cong. I was also speaking to our allies, the South Vietnamese. The question is, how candid can you be?
I don't know the answer to that. At times I tried to shade it, avoid, I'll call it, false optimism. At other times, I was just, as I said to you, very, very candid indeed. Let me just mention again -- March '64 in a speech in Washington, I said, "The situation in South Vietnam is unquestionably worsened." November '65 to the press in Saigon, I said, "It'll be a long war." So what should I say to the enemy? We're losing? By the way, my report to the president, in which I said in December of '65 to him, "There's only a one in three chance or, at best, a one in two chance, that we can win militarily." He said, "Do you mean to say you don't think we can win militarily?" I said, "Yes." And that was my report to him. Should I have said that publicly? What do you think? What does your audience think?
Now, this is a terrible dilemma, and particularly so when I want to tell you that I was in a very small minority. I'm not saying I was right. Other people thought then, and many think today, that we were winning then, and, as I've suggested, some people think today we were winning then and it was the press that caused us to lose. That is baloney. But it is not baloney to say that other people thought I was wrong. And in any event, suppose we all thought we weren't winning and there was only a one-in-three chance or a one-in-two chance of winning. Is that what you say publicly to the enemy? Are you endangering your own men when you say that? These are terribly difficult issues. I've tried to lay it all out in there and tried to draw some conclusions on it.
LAMB: By the way, how long will you talk about this? In other words, in the next weeks, are you going to do another book on this?
McNAMARA: No, I'm not.
LAMB: Are you going to speak on the circuit? I mean, how far do you play this string out? How long will people listen to this?
McNAMARA: Oh, I hope -- I don't plan to continue to talk on it longer than you all want me to in relation to this book. I'm not going to write another book on it. That's what I believe happened. That's the truth as I see it.
LAMB: Having the discussion on the book, what has surprised you about the process?
McNAMARA: Not much. You know, I've lived through -- I've lived in Washington 35 years. I've been in public life in various ways, different degrees for 35 years. I'm familiar with it. I understood this. Some of the people that were working with me on the book didn't. They thought I was wrong in saying that there was going to be a tremendous controversy stirred up by it. I thought there would be. I'm pleased in one sense. People stop me on the street and they say, "For the first time, I'm beginning to understand what happened." The New York Times this morning carries a report that their May 3 book review will say it's the number one bestseller on the nonfiction list, and I'm pleased with that. Not to sell the books -- that doesn't mean a damn thing to me. What I'm pleased at is that people, as I sense, from on the street -- I came down on the shuttle yesterday from New York. The hostess in the shuttle said, "I've just bought your book and I want to thank you for writing it." I'm not arguing it's a great book. That's not my point. What I'm arguing is the subject. It lies below our conscience. We need to surface it; we need to understand it, and we need to avoid it in the future.
LAMB: Because this is a book show and it's a special two-part series, we didn't ask you to sit for calls. It might be an interesting thing for you come back and let people talk to you. But we have taken calls and we got one that seems to have a lot in it. It lasts a couple of minutes if you want to get out your notes. We're going to play just the audio of it. This is a woman who called this past week, on Monday, from Tracy, California, and we'll just listen to it and get your reaction to it.
CALLER: Good morning, Brian.
CALLER: Would you please indulge me this morning. I'm both nervous and angry at the same time.
LAMB: That's not too good, you know.
CALLER: Well, I'm calling about the Bob McNamara book, which I haven't read nor do I intend to, not because I want to be ignorant but because it would hurt so much. See, I had a young brother that was killed in Vietnam. My brother would have been 49 years old this year, the same as Clinton, but he'll be 21 forever. And this book has caused such pain to me as a family member who lost someone in Vietnam. I carry it around like a sack of rock. I try to get rid of it, but I can't. It's strictly involuntary and it's visceral with me.
LAMB: Can I ask you about -- would you have rather that Mr. McNamara had not written the book?
CALLER: No, and that's another part of the confliction of Vietnam, isn't it? There are both sides, and, you know, I respected those that demonstrated out of heart and out of true belief. I respected Joan Baez and her husband, David Harris, who went to prison for his belief. Muhammad Ali for his beliefs. I don't ask everybody to believe as I do, and I didn't believe in war. I don't believe in war. But I believed in this country. I believed in my brother. I believed in the young people that went there, men and women that went to Vietnam. We were all citizens here supporting our young people there. So I respected the other side to this issue.
LAMB: Have you watched any of the interviews with him?
