Controversial US defence chief in Vietnam war dies at 93

David Henry Frankfurt

July 7, 2009

Robert Strange McNamaraROBERT McNamara, the former US defence secretary who sent 500,000 troops to Vietnam and later called American involvement in the war a “major error”, has died. He was 93.

He died in his sleep early yesterday at his home in Washington, The Washington Post reported.

After seven years in the job, McNamara became the longest- serving US defence secretary. He then spent 13 years as president of the World Bank, whose development budget he increased sixfold to fight poverty and disease.

McNamara was the only member of president John Kennedy’s cabinet to be plucked directly from the ranks of corporate America, after serving five weeks as president of Ford.

At the Pentagon, the former “whiz kid” air force officer with an affinity for numbers and details played a pivotal role in crafting military strategies that shaped America’s political scene for much of the 1960s and beyond.

He later acknowledged, in his books and interviews, that US defence policies on Vietnam and adjacent countries were probably rooted in a misunderstanding of South-East Asia’s history. Many critics of the Vietnam War still derided McNamara’s turnaround and remained sceptical of his views.

Recognisable for his slicked- back hairstyle and wire-rimmed eyeglasses, McNamara eventually became disillusioned with the Vietnam conflict, finding himself at loggerheads with the commanders of a war that killed 58,000 US soldiers and more than 3 million Vietnamese.

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