Bob Herbert1 avoids hagiography when writing an obituary for Vietnam War architect and unindicted war criminal, Robert McNamara.
The hardest lesson for people in power to accept is that wars are unrelentingly hideous enterprises, that they butcher people without mercy and therefore should be undertaken only when absolutely necessary.
Kids who are sent off to war are forced to grow up too fast. They soon learn what real toughness is, and it has nothing to do with lousy bureaucrats and armchair warriors sacrificing the lives of the young for political considerations and hollow, flag-waving, risk-free expressions of patriotic fervor.
McNamara, it turns out, had realized early on that Vietnam was a lost cause, but he kept that crucial information close to his chest, like a gambler trying to bluff his way through a bad hand, as America continued to send tens of thousands to their doom. How in God’s name did he ever look at himself in a mirror?
[Click to continue reading Bob Herbert – After the War Was Over – NYTimes.com]
I assume the first draft of Bob Herbert’s article contained curse words, and stronger language than the New York Times editors would allow published. His rage at McNamara is still palpable however, and appropriate. Read between the lines for yourself.
More than 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam and some 2 million to 3 million Vietnamese. More than 4,000 Americans have died in Iraq, and no one knows how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Even as I was writing this, reports were coming in of seven more American G.I.’s killed in Afghanistan — a war that made sense in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, but makes very little sense now.
None of these wars had clearly articulated goals or endgames. None were pursued with the kind of intensity and sense of common purpose and shared sacrifice that marked World War II. Wars are now mostly background noise, distant events overshadowed by celebrity deaths and the antics of Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford and the like.
The obscenity of war is lost on most Americans, and that drains the death of Robert McNamara of any real significance.
- a Vietnam-era veteran, apparently, drafted, though sent to Korea instead [↩]