CALLER: Yes, I did. I hadn't heard, I sort of heard rumors about the book here and there on the television, and then I happened to watch Diane Sawyer, not intentionally, but there it was. And it hit me like a lightning bolt, Brian, when I heard what that man said, and for him to try to salve his conscience over my dead brother, who already gave his life once, and now he wants to pull him back and take it again. What are we to, how are we to feel, Brian, sending our young people there? My brother died saving three others in his platoon. He was the platoon leader. And the helicopter was trying to come in and take them out, and my brother protected them and was shot and he kept going and was shot again and he kept going and was shot again, and that was the fatal wound.
END OF TAPE EXCERPT
McNAMARA: That's a very moving statement, and I quite understand her and I think, I hope, she would find some healing if she read the book. Earlier in the program, I referred to the letter from Mrs. Morrison, whose husband burned himself to death in protest of the war. And I don't know whether I mentioned at the time I read the paragraph from the letter, I talked to Mrs. Morrison this morning, and she found the book to be part of a healing process, as did Colonel Hackworth, whom I believe we mentioned earlier. It's intended to be part of a healing process. The lady whose call you just played deserves the sympathy of all of us. She also deserves an understanding, an explanation of how it came about. That's what the book tries to say. I hope she'll read it. And with that understanding, I hope she, and all of our citizens and certainly our leaders, will behave in ways and act in ways that'll prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
LAMB: Did you ever sit down and talk to Richard Nixon about this?
McNAMARA: No, but I -- well, I think the answer is no. The reason I say I'm a little uncertain is I did talk to Henry Kissinger. When I was president of the World Bank, I, in a sense, was not allowed to play any role in national affairs at all. I was an international official and was foreclosed from taking part in national affairs. But Henry Kissinger had been an old friend of mine, and there's, I think, a very interesting story in the book about how he and I tried to initiate negotiations to stop the war.
LAMB: What year?
McNAMARA: That began in July of '67, and out of it came a formula that ultimately did lead to peace negotiations in May of '68 after I'd left the department. But Henry was an old friend and he, when he was national security adviser, although really functioning as secretary of state, he asked me to come privately and quietly to his office on several occasions and talk about it, and I did.
LAMB: What did you think of the way he handled the rest of it?
McNAMARA: I won't comment on that. I'm just going to comment on my days. I'm responsible for enough. I'm not going to put it off on anybody else.
LAMB: The book "Best and the Brightest," and that term "best and the brightest," you lead almost on the first page. Is that good for you and others?
McNAMARA: Well, leave me out of the category. They were the best and the brightest, and that's the point of the book. Not only were they the best and the brightest, they were dedicated servants of their people and their nation. They served because they believed every citizen has a responsibility to serve. They sacrificed money, whatever. They didn't care. That wasn't their -- they felt an obligation to serve. They were bright. They were well educated. They were experienced. They were dedicated to serve the nation. We were wrong. Why? That's the story of the book. How does it happen? "The best and the brightest" has become a pejorative term. It was a very apt description, if not of me, at least of my associates. How did it happen the best and the brightest failed? That's the story.
LAMB: You list 11 things.
McNAMARA: I list 11 lessons. That's right.
LAMB: If you were to go back in that position again with President Kennedy or with President Johnson, give us examples of things that you would do differently.
McNAMARA: Oh, I can't. You know, I don't know how much more time we have, but there's not enough time to get into that.
LAMB: Well, what about -- just start with ...
McNAMARA: Let me say this. In relation to today, I think there's several lessons we need to learn, and one of them is the strength of nationalism. Across the world today -- and that's in a sense what we were fighting in Vietnam, and we didn't really realize it. We thought this was a war of aggression, communist aggression against a democractically inclined state, South Vietnam. There was some element of that, don't misunderstand me, but basically it was a civil war. We looked upon Ho Chi Minh as an associate of Stalin and Khrushchev. He was an Asian Tito. He was leading a civil war. Today we don't understand the forces of nationalism.
That's one point. Secondly, we didn't understand then the limitations that military force have in dealing with a failed nation, failed politically. You cannot send in outside troops to reconstruct a failed political system. And I would say today -- and I know many of your listeners may disagree with me on this -- there's no way for the West to send troops in to Bosnia today to reconstruct that state or that nation. Now, there is, perhaps, a way for us today to prevent Macedonia and Kosovo from exploding and dragging in Greece and Turkey and having the whole of the Balkans erupt. But the lessons are very important, and I'm terribly sorry we don't have more time to talk about it. This one in particular I want to come to, though, but the subject is complex. Please, Mr. Audience -- I know you read it -- please, Mr. Audience, read the last chapter with the lessons. That's the purpose of the book.
LAMB: Go back to Ho Chi Minh just for a second. As you know, he might have even been in this country at one time in the 20s. He was in Paris ...
