BOOK REVIEW 97
swelling the ranks of the anti-war protesters. The fact of the matter, of course, is that the press was until a relatively late stage of the conflict a full-throated supporter of United States policy. And from the mid-1960s—well before the press assumed a critical posture—it was clear to some analysts that the military situation in Vietnam was intractable, the war very possibly unwinnable.
This is where another, apparently more plausible type of 'explanation* comes in. Those subscribing to it hold that America's intervention in Vietnam was a 'mistake', an aberration prompted by wrong decisions and lapses of judgement. This is the central thesis of Robert S. McNamara's recently published book. Nearly thirty years after he parted company with the Johnson Administration over its Vietnam policy, McNamata seeks to persuade us not that US intervention was wrong but that it was a costly 'error' motivated by the noblest of intentions.
As. Secretary of Defence to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Robert Strange McNamara was a key architect of America's Vietnam policy during the crucial years 1961-68—the period that saw US involvement in Indochina move beyond covert operations and training and logistical support for the Saigon military regime to the outright invasion of South Vietnam by the deployment of thousands of US ground troops. This period also saw the start of US bombing of North Vietnam, as also the even more intensive and deadly bombing and shelling of the South in a bid to destroy indigenous national liberation forces .and their popular base.
McNamara initially supported the deepening military involvement of the US in Vietnam. He became the government's chief spokesperson for the day-to-day operations of the war and acted as President Johnson's principal deputy in the war's prosecution. It is not surprising that for several years he was persona non grata on university campuses across the United States, that he was assailed as a 'baby.bumer', that, as he tells us in his new book, people he encountered in public places were known to spit in his face.
By 1966, however, McNamara had begun to question the wisdom of US military involvement in Vietnam. By 1967 he was openly seeking a way to launch peace talks. He initiated a 7000-page study of America's Vietnam policy since the Second World War, the secret study leaked to the press by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971 that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. And he came out in opposition to the continued bombing of North Vietnam.
In February 1968, McNamara left the Pentagon to become president of the World Bank, an institution he was to head for the next 13 years. During his time there, he displayed what was generally regarded as some measure of sensitivity to the development needs of Third World nations, providing strong support at the top for the Bank's 'basic needs' approach (now long since abandoned.) Since retiring from the Bank iA