so what comes to mind is an extraordinary individual capable of great good and -- and who created -- helped create the vietnam tragedy. it's a very interesting pairing of success and failure in this man. c-span: why did you want to do this? >> guest: oh, i don't know. i had done a lot of defense writing as a reporter for science magazine and as a free-lance writer. and i had done a lot of reporting on arms control. and i came at it, in a sense, through the mathematics analytic side. i also came very much to realize that my whole generation, the baby boomer generation, really were affected and scarred by vietnam. there are 8.2 million people who served in the armed forces between 1961 and 1975, and all
of those people have had some contact and some impact from the vietnam tragedy in our experience. so actually, although i may have started out of professional interest and rather intellectual interest, as i went on, i got very pulled in by the need to try to understand this terrible riddle in our past. even bill clinton, of course, has been -- talked about vietnam. and bill clinton's, i think, a year younger than i am. so in a sense, i got drawn in on generational grounds. c-span: i was reading the commerce magazine the other day, and there was a column in there, it said that les aspen was walking around with this book tucked under his arm. the first question i had is: how do they know that? but did you know that, and why would he have this under his arm? >> guest: well, les aspen worked in the defense department as a whiz kid for mcnamara actually working in the army between '66 and '68, i believe. and he came into the defense problem question -- the great questions of national defense, through this same analytic route.
you have to remember that mcnamara stood for a quintessentially rational approach to our defense policy, and he maintained that through analytic techniques he was going to find the objective answers. what size force is best? how much is enough? what is right for the nuclear forces? and like aspen, felt -- feel inspired by this idea that maybe we can have government that's a- that -- that everybody agrees that there's certain problems that can be solved rationally. kennedy even said something like this, and i quote him in the book. even kennedy said, you know, "some problems are so complicated, we have to allow for experts to work on them and wait until they tell us what the answer is." it sounds awfully naive now, but les, i think, is out of this school -- strong secretary of defense, civilians making policy, let's try to figure out what is -- what are the best answers. i'm sure that aspen, like all of
us, however, is sobered by the fact that it didn't work. and that gets back to the riddle of mcnamara. how could he be such a remarkable analytic mind, so intellectual, so curious and so wonderfully intentioned, and be associated with this tragedy? c-span: where is he today? >> guest: he is in washington, dc, when he's not in aspen, colorado, or other parts of the world, sitting on boards and writing articles. and he just had an op-ed page in the new york times on the nuclear question, advocating even lower levels of nuclear weapons. he's concerned about population and saving the planet. really offshoots from his positions taken as world bank president, which he left more than 10 years ago. c-span: have you talked to him since the book came out? >> guest: i have not talked to him. i've heard indirect things, obviously. i hope to talk to him and see where he stands and how he feels about it. c-span: what are you hearing indirectly? >> guest: well, i won't repeat what i hear indirectly. i don't think that's quite fair.
but as i said to him in a final meeting, you know, none of us sees ourselves the way our biographer would. i don't expect him to agree with this book, certainly not in its entirety. i've tried to be very fair. and evan thomas, in the washington post, said i was very fair to him, and others have said so, too. c-span: when was the first time you ever saw him and when was the first time you ever met him? >> guest: i only saw him when i first met him. i had not had any previous contact. and i think that was part of the early intellectual phase of this project. it was curiosity about the subject rather than a personal curiosity tweaked by meeting him around washington or meeting him somewhere else. c-span: what year? >> guest: oh, i think i met him in '84 or '85. c-span: when did you start working on the book? >> guest: that was when i started working. and i told him that i was going to do the book anyway, because there was such a vast public record that a public policy writer, such as myself, could
write a book even if he didn't cooperate. many people told me he would never cooperate because his record was so complicated. and so, in a sense, i flew into it out of a sense of daring because people said it was impossible to do -- jumping all those fields and getting into nuclear arms and systems analysis and international development and building motor cars. but that, of course, was part of the interest of doing a biography -- is that you can get involved in the subjects indirectly through a personality. c-span: how many different times did you sit and talk to him? >> guest: well, i think upwards of 20. certainly on the upwards of 20 -- probably, i think, 30. but i said more than 20 in the book because i knew i was going to go back for some more as i closed it out. and i didn't see the point in getting tied into any one number of interviews. c-span: why did he see you in the first place? >> guest: i don't know.