McNAMARA: Not might have been -- he was!
LAMB: ... and helped start the French Communist Party. But he was in Moscow ...
McNAMARA: Look, I don't know whether you had a chance to really read the tale. The way Kissinger and I got going on this, I'll call it, peace initiative that extended from July of '67 through September and later had implications for the Paris meeting in '68, was he was attending what's called a Pugwash meeting, which was a meeting of Soviet and Western scientists, primarily, some others. He was invited to attend. A man named Aubrac came up to him and said ...
LAMB: A Frenchman.
McNAMARA: A Frenchman. Two Frenchmen, Marcovich and Aubrac. They said, "If the U.S. wants to send a message to Ho Chi Minh, we'll get it to him." So Kissinger sent a cable to Rusk and said, "I got this. What should I tell them?" I'd been away, but a copy of this came to me. I rifled through these messages when I got back, and I saw this one and I called my assistant secretary, John McNaughton, and I said, "What's happened, John?" He said, "Nothing." I knew nothing would because Dean and the president and I had tried before and nothing had happened to try to get these going, and they thought I was nuts trying to push it. I said, "What do you think ought to be done?" Well, he said, "What do you think?" I said, "Hell, I asked you first. What do you think?" He said, "Why don't we try?"
I took the message -- that was Monday -- the next day, Tuesday, to the Tuesday luncheon and I brought it up. They said, "Bob, you're insane. We've tried it. Nothing will happen." I said, "Look, I will promise not to get us in trouble." This is foreign policy. It's State Department work. But I said, "You let me handle this. I'll promise not to get in trouble," and I did. Therefore, Henry and I had contacts, and I learned -- I couldn't believe it. Ho Chi Minh was the godfather of Aubrac's child. Ho Cho Minh had lived with the Aubrac family in Paris. By the way, he'd also been a pastry cook, if you can believe it, in London. But in any event, Ho Chi Minh had lived with Aubrac. Aubrac and Marcovich did go to Hanoi. They did deliver messages. We did have that exchange, and it failed. And to this day, I'm not entirely sure why. I suspect it was some clumsiness on our part.
At some point I'd like to see the kind of an exchange with the Vietnamese and U.S. officials of the kind we had on Cuba, with the Russians and Cubans and U.S. on the missile crisis, and see if can learn something about this. I think we both failed, to tell you the truth. We both missed opportunities to end a god-awful war. If I may take just two minutes -- I know you're running out of time. I begin the book by saying my earliest memory was of Armistice Day in 1918. We believed and Wilson believed it was a war to end all wars, and it wasn't a war to end all wars. We, the human race, have killed 160 million people in this century. Is that what we want to do in the next century? We're ending not just a century; we're ending a millennium. My God, what's our view of our objective as human beings?
Well, my objective is to prevent the 21st century from being a replication of this century. One step in that, an absolutely essential step, is to reduce the nuclear risk. If any members of your audience buy this book, I hope they'll read the appendix. People don't ordinarily read appendices. This appendix deals with the nuclear risk that this country and the world faces today and is based in part on our experience in Vietnam and in part on our experience in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Please, read it.
LAMB: Have you ever sat down with a group of veterans?
McNAMARA: Oh, of course, sure.
LAMB: Recently? As you know, there are so many audiences out there watching this.
McNAMARA: There are. There are all kinds of veterans. I was with a doctor last night from Hopkins. He had just treated a veteran that day who had been wounded and was still bearing some of the costs of the wounds in Vietnam. The veteran had read the book and was deeply moved by it. Now, other veterans say they won't read it. So, it's going to take time. You've got to read that [David] Hackworth article in Newsweek because he is the most decorated of all veterans. He says what we need is healing. We need to understand what happened, and this book throws light on it.
LAMB: Go back, though, the lesson. In 1967, troops surround the Pentagon; people march on the Pentagon. You refer to the fact that had they been Gandhi-like, they might have been successful. They would have shut the Pentagon down.
McNAMARA: They would have shut us down.
LAMB: What would you say to people about demonstrating? You talk about going to your ski lodge in Aspen and finding people waiting for you and your son.
McNAMARA: Well, they tried to burn it down, tried to burn my house down in Aspen. What I would say ...
LAMB: What year was that, by the way?
McNAMARA: It was August of '67.
LAMB: And what did you do about it when you got there?
McNAMARA: I inspected the damage, which wasn't very great, and just went on. But to go back, I respect demonstrators. My children have been part of demonstrations. My son was at Stanford at the time. He participated in demonstrations. He also said he would not accept an educational deferment, [that] he was privileged when his peers were being killed. He was going to expose himself. But in any event, regarding demonstrations, I believe in demonstrations, but I believe in peaceful demonstrations. I believe in effective demonstrations. The demonstration on the Pentagon was not effective. It's a long story, and it's described in the book.
