Leave it to Uncle Rupert’s conservative house organ to use the occasion of Robert McNamara’s death to sputter itself into a rage at “(McNamara’s) former liberal allies for refusing to turn against the Vietnam War as early as they did,” even though, in this editorial, the Journal admits that “only later as the war dragged on did these liberals lose their nerve, and they never forgave McNamara for fighting on — even years later after he finally agreed they were right.”
Yes, you can argue that the Vietnam War split the “left” in this country, with those such as Senator Henry Jackson supporting it, and others, most notably George McGovern, opposing it (along with the “new left” borne of the Civil Rights movement; Dr. Martin Luther King most definitely opposed the war). Also, President John F Kennedy (for whom McNamara served as Defense Secretary, and Lyndon Johnson later), when interviewed in September 1963, opposed sending more troops (I cannot access the YouTube video at the moment).
The fact of the matter, though, as noted here, is that our involvement in Vietnam really began in 1950, when President Harry Truman authorized $15 million in military aid for the French whose outposts in North Vietnam were attacked that year; his successor, President Dwight Eisenhower, greatly increased military aid during his presidency, including training for the new South Vietnamese Army.
As I said, I will acknowledge that some liberals supported the war until about 1965, but to imply that conservatives did not is patently absurd.
And of course, since we’re talking about the Journal, you can rest assured that they won’t miss this opportunity to fluff Commander Codpiece and his determination to “stay the course” in Iraq as a contrast, crediting him solely for whatever successes have transpired in that country, failing to acknowledge of course that the surge, by itself, would have been fruitless without the benefit of the Sunni Awakening councils and the ethnic cleansing that has been totally ignored by our corporate media.
Also, concerning the composition of President Kennedy’s military advisors (including McNamara), I think Errol Morris (whose film “The Fog of War” prominently featured McNamara) had some interesting insights here (and believe me, there were no liberals in this bunch)…
Mr. McNamara became defense secretary in 1961. The Joint Chiefs were hawks. This is clear in reading the transcripts of the Cuban missile crisis; the generals speak to John F. Kennedy with derision, contempt and anger. When Mr. McNamara took office he discovered secret Pentagon plans for a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union.
He worried that the Joint Chiefs wanted nuclear war, and he was determined not to allow that to happen. From ’63 to about ’67, we had first-strike capacity and nuclear superiority against the Soviet Union. (In the words of George C. Scott in “Dr. Strangelove,” I’m not saying we wouldn’t have got our “hair mussed.” But we would have destroyed them.) After Kennedy’s death, he served that central role of keeping the Joint Chiefs in check. If true, he becomes not the villain of American history, but something quite different.
And what about the escalation of the Vietnam War? Recently, the taped conversations between President Lyndon Johnson and his advisers have been made public. Listening to the president and Mr. McNamara, it appears that the pressure for escalation did not come from Mr. McNamara, but from Johnson. Mr. McNamara was not an enthusiast for this war. But charged with the responsibility for carrying it out, he argued for it.
And after Johnson’s term ended and Richard Nixon’s began, we saw “Tricky Dick” and Henry Kissinger, then his assistant for National Security Affairs, concoct their scheme to secretly bomb Cambodia; Nixon told the country during the 1968 election that he planned to bring “peace with honor” to Vietnam, though in fact this tactic ended up extending the war for seven more years, and it also led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge in that country – the genocidal slaughter was documented in “The Killing Fields.”
So basically, you cannot assign blame or praise for our experience in Vietnam and Southeast Asia to any one political party or ideology; there is blame enough to go around.
Often I find myself laughing at the bald-faced partisanship of the Journal’s editorials. On this occasion, however, I find myself cringing in abject disgust over their twisted interpretation of not just one war in Vietnam, but the second one in Iraq, from which we are still trying to extricate ourselves due to the willful, stupid intransigence of another president from Texas.