maybe because i was from mars as a science writer and as a public policy type with no previous acquaintanceship of him and well-referenced and clearly capable of doing a scholarly job. i think he would not have seen somebody who had had a track record of attacking him in the press or somebody whom he, in a sense, already knew. he might have been more wary. but, in a sense, since i came to it cold and i also came to it saying, "i have an open mind on this whole vietnam thing," you know, "i don't buy thesis a or thesis b or thesis c." and i don't think a man like that can help but be interested in what someone from mars might decide in the -- and people like mcnamara are very interested in talking with people who are going to have an interest in them. kissinger, you know, didn't see
his biographer for a while and then got drawn in and gave him a number of interviews. so it's sort of the same curiosity, i think, that a public figure feels when they realize someone's on their trail and going to be interviewing all their old friends and reading all these documents. they sort of want to know. they want to get in on it and hear. and i like that part. mcnamara's very pleasant to deal with, very rigorous. he's actually a very good scholar for a guy who really had nothing to do with history and never wants to get into the past. he has one of mcnamara's traits, as you see in the book, is a deep involvement with the present. "let's march into the future. the past is behind." he's very american that way. and i tried in the sessions to educate him by bringing in documents. in one session -- i'll never forget -- i brought in several different books -- big books with footnotes with accounts of the berlin crisis and pointed out in my cover letter the way
all -- none of these accounts agreed but together they added up to a cruddy record. and he really got involved in this and he said, "look, this footnote doesn't agree with this sentence," and this and this. and he said, you know, "how can you call any of this history?" so i was trying to show him a process, and mcnamara's fascinated by process. c-span: i want to read you two things. in your acknowledgement, at the end of the book, you say, "he did not agree to speak on the record about his role in vietnam, about which he has maintained near complete silence." and then on the cover, arthur schlesinger says about your book, "at last robert mcnamara speaks out on vietnam ..." >> guest: yeah. oh, well... c-span: "...and clarifies and explains his role in that tragic episode." >> guest: yeah. c-span: which one's right? >> guest: his statements that he released in the book, he prefers to term "clarifications."
i tried to get him to release as much as he possibly would, and i think dr. schlesinger agrees that he's illuminating his role in the conflict through the quotes released. i think he doesn't want to say that he is now speaking on vietnam, because he's afraid people will come at him and ask him more. he's trying in a sense to have it both ways. i think he agreed with me that it was terribly important for him to speak to my generation and to start coming forward. i mean, time is short and -- and history is urgent at his back. and bill clinton was advancing towards the white house even as we finalized these quotes. but he's a very complicated man and he doesn't want to open himself up to barrages of questions and everybody after him about it. i think he's been attacked, he's been verbally insulted over it.
and he doesn't want to face it, i think, completely. c-span: you tell a story about jan scruggs. >> guest: yes. c-span: would you please repeat that? >> guest: well, this is the mcnamara ambivalence that i just was alluding to. jan scruggs took on all the lions in this town to try to get a vietnam veterans memorial organized. and at the time that jan scruggs was trying to get the building permits, trying to get congressional interest, support, he called major figures associated with the war. and this was even before the maya lin controversial design was agreed on. he called mcnamara at the world bank and said that he was organizing the vietnam memorial and he wanted to speak to mr. mcnamara about fund-raising. and mcnamara came on the line, was very friendly and very helpful, and said, "sure, i'll do everything i can." c-span: right.
>> guest: "drop me a letter and get back to me." or, "drop me a letter and i'll get back to you." scruggs sent off the letter right away and never heard another word from mcnamara. and i still don't know why mcnamara distanced himself from the war memorial effort, but it was really shocking and outrageous, in a way, in my opinion, to ignore those guys. they were being attacked by some fellow vietnam vets who thought that it was a bad idea. they were being attacked by members of congress. the buildings and monuments commission was giving them a hard time. and the whole monument project was bringing up terrible, bitter divisions, just as the war did. and mcnamara, in a sense, has failed as a leader, tremendously, by being unable to articulate where he's at to those people. and this was a prime example. c-span: did he ever go to the monument? >> guest: he apparently has been privately. that's all i know. he certainly, to my knowledge,
has never been with anyone, let it be known that he's been there. even george bush walked there from time to time. but he's unwilling to really come to terms with it still. and the quotes i got from him, i had to really work to get. c-span: he was born where? >> guest: oakland, california. and just educated in the public schools there. came from very, very modest background. in the book, i stress the absence of money in the household and the extreme frugality and the optimizing and the shopping and the mathematical element of the housekeeping, which, of course, is true in many, many households. but i think it stamped him with this idea that he had to conserve money and be frugal; money was important. these are all american attitudes.