But they lost public support because of the way they behaved. I say in the book, if they had been Gandhi-like, they would have shut us down. There were 20,000 or so. All they had to do was lie down on the street. At the time, the regulations required that to move a female, we had to have four people, one on either extremity, to lift the female off the street. We would have been totally shut down. Moreover, they wouldn't have lost the support of the public. The public turned against them because of the way they behaved. I am in favor of demonstrations, but lawful demonstrations and effective demonstrations.
LAMB: Do you remember when the kids came from Voluntown, Connecticut, and camped outside the War Room? They laid down on the floor. They were peaceful.
McNAMARA: I've forgotten that. When was this?
LAMB: About '67. As I remember, you left them in there for a couple of days and you said, "Out!" and they eventually had to ...
McNAMARA: I'm sorry, the answer is I don't remember it. But I've been ...
LAMB: Would you say that demonstrating works or doesn't work?
McNAMARA: The Dr. Spock kind of demonstrations, I think, work. I think they draw attention to, I'll call it, ills of our society, and they mobilize that attention into some form of action. But if the demonstrators appear to be irresponsible and behave in ways the society doesn't accept, I think they lose the power of the demonstration. Let me just take one further second. I think the Harvard law graduate who demonstrated, including a hunger strike, which is a peaceful form of demonstration, with respect to the loss of her husband in Guatemala recently, brought a tremendous amount of attention on that. And look what's happened as a result. The, I'll call it, coverup that was associated with that is being exposed, and changes are going to be made in the administration of the portions of the government that were involved in it. I think she was very effective. One woman with a hunger strike brought it all out.
LAMB: The second point I wanted to ask you about was truth. This is page 148: "Of course, total candor is not customary for politicians under such circumstances, and the circumstances were the 1964 Johnson-Goldwater campaign," talking about whether this war would be escalated.
McNAMARA: It's a very, very important point. But on that same page, I think, or at least in that chapter, I say I don't have the answer, to tell you the truth, as to how politicians can be completely candid. When I say that Johnson was not completely candid during the 1964 campaign, neither had Roosevelt been completely candid in the 1940 campaign nor had President Wilson been completely candid in the 1916 campaign. In the case of Wilson in '16, he was, in a sense, saying we're not going to get involved in World War I, and he very quickly did after he'd been elected. Roosevelt was saying in the 1940 campaign, we're not going to get involved in World War II, and very quickly after, he did. Johnson was saying in the 1964 campaign, we're not going to send American boys to do what Asian boys should do. Yet he did. These are very difficult issues. I am in favor of candor, but I recognize the difficulty of politicians in the election process.
Let me just -- on that point, Johnson asked me, in relation to the '64 campaign at one point, would I accept the vice-presidential nomination? I hasten to add, had I said yes, he might have later said, "Bob, you know, I've been thinking about that. You said yes. I don't want to impose that burden on Margaret. That just wouldn't be fair to her. So, let's forget it." I didn't say yes; I said no. The reason I said no was not that I didn't value the vice-presidential nomination. It wasn't that I wouldn't have wished to be vice-president. I thought I was incompetent to be. I didn't know how to campaign in 1964, and particularly, I didn't know how to deal with this kind of an issue. And I'm not really sure I do today.
LAMB: You were also offered, what, Secretary of the Treasury at one point?
McNAMARA: Kennedy instructed Sarge Shriver to offer me first the Secretary of the Treasury. I said, "It's insane, Sarge." Then he said, "Well, the president has said if you won't accept that, he wants you to serve as Secretary of Defense."
LAMB: Weren't you also offered something called an executive vice-president role in the new Johnson administration?
McNAMARA: Well, that's what some people say, but, in a sense, Johnson used me in some of those roles, but there wasn't any executive vice-president role.
LAMB: Let me go to another issue, the Rolling Thunder, March 1965. Bombing of the north. If I read you right, there was a plan by President Johnson not to tell the Congress or the American people the bombing started.
McNAMARA: That's not quite correct. My recollection -- I may be wrong on this. It's in the book, but I don't recall this specific point. My recollection is not that he wasn't going to tell them that it started, but he wasn't going to -- I think this is the exact point. It wasn't that he withheld the information that it started. I think I say in the book that he briefed the leaders of Congress on the start of the bombing campaign, but then he said, "I don't want you to imply to the press that this is a change in our military strategy." That was the point -- because it was a change.
