WASHINGTON (CN) – Robert McNamara, secretary of defense during the Vietnam War, whose later public expressions of regret for the role he played came too late for many veterans and critics, died Monday at his home. He was 93.
President Kennedy recruited McNamara from the Ford Motor Co. in 1961 as his secretary of defense. As the Vietnam War dragged on, McNamara and President Johnson became leading targets of protesters’ ire – later to be replaced by President Nixon and Henry Kissinger.
Robert Strange McNamara was secretary of defense from 1961 to 1968. His cold and seemingly emotionless defense of increased bombing while U.S. casualties and civil unrest mounted particularly infuriated the antiwar movement.
McNamara did not speak publicly until the 1990s about the professed doubts he harbored even as he implemented Johnson’s war policies. Eventually, he said he never thought that bombing North Vietnam would help end the war. But, he said, “We had to try to prove it would not work, and other people thought it would work.”
McNamara repeated and expatiated upon those alleged doubts in his autobiography, published in 1995. “We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of our country. But we were wrong. We were terribly wrong,” McNamara told The Associated Press before the book’s release.
McNamara’s alleged doubts about the war, and his refusal to act publicly, or quit, because of them, have been cited, and aimed at other U.S. officials, by critics of the war that continues today in Iraq.
After leaving the Pentagon, McNamara became head of the World Bank.
Fifty-eight thousand Americans died in Vietnam, and more than 1 million Vietnamese.