it's a classic american story. but it is also sends a message to a boy to make money because money is power; money will get you out of there; to be frugal; allocate resources; don't spend too much. and all of these things that came to be the mcnamara trademark at defense. he tried to fight the war with a certain amount of frugality, not giving the military everything they asked for. and that was an attitude stamped on him in childhood. c-span: where did he go to school? >> guest: he went to the oakland public schools and then to the piedmont high school and then to berkeley, california, graduating in 1937. so he was there during the depression. and he, like many of the great civil servants of our time, had been -- great public figures of our time -- was stamped by the depression and the -- and the political fears of the '30s with fascism in europe and japan rising in asia and the -- and fdr's leadership, which made a deep impression on mcnamara. i think fdr was one of his great heroes. c-span: did he serve in the
military? >> guest: he entered the army air forces in -- oh, i think '41, if not late 1940, and taught at the harvard business school where he was then a teacher. and they taught statistical control to help control the logistics and munitions for all of the air war which was being mounted in europe and africa and the pacific. so he had a very important role with tex thornton, who ran that statistical control effort and also went with him to ford motor company after the war. c-span: where did he meet his wife? >> guest: he met her in berkeley at the campus while they were both there. and then he fell in love with her later when he had returned home to work right after business school. and she was a charming and wonderful person who, in a sense, had all the qualities that he lacked. she had a lot of warmth, a lot
of ability to sense where people were at and a lot of ability to relate to them very quickly. and they were like two halves of one coin, their friends often say. c-span: you talk about her as kind of a thread throughout the entire book. how come? >> guest: because her influence on him, i think, as a balancing factor was tremendous during his lifetime. and she died in 1981, and i think that was a very big blow. in fact, i quote a friend in the book as saying that her death is a bigger blow to him than vietnam because she was such a force for balance and stability and -- you know, he's a very, very driven person, and a lot of these people who get as far as he does they can't contain their ambition and aggression and drive. and, you know one thing about mcnamara, if he were here, he'd be in constant movement. he's very restless and when he gets impatient, he starts pulling his socks up. he was a hyperactive type, and
she calmed him down and had a very measuring effect on him. c-span: his kids -- how many? >> guest: three. the girls both born during the wartime years. and the son -- the only son -- born, i think, in '51. and they were important and they were quite a unified family, i think, during the ford years in michigan after the war for about 14 years. but as i say in chapter five, the move to washington started to separate the family from itself in the sense that daddy became very important and was not available. the wife began devoting much attention to him to support his needs. and then she had to keep looking after the children, who turned out, several of them, to have a lot of difficulties, particularly the boy. and i quote a scene in which the
boy remembers that because he had reading difficulties, his mom would sit with him every night -- he was at sidwell friends school -- and try to help him to read until they would both cry. and to be a washington wife and meet all those obligations and spend hours with a child trying to help him with his reading year after year, it's really a remarkable thing that she did. c-span: what's his relationship with his son today? there was some rough times that you write about. >> guest: well, he ran away. craig mcnamara is a very personable boy, had difficulty at st. paul's boarding school. did get involved with a psychiatrist to help his problems. and then he got to stanford and began a serious anti-war career with professor bruce franklin, whom some of the viewers may remember, was a leading anti-war person. and i think professor franklin
had a lot of influence on craig. and i say in the book -- i quote one of the children's friends as saying that it was like being a "child of sphere" in that craig's group were really violently anti-war and to be the son of the perpetrator of the war was a very, very sort of schizophrenic position to be in. and to the extent he already had identity problems, they were very aggravated. and i have the story that he told me he called his dad's office at the secretary of defense's office and asked for information to explain the war because he was sure his father wouldn't be involved with anything bad like that, and the office never sent the information that would "explain" vietnam to craig. and that was part of his odyssey towards turning against the war.
he ran away. he ran away to south america, easter island. when his mother visited him in easter island, she didn't know he'd ever come back. and he did come back, and there's been a slow reconciliation. c-span: where is he today and do they talk? >> guest: they talk. and i think they're really on the best terms they ever have been. the mother... c-span: did you talk to craig? >> guest: at length, yes. and he's a wonderful person and very articulate. they've co-invested in a walnut farm out there and the father is an investor and the boy has invested in it, and he's trying to make money off of farming walnuts. but isn't that a generational story there where there's a return to the land after this tremendous spurt of father rising out of near poverty and being one of the highest paid executives in the world at ford. c-span: when you talked to him, meaning former secretary mcnamara, for this book, where did you talk to him? >> guest: at his office, usually at 4 p.m., very formal, very controlled.
mcnamara compartmentalizes his relationships with people. and if he knew you, he might remember you as the man who interviewed him about his book. he would then always look at you and think, "book interview." i know one person who lost an enormous amount of weight and the only person in his life that never mentioned it was bob mcnamara, who thought of this man in the functional role and never even made the observation about the change in the person's appearance. so mcnamara, i think, wanted to keep me compartmentalized as this person who brought in documents and interviewed him and was going to write the book. and that was fine. c-span: did he ever get more friendly as the 20 interviews went on? >> guest: well, he was friendly all along because we actually found we could communicate quite well. i like being careful about what the record shows. i was trying to be careful about what inferences i needed to know about his motivations and why he
did things. and he's so complicated and non-obvious in the way that he went about things, that if he hadn't explained things -- a great deal of what's in this book is told, to some extent, from his point of view because if you're writing somebody's biography, you have to get in their skin. you have to imagine that you're them. now i don't i think i have that much in common with him, but if you hear somebody talk about themselves at enough length, you can then start interpolating the motives beyond what even literally they've told you. and it was a great help because he -- i would get into situations where i had evidence and i didn't know what the answer was and then i would have to say, 'well, now how would he respond to this? how was it most likely he looked at this?" and with any luck, i'd run in and ask him. but after a while you get a feeling for somebody, for the way that they're responding to a situation, and so i felt i could proceed with greater confidence because of the sessions, even if they were formal.
