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Robert S. McNamara was an American business executive and the eighth U.S. Secretary of Defense. He is best known for helping lead the U.S. into the Vietnam War.
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Former U.S. secretary of state, author, businessman. Born on June 9, 1916, in San Francisco, California. Robert S. McNamara is best known as the secretary of defense in the 1960s and as an important figure in the controversial Vietnam War. In 1937, he graduated with a degree in economics from the University of California in Berkeley. An excellent student, McNamara went to study at Harvard Business School where he earned his master's degree in 1939.
After a short stint on the West Coast, McNamara was back at Harvard as an assistant professor. He took a break from the university to help out his country during World War II. In 1943, McNamara entered the U.S. Army Air Corps, putting his sharp analytical skills and talent for statistics to work on military situations. Not long after the war, he and nine other members from the army's statistical control group went to work for Henry Ford II at the Ford Motor Company.
Ford hired this group of bright young men—sometimes referred to as "Whiz Kids"—to help reinvigorate his family's company, which was going through difficult times. Over the years, McNamara promoted numerous times and advocated for such changes as making small cars and increasing safety. He also became known as a gifted, innovative manager with strong organizational abilities. In 1960, McNamara became the first non-Ford family member to hold the position of president. He did not stay in the job for long, however. President John F. Kennedy tapped him to become his secretary of defense, looking to him to reorganize the country's defense program. McNamara officially took over the post in January 1961.
Set on improving how the Pentagon operated, McNamara helped establish planning and budgeting systems. To revitalize the military, he emphasized the need for traditional troops and military hardware as well as improved weapons systems. The country had to be prepared for conventional and unconventional warfare, including guerilla warfare.
As secretary of defense, McNamara faced many challenges, including 1962's Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the country to brink of war with the Soviet Union. But perhaps his most complicated crisis was the conflict in Vietnam. During the Kennedy administration, he supported increasing the number of U.S. military advisers in Vietnam.
Later, during the Johnson administration, McNamara backed the escalation of U.S. involvement after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, during which U.S. ships were allegedly attacked by the communist North Vietnamese. President Johnson retaliated with air strikes against the northern targets.
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