Review Essay

The Wrong Kind of Loyalty -- McNamara's Apology for Vietnam

In This Review

In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam

In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam
By Robert S. McNamara
Times Books, 1995, 356 pp. $33.95 Purchase

As much as any other individual, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara personified the American commitment in Vietnam. He was "the can-do man in the can-do society in the can-do era," David Halberstam wrote in The Best and the Brightest, and during the Kennedy and early Johnson years, he managed America's expanding involvement almost as if he were a desk officer. Whether slogging through Vietnam in army fatigues, spewing out statistics to demonstrate progress, or presiding at a press conference, map on the wall, pointer in hand, he epitomized what came to be called "McNamara's war." Whatever the difficulties of the moment, he exuded a certainty that promised ultimate success.

In fact, as has long been clear, his public confidence far outlasted the emergence of personal skepticism, and McNamara's tearful departure from the Pentagon at the height of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, as much as Lyndon B. Johnson's March 31, 1968,

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