c-span: how long was he at ford motor? >> guest: fourteen years. c-span: how long was he president? >> guest: only a few months. from november -- the first week in november through the formal termination of his employment, which was january 20th, 1961. so that was a little over two months. c-span: how long was he secretary of defense? >> guest: seven years. c-span: how long was he at the world bank? >> guest: thirteen years. c-span: and what has he been doing since the world bank experience? and that year that he left there was what? >> guest: '81. c-span: what's he been doing the last 12 years? >> guest: well, he has an office in care of the corning company because he's on their board. and he writes speeches and gives them. he's campaigned very hard against reagan's nuclear buildup and against the star wars plan. he's working -- worked when the nato deployments. he's worked on a lot of nuclear issues. he's avoided vietnam like the plague. and then more recently into population questions and he's given a major speech on population as well as going to
south africa actually. he's advising the south africans about how to grow more democratic. so he's become a citizen of the planet, you know, zinging around -- on and off airplanes, compulsive travel. i compare him to the flying dutchman because the flying dutchman dared nature in the legend and was cursed by god for having tried to sail around the cape of good hope against the storm and was cursed to sail forever because he had been too bold. and there's a lot of hubris in mcnamara. and in a way all of this global travel has such a restless air, as though there's no place he can come to rest because he's still so controversial in his own country. i won't say he doesn't have a home in the united states, because he's very well-respected by people in the arms control community and the international banking community. but, in a sense, he doesn't have a home, i think, until he comes to terms with us.
c-span: you say that during the interviews he often would tear up. >> guest: well, i mean, bob mcnamara is a very emotional man. that's what's so interesting about the story and the biography, is that even in the early '60s when he was projecting this image of being a human computer and talking in numbers, rat-ta-tat-tat-tat, staccato, all this i demonstrate in chapter five and six and seven how -- and 12 how emotionally driven he was, whether having first analyzed the facts and coming to an analytic solution as his ideology said, or sometimes in advance of it. the tfx was a wonderful case of that. he wanted a common plane; give me a common plane and don't tell me it can't be done. c-span: you're talking about the f-111. >> guest: what is now the f-111. so the teariness today, i think, is age, not having margie
around, but it was always there. the emotions were always there. c-span: why did you write about his relationship with joan braden and what is it? >> guest: well, bob mcnamara's been seeing joan braden mainly, i think, on their international travels. she travels with him a good deal. and as far as i know, that's still the case. but it picked up in sort of '82, roughly a year after his wife died. c-span: and who is joan braden? >> guest: she is a journalist and has worked in public relations and other jobs. she had a job years ago for nelson rockefeller. she was a friend of the kennedys and one of the original people in the camelot circle and the wife of columnist tom braden. and so bob... c-span: they're still married? >> guest: they're still married, and neither of them disavow the relationship. there's a triangle there. there's bob mcnamara traveling with mrs. braden in their friendship, and there's no
divorce in the braden household. they still live together and she professes to be in love with both of them, so this is apparently a solution to bob mcnamara's need for companionship. c-span: you write in your epilogue on page 606, "most of the lessons drawn from mcnamara's life have been negative: the management by numbers ruined america's manufacturing know-how, that the banks' lending left poorest countries with crippling debt, that the deceits and subterfuges of vietnam disillusioned a generation with government." you want to amplify on that, and is it all negative? >> guest: i think the book shows how much of it is positive. and i think the next sentence goes on to discuss that there are much positive there. c-span: well, the next sentence says "david halberstam had called mcnamara a dangerous
figure..." >> guest: oh, ok. well, then it goes on, yeah. c-span: "...because his special skill to fool people, to seem better than his official acts." >> guest: right. c-span: "whereas the real mcnamara is someone who says one thing in public ..." >> guest: yeah. c-span: "and always follows the mandate of his superior ..." >> guest: which i then dispute. i dispute the halberstam accusation subsequently. most of the lessons are negative. i think the book shows the positive legacy on nuclear weapons, which he did a great deal with it to build up our stockpile, but it did a great deal to control and stabilize. i think the book also shows a tremendous positive legacy in defense management. and also at the world bank where the green revolution was spurred by mcnamara. most of the lessons drawn that are negative is in the american context. people don't like what he did on those counts and with some reason. c-span: let me read this line you wrote. "he is a pivotal figure in the weakening and decline of america, despite the many virtues of the american century he embodies."
