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May he rest in darkness

by Alexander Cockburn

Robert McNamara, who died July 6, served as Kennedy’s, then as Johnson’s, defense secretary. He contributed more than most to the slaughter of 3.4 million Vietnamese (his own estimate). He went on to run the World Bank, where he presided over the impoverishment, eviction from their lands and death of many millions more around the world. McNamara tugged his forelock and said, “Aye, aye, sir,” when Kennedy, campaigning against Nixon in the late 1950s, attacked the Eisenhower/Nixon administration for having allowed a “missile gap” to develop that had now delivered America naked and helpless into the grip of the Soviet Union. This was the biggest lie in the history of threat inflation and remains so to this day. At the moment when Kennedy, McNamara at his elbow, was flaying the Eisenhower administration for the infamous “gap,” the US government from its spy planes saw that the

Soviet Union had precisely one missile silo with an untested missile in it. The Russians knew that the US knew this because they were fully primed about the U-2 spy-plane overflights. When President Kennedy and Defense Secretary McNamara took power in 1961, became privy to all intelligence from the spy flights, and announced that the US was going to build 1,000 ICBMs, the Russians concluded that the US planned to wipe out the Soviet Union and immediately began a missilebuilding program of their own. So McNamara played a crucial, enabling role in the arms race in nuclear missiles. Before the “missile gap” it has been a “bomber race.” It was entirely appropriate and logical that he began his services to the military working in Japan as a civilian analyst for Curt LeMay, the psychopathic Air Force general who ordered the raid that produced the Tokyo firestorm and who went on to become head of the Strategic Air Command.

LeMay was expert in guiding bright young systems analysts like McNamara into giving him the ex post facto intellectual rationales for enterprises on which he had long since set his mind. McNamara was an early member of the “defense intellectuals,” including Roberta and Albert Wohlstetter and Herman Kahn, who developed the whole argot of “controlled escalation,” “nuclear exchanges” and “mutual assured destruction” that kept the nuclear weapons plants, aerospace factories and nuclear labs at Los Alamos and Livermore and Oak Ridge humming along, decade after decade. He faded comfortably away. The last time we saw him vividly was in 2004 as the star of Morris’ wildly over-praised documentary The Fog of War, talking comfortably about the millions of people he’s helped to kill.

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