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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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Supporting the North Vietnamese was the Viet Cong, a militant communist group that opposed the U.S.-backed government in South Vietnam. Employing guerilla warfare tactics, the group began engaging in more military actions in 1965. In response, the United States advanced the conflict in Vietnam by the use of extensive bombing in the north and by deploying troops in the south.
Considered to be one of the major strategists behind the war,
McNamara was reviled by many in the peace movement. Some were also critical of the information he conveyed about the situation in Vietnam. McNamara visited Vietnam several times during his tenure as secretary of defense. And during a later visit, he reportedly began to develop reservations whether the United States would be able to secure a victory over the communists. In 1967, he ordered a study of the U.S. role in Indochina, which was later leaked to the press and published as The Pentagon Papers. The study covered from World War II to 1968 and contained many revelations about the extent of U.S. involvement in Vietnam during several administrations dating back to Harry S. Truman. One notable discovery was that Johnson had U.S. forces engage in covert warfare against the North Vietnamese in 1964.
By 1968, McNamara had become disillusioned about the Vietnam War. Looking to take his life in a new direction, he resigned his position. Clark M. Clifford took over as secretary of defense while McNamara focused on helping developing countries as the president of the World Bank. During his thirteen years with the bank, he oversaw the expansion of its lending capabilities as well as numerous projects in borrowing nations.
Since retiring in 1981, McNamara has remained active in many areas of public affairs, including world poverty and nuclear policy. He has written several books, most notably In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (1995). In it, McNamara said that he had sought to get the United States to withdraw from Vietnam beginning in 1966. According to the book, he was at odds with President Johnson over this issue. McNamara wrote that "I do not know to this day, whether I quit or was fired." Written with Brian VanDeMark, the controversial book was a bestseller. While some found the book to be genuine and touching, others thought it was simply a way for him to relieve some of his guilt over his role in the Vietnam War.
In 2003, McNamara was once again in the spotlight with the release of the critically acclaimed documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons of Robert S. McNamara. Most of the documentary featured interviews with McNamara, providing some rationale for actions taken in Vietnam as well as insight into their flaws.
The next year, McNamara started a new chapter in his personal life. He married Diana Masieri Byfield in September. This was his second marriage. Previously, he was married to wife Margaret from 1947 until her death in 1981. McNamara died in July 2009 from natural causes. He was 93 years old. He is survived by Byfield, as well as a son and two daughters from his first marriage.
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