>> guest: well, you know, i wouldn't have had to write it, except that vietnam itself was so pivotal. had any of his mistakes been on a lesser scale -- for example, there were -- as i say in my later chapters, there were problems at the world bank and in a sense there were failures lurking which he was embarking on. they never came up to hit him the way vietnam did. vietnam is almost, in my opinion, unique. and it's a watershed event. it's like world war i for great britain. and it's unique in the case of our country. and so i had to write that sentence that way because vietnam did weaken us, both our morale, our economy, our civic spirit, our trust of public institutions. and the need for that assessment is driven by the scope of that particular tragedy. i believe it's in the prologue -- that many who have done far
less have been treated kindly by history. and that's very, very true. c-span: you also write, "finally, mcnamara says here for the first time publicly" -- meaning in this book -- "that he and kennedy planned to withdraw all us advisers by the end of 1965." that's if he got re-elected. >> guest: yes, that's correct. c-span: "even if the south vietnamese were going to be defeated," he says, "i know for a fact that john kennedy would have withdrawn from vietnam." >> guest: yes. c-span: as you know, everybody debates this issue. do you believe him? >> guest: i don't believe him until he comes up with evidence. so i say i don't believe him because he hasn't produced any hard proof. as i say at the end of chapter 13 and explain in the earlier vietnam sections, he was the architect of a plan to get the advisers out over a phased period that they announced october 1st, 1963. all of the paperwork for pulling
out the advisers -- and, again, it would take place presumably with kennedy's successful re-election -- was based on military success. and robert mcnamara, like john kennedy, left a public record of announcements of success and claims that we could leave because we were going to be successful. there was even a qualifier in that announcement that said that if we weren't successful maybe we wouldn't. and he leaned on that later when the troop buildup occurred. now what he is saying for the first time in quotes that he released to me is that what he and kennedy really intended was to pull out "even if the south vietnamese were to be defeated." those were in quotes in the manuscript in chapter 13 and repeated there at the end of the book. of course, a lot of kennedy advisers claim this, too, because -- ex-kennedy advisers. i think -- as i say in the book, i think they want to believe john kennedy would have handled this thing more wisely than lyndon johnson did.
i think it's very subjective, and we really need something hard. so at the moment i don't believe him. c-span: back in those years, what were you doing? >> guest: i was attending radcliffe college and graduated in '67. and it was the fall of my senior year that mcnamara was attacked as he was leaving quincy house and had to get up on the car and shout -- do you remember that, brian? -- and he had to get up on the car -- in fact, i think i have a picture of it, did i not, in the book. and, of course, that was one of the very first east coast protests. berkeley had already erupted -- berkeley being berkeley -- but in those days it was not done that students protested. i was not there. i was not an anti-war person at all. on the contrary of it, i was, i think, more patriotic and more willing to hear the case for fighting than many of my harvard colleagues.
but that little demonstration made a great impact at the time. and re-reading the old issues of the harvard crimson, i saw that the students were required by the dean to apologize to mr. mcnamara the next day. so that just shows you that the fall of 1966 was sort of the beginning of a cusp, which really -- the '60s, as in the anti-war sense, really didn't erupt until '67, '68. it sort of started in '66 and after that i worked for the quincy patriot ledger as a reporter and for the... c-span: talking about quincy. >> guest: quincy, mass. c-span: quincy, massachusetts. quincy. >> guest: quincy, you have to say. is that where you're from? c-span: no, no, i'm from the midwest. >> guest: you don't sound like you're from quincy. and then for the mit technology review. so i went straight from college into journalism and covered the anti-war movement, actually, up there in cambridge. and i felt very well-placed as a journalist. i felt no temptation to demonstrate. i was not where bill clinton was at. i was worried about my country and i was worried about government. but i was not even doing what
bill clinton was doing. i was sitting there puzzling about it, and when the whole clinton service thing story broke as i was closing out my book, i realized that i'm quite sure i would have served. and if i had served, i would have tried to figure out how to go. of course, being a girl, it was a non-issue. c-span: where were you born? >> guest: washington, dc, in doctors hospital in 1945. c-span: and what did your parents do? >> guest: my father was associate deputy administrator of nasa involved with the apollo program and involved with the budget bureau and actually was there in the room when mcnamara learned kennedy was shot, because the budget bureau was reviewing the defense budget over in mcnamara's office. and many people in my... c-span: is that the source of your... >> guest: one of several -- mac bundy and -- and roz gilpatrick -- there are many accounts that all converge there in chapter 14. but i think you'll see daddy
listed in the footnote as one of the sources. no, i mean, many people in my family are scientists and as i told you, i come at this from a lot of intellectual distance. and i got drawn in. and i'll tell you something else about where i came. i told you that during the campaign, the clinton letter to the arkansas guy made me rethink where -- what i would have done. and i feel very clear that i would have served. no question. i certainly would not have gone into the anti-war camp. i felt very comfortable as a journalist observing these things without have to take a position. but the story of mcnamara at the world bank is the story of a man deeply activist in wanting to help solve these crises and conundrums in third world countries. and he made a very good point in his speech during the '80s, when there was a big famine, a somalia-like situation. and he said, "you know, these
images of hunger are only a partial part of the story. we in international agencies have got to slog year in and year out, famine or no famine, to try to solve the issues to help these societies to learn to live with themselves." and we see that in bosnia today and we see that in somalia.and i suddenly realized that what i was writing in the world bank chapters -- the four chapters in this biography devoted to this highly active individual with all this financial and technical means at his disposal -- is that of an activist who wants to intervene, who wants to play, who believes he can make these governments come together and solve their crises. and now clinton, of course, is saying the same sort of thing. so, in a sense, the moral became, "how would my generation now lead?" i started the book looking back at our past troubles.