Johnson, on two or three occasions, took military actions that had implications that were not disclosed. It was impossible to take a military action that wasn't disclosed with an uncensored press, including a bombing action against the north. You couldn't bomb the north without the press knowing about it. Hell, the North Vietnamese would have announced it if you didn't. You couldn't withhold the fact of the military action. What you could withhold and at times he did withhold were the implications of it. He specifically said -- I think it was to Senator Dirksen if I recall correctly; again it's in the book -- "Don't indicate to the press that this is a change in strategy or an escalation," in effect, when it really was.
LAMB: Near the end when you resigned in '67, you testified before Senator Stennis. It was a week of hearings, off the record. You were not in front of cameras.
McNAMARA: No, but there was a transcript taken, and the transcript was released within a couple of weeks. I've forgotten the degree to which it was amended. The thrust of the testimony was there because I read it and Johnson read it, and he just felt the hearings were devastating to him and to the war effort.
LAMB: Why did Senator Stennis have those hearings called?
McNAMARA: We haven't talked on one very, very important point in connection with all this. Stennis had the hearings called because he believed that Johnson and I were constraining the military, forcing them to fight with one arm tied behind them and that this would cause us to lose the war and that if he had the hearings and exposed all this, that the president and I would be forced to "unleash the full military power." I don't know how much time we have, but this takes a few minutes. This was one of the most contentious issues, and is today one of the most contentious issues. Could not we have won if we had "unleashed our military power"? There's never been, and this is a point that the Newsweek article, that Hackworth makes in his article on this Monday. It's a very important point. He says there's never been a thoughtful retrospective analysis of the military tactics. By implication, Hackworth says, if that were made, the conclusion would be McNamara's, that there was no way to win that war militarily.
The chiefs were honest enough to say on two or three occasions, "Mr. President, we believe you should do this. If you do it, it may draw in the Chinese and Soviets. If that's done we may have to use nuclear weapons." Westmoreland was honest enough in a fascinating statement at the Johnson Library at a meeting in 1990 -- I didn't attend it because I didn't think it would be handled on what I'm going to say is a scholarly basis. But, Westmoreland was there, McGeorge Bundy was there, a lot of other people were there. And Westy said at the end, he said, "You know, I felt at the time that we were fighting with one hand tied behind our backs. But," he said, "I now understand what the president was trying to accomplish was to prevent an escalation of this war, an enlargement of the war to involve the Chinese and the Soviets, which would have been devastating." And he said, "He did prevent that, and I'm very glad he did."
I thought it was an extraordinarily honest statement. But, the purpose of the Stennis hearings was to present the view of those who opposed the constraints and say remove those constraints. The major problem that Johnson faced in 1967 -- and much of the comment on this book in recent weeks doesn't catch it at all was not, I'll call it, from the left; it was from the right. "For God's sakes, unleash the military. Knock the hell out of them." And the fact that that would have perhaps brought in the Chinese and Soviets wasn't considered.
LAMB: Have you ever sat down with General Westmoreland, talked about this?
McNAMARA: Often -- I said often. That's not quite true. He was falsely accused of trying to deceive the president and me. Westy and I had many, many arguments. You'll see them in the book. When that false accusation was made, it led to a fantastic television series and trial and tremendous to-do. He was accused of lying to his president, seeking consciously to deceive. Although I had had many arguments with him, I volunteered to testify in his behalf, and I did. I admire the man. I disagree with many of his judgments, but I admired him as a patriot.
LAMB: Of all the things said about you in the last week, has any of it hurt?
McNAMARA: I don't want to say it hasn't hurt. Of course. I don't like to be criticized, whether it's right or wrong, any more than anyone else does. But, so many people have stopped me on the street and said, "Mr. McNamara, I want to say how grateful I am to you for writing the book. I'm just beginning to understand what happened, and I hope your readers will feel the same way."
LAMB: This picture in the East Room has you sitting alone. Was that your idea?
McNAMARA: No, it was not my idea, but I went to the Kennedy Library -- and we surely don't have the time. I went there to listen to the tape of the October -- I didn't know Kennedy took any tapes. This was a secret taping process. He taped a few meetings. A critical meeting was October 2, 1963, when he accepted my recommendation to announce that we were going to try to withdraw by the end of '65, and we'd withdraw a thousand. I went up to the Kennedy Library because I'd heard there was a tape of that. I got permission of the family to listen to it. When I was there, I came across that photograph, and I just slipped it in with all the other photographs, and they chose to put it on the front of the book.
LAMB: You think two hours is enough, and it isn't. Here's the cover, and we thank Robert S. McNamara, author of "In Retrospect" for joining us.
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