and now i realized it's almost prescriptive for the future. here's how mcnamara, one of our role models, reacted to turmoil in the third world. now what do we do? c-span: when you look back to vietnam, do you point a finger at john kennedy or lyndon johnson or robert mcnamara and say... >> guest: they did it. c-span: ...we wouldn't have had this if they didn't do what they did? >> guest: the drift -- most people take the halberstam indictment as well the way the new york times interpreted the pentagon papers to mean that a group of bad guys with bad character caused it. and if we hadn't had those guys, we would have not had the tragedy. most recent scholarship -- and i think -- it's not for me to say, but would say my book supports this -- says the world view for intervening to stop communist china was so strong that almost anyone that you might have had
in high positions might have done the same thing. i do, however, fault mcnamara for lack of a political sense, as i say in chapter 15 and 16, because it really was up to the kennedy advisers to tell johnson, 'hey, maybe you really don't want to do this. kennedy's legacy does not require you to stay there.' and he didn't have the courage, he was not really a leader. i call that section of the book "the test" because he was being tested in terms of his own political judgment, and he failed. c-span: did lyndon johnson fire robert mcnamara? >> guest: yes, in effect. c-span: why? >> guest: because robert mcnamara was becoming a liability, because he was becoming very emotional and very out of sync with the other advisers. in 1967, the johnson administration, you may remember, was dug in. it was the wagons were drawn. and waldross dow and dean rusk and lyndon johnson himself were shooting through the wagons out
-- at the indians out there, including the media and everybody else. so if you read the minutes of -- the tuesday lunch minutes of the tuesday lunches, some of which i've quoted here, you feel this sense of entrapment, which, of course, we know later white houses and leader -- presidents- became victim to -- to it, it's a white house syndrome. and mcnamara, meanwhile, was becoming progressively more open in his wish to stop the bombing. and on november 1st, 1967, as i say in chapter 19, he laid on the president a memorandum recommending a bombing halt, saying he thought it would lead to negotiations with the north and that that was the course to follow and recommending a whole bunch of things that were so far out of line with what the advisers' circle wanted, that johnson, at that moment, picked up the phone and told the executive directors of the world bank to start moving -- or the treasury to start move with mcnamara's move out into the world bank. so the world bank was, in a
sense, although not dumped, but laid on him -- not against his will. he was interested in it as a sort of possibility, but he went out of his way to create no record that he would -- wanted out, because if word that he wanted out were to get out, then the washington media would have a heyday, you know. "mcnamara seeks to leave office." would... c-span: you name ... >> guest: so they played a game with each other, and in chapter 19 i show johnson not telling mcnamara, not -- mcnamara not wanting to say anything open to johnson. i mean, as i say, two close men that were cheek by jowl day after day, month after month, year after year, unable to talk to each other about the major
and he had, in fact, many others had been encouraging of my scholarship effort. this is by no means his endorsement of my conclusions he was very glad that his friend bob was ready to speak out and finally able to come forward. and i think that was the right position for him to take. c-span: why won't he speak out and why won't he write a memoir, meaning robert mcnamara, not arthur schlesinger? >> guest: yes. well, as i said at the beginning of our session, brian, my reading is that robert mcnamara is still running from it. i also think that it's quite convenient to keep talking about population and nuclear weapons and other issues where he is quite well-respected and doesn't have the same kind of tomahawks out there waiting for him. whereas if he were to talk about vietnam, there is a tremendous
amount of personal flak that he would take. i think that's something he should do and i've told him that over and over. and that was one reason i got to the point of releasing these quotes. and one of the most important things that he says i don't even know if he understands how important it is -- is that in my book in chapter 17 and again in chapter 19, he says why it was useful for them to go on fighting even if he knew it was militarily unwinnable. that's a point, brian, that we should dwell on for one minute, if we could. many of those veterans of that era despised mcnamara for having said in the westmoreland trial in 1984, and also earlier when the pentagon papers were published for urging them to fight a war that he knew was militarily unwinnable. if he had this great insight, why did he go on in public telling us to fight?
and why did he make all these upbeat statements? now what i show in chapters 17 and 19 was that he was playing a kind of semantic game with his public statements in the later war years. he was saying, "the chiefs and general westmoreland think we're winning and the military picture looks good according to all military professionals." he kept using language like that. the fine print is, he wasn't saying he said that. now, you know, this is like a hall of mirrors here. now what he says in my book is, "i wanted them to fight on in the field because the professionals thought we were getting somewhere. i wanted to put pressure on hanoi by causing all this loss to their side to get them to come to negotiate on the political track." he kept saying, "we had two tracks." and he's absolutely right. he was pushing much harder than any other high official in the administration to get negotiations. he wanted to stop the bombing.
he had all these radical positions. so in a sense what i show in chapters 17 and 19 is that he had a position which he doesn't defend but he does explain, which was why it was useful to fight in order to put pressure on the enemy so that we could get a settlement soon. and i believe, as i say in the epilogue, that one reason he carries around so much guilt about this is that he still thinks he could have brought it off and he regrets not having contained the war before johnson eased him out in november of 1967. well, you know, this is not an undiscussable position. i mean, he's a very articulate man. if he wanted to give a speech about this and really explain it in-depth instead of viewing it only through me, he could come forward. and it angers me that he doesn't. i hope he will. i hope he will maybe look at my book as a stepping stone towards being able to come to terms with
this thing. because it wasn't wicked or horrible on his part. it was the finagling of a high official who thinks he can pull the levers and make it all work out and get hanoi to negotiate. that may be defensible, it may be not, but it is an explanation that he owes us. c-span: did he or his pentagon lie to us during the time that he was there for those seven years? >> guest: oh, yeah. oh, yeah. there's no question about it. c-span: on purpose? >> guest: yeah. a lot of it, i think, is sort of tactical. i mean, the most obvious example that i give is in the most easily documentable example -- is when he said right away he found there was no missile gap and the reporters went out and printed this on a background not attributing it to him by name. then it came out that he had said it -- this was right when he took office in february of '61. and then when kennedy knew that it was mcnamara who had said there was no missile gap- kennedy, of course, had run on the platform that there was a missile gap -- he then started
saying he hadn't said it and there was a lot of backpedaling. and, yes, that's a lie because he had said something like that to the reporters. and, yes, it's politically convenient to deny it to avoid embarrassing the president. we've seen a lot worse since in other presidents, and at some point someone should look back and compare this with the later record. i think his critics would say that he and johnson set a new low in this regard and degraded the standards of office. kennedy also wasn't too truthful about certain aspects of vietnam. so, yes, i find that he lies. and he likes to maneuver his position on things, and sometimes seem one way to people and seem another way to other people. there's a lot of manipulation. but i don't think it's wicked. i think it's done out of passion, it's out of a will to make situations work out the way
he wants to make them work out. c-span: in the acknowledgement you've got a number of institutions. i just want to ask you what role they play in all this. >> guest: yeah. c-span: "particular thanks go to the center for strategic and international studies." >> guest: yes, yes. c-span: what's that? >> guest: that was at the time associated with georgetown university. it's a think tank down on 18th and k. and they gave me an office and with no -- as i say, there are no strings attached, no review over my project content or the manuscript. and they often house authors and scholars doing different things. c-span: do they have a point of view? >> guest: they have a point of view -- well, i don't know that they have any point- they have no point of view on this book. they never saw it before publication. and i certainly submitted to them not one wit of paper saying what it would say or what it wasn't saying. they gave me this office in the first two years of the project and many, many people will attest that i didn't know what this book was going to say at that time. i wasn't done digging into the research myself. c-span: who supports him and what kind of a view did -- when you say the center for strategic international studies, does it have a political slant to it?
>> guest: well, it's run by dave abshire, who was an appointee, i believe in the -- he was ambassador to nato in the reagan years, i believe. and abshire was at csis, went to the reagan appointment and then came back. and they have a lot of retired military people there. i don't think they have any real one point of view, but... c-span: alfred p. sloan foundation. >> guest: the sloan foundation sponsored the management side of mcnamara. they gave me a little -- a little bit of help with my early management work. alfred p. sloan, as you probably know, overhauled general motors, made a huge fortune. and as my book explains, when mcnamara and these young guys left the army air force, were looking for someplace to try their skills, they got to ford and they were going to make it over in the image of sloan and gm. so actually alfred sloan not only -- foundation supported the book, but his management is discussed directly in the -- he's like a character in this book. c-span: and what did they do for
you in this project? >> guest: they gave me a little financial support on two occasions. c-span: now do they have a point of view? >> guest: no. c-span: the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. >> guest: no, that is a program that has no point of view. it's a program for peace and security writing. and it gives grants to individual authors. and they are- they look for authors doing unusual things. and one of the things i will say about this from a biographical standpoint, scholars get quite upset sometimes with journalists doing biographies or doing these major books. and as you well know, there's this whole trend in publishing to have journalists and reporters taking on these great big subjects. bob woodward takes on the supreme court and so on. and one has to ask oneself why the academic community is not leaping into this void and why an academic, for example, would
not do a biography of mcnamara. the answer isi know from academics who have considered it and discussed it -- i think the quick answer is that our academic success tracks are so disciplinary, that a book about ford, nuclear vietnam, could cost some academic points because all these different disciplines would compete with each other or he'd be blurring his or her specialty. and i think it's really something brian, that you and your viewers should think about the proper contribution that our scholars should be making to all of this. i'm a scholar in the sense that i did -- my two earlier books were published by the isi press, which is a scholarly press in philadelphia, and the johns hopkins university press. and i have been through the whole fact-checking academic
procedure, and macarthur and sloan supported me because of my scholarly background. so i'm more scholarly than most journalists. and i tried to be very scholarly with my notes and fact checking here. but i really think that a lot of our university professors should be thinking about why it is that journalists are leaping in to do this. there's an obvious need for a book on mcnamara. macarthur -- this was a digression, because you asked me about macarthur -- that macarthur program gives grants to individual writers without an institutional affiliation even. and they prefer things that are cross-disciplinary and daring that the normal academic treadmill won't produce. c-span: what have people been telling you to your face on -- about this book as you travel about? >> guest: oddly enough, most of the interviewers on the shows are people who remember the era and say, "oh, bob mcnamara, we
remember him." there was one interviewer who said, "folks, go in the bookstore, look at these eyes from -- looking at you from the cover. don't you remember that focus and intensity?" and it was sort of neat because one doesn't have to spend half an hour explaining who mcnamara was. they've been telling me that it's an ambitious book and that they like it. c-span: anybody upset with you from, you know, the folks that were big john kennedy or lyndon johnson supporters? >> guest: oh, well, i get a little bit of feedback from people who were close to the kennedy crowd that -- whom i won't name, because it's a little diffuse in any event -- that this book is too harsh on mcnamara. and you read a sentence about him being a pivotal figure in the decline of the american century whose virtues he embodies. but i think that's inevitable
because i think people -- the group of people who knew kennedy and who were close to him have a tremendous fondness for each other and they've been through a lot of pain. and they've watched kennedy's reputation be torn to shreds in book after book after book. and i'm sure that in an ideal world they would love to see mcnamara totally rehabilitated. and i just can't do that with any credibility. c-span: which fact did you uncover in this book do you think is the most relevant for new information? >> guest: oh, i think at the risk of being obsessed with vietnam, i think that the most important revelation is mcnamara's development of his own position about why he stayed on and fought. if there was a valid military reason for continuing the fighting, that's something that many, many veterans need to know and their families.
c-span: what's next for you? >> guest: i don't know. i really would like to write something short and focused and -- that doesn't leap and bound. almost like an etude in music, i'd like to work on my skills, my narrative skills and find some short -- you can suggest one, brian. c-span: well, before we get -- i have no suggestions for you, except i want to read your dedication. "to the millions" -- longest dedication i've ever seen -- "to the millions who, like me, were born as world war ii ended and the cold war began and whose lives were changed by this one life." why such a long dedication? >> guest: well, i didn't know how else to say it. i felt -- that was written during the campaign, actually, and as clinton and gore were moving forward further and further. and all of a sudden my generation was under scrutiny and the question of what we had written what we had learned and what we would do and whether we were capable of being grown-ups. so i suddenly realized that my
interest -- that the appropriate way to cast my interest in the subject was generational. c-span: if there was one chapter you'd want the new government to read that you think would have the most positive impact, from what you've learned? >> guest: oh, wow. wow, that's hard to say. c-span: or one particular -- would it be the vietnam story? the world bank story? the ford motor story? >> guest: i almost think the bank story and the epilogue. i think they fit together as a story of a top-down manager trying to make everything happen. and it shows both the hubris and also the compassion and the capacity to do good, which is a big part of what mcnamara was all about. c-span: this book was written by deborah shapley and this is what the cover looks like.