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Another one bites the dust

By Owen Paine on Tuesday July 7, 2009 09:28 PM

It was almost a royal command that Alex C harrow ole Bob McNamara one more time, and his envoi to the newly-dead monster has AC's characteristic Juvenalian brio:

Robert McNamara, who died yesterday, 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 round the world.
But to my ear, the master seems to have ever so slightly missed his opportunity to soar.

The one missing bit of Bobby Mac I expected from Alex -- too exculpatory? -- was Mac quoting -- with a grim agreement -- his then boss Curtis Lemay, after firebombing all of urban Japan in the first half of '45: "if we'd'a lost we'd be the war criminals, eh boys?"

Here's Alex again:

"When McNamara looked back down memory lane there were no real shadows, just the sunlight of moral self-satisfaction"
I dunno, AC. There are shadows -- he sees shadows, each one big as Banquo, but he faces them with an honest incomprehension. Because Mr Mac is precisely, as AC himself sez, no ogre but rather "a perfectly nice, well-spoken war criminal."

Because he was perfectly nice he hardly felt an inner need to "cower in the shadow of baroque monsters like LeMay or LBJ", as Alex suggests. Nope, Bob faces his judgement day alone and unafraid, naked before history. He worked with the tools the system gave him.

Unfortunately I suspect Clio has her own set of tools -- tools with which she'll carve him up in bite sized pieces -- but putting that righteous phantasm aside, Alex accurately observes that

"McNamara never offered any reflection on the social system that produced and promoted him"
Of course not. "The system" after all found ways to reward his brains, and provoked his slakeless ambition over many years, and carried him up to the heights.

Now rangers, I dare you to be totally honest with yourselves: who among us could resist the promise of such a trajectory? Only a spirit far far better than I.

The lesson in his life -- a life he reflected on in his long goodbye years with so much thought and so little emotional intuition -- seems simple enough to me :

We are a gregarious groupy-prone species. A guy like Super Mac you won't find in a Dostoyevsky yarn. He's an organization man. A system able to build him can harness his crystal clock of a soul to any one of a zillion "whatever gets it done" missions -- harness him and ride him and ride him hard -- ride him, if they have the whim, like a carnival mule.

Was it really McNamara's war? Bob is no more sublimely right to be the totemic gargoyle of 'Nam than any other straight-A boy that grew up to do bad things for this globe's reigning cyclops.

Comments (14)


I agree with you -- I never could work up any real animus against McNamara. He never seemed human enough to be a suitable target.

Of course I'm glad he's dead, even so, and sorry it didn't happen sooner. And if anybody ever deserved to burn in Hell, he does. But as you say -- I imagine him in the lake of boiling pitch, looking faintly puzzled, and Beelzebub complaining about the poor quality of damnee they're shipping these days.

Son of Uncle Sam:

DOCUMENTARY-"The Fog of War"- is most of what I know about this guy- If say, I was recruited in high school for corporate america by test(FORD Mo Right), then asked to help the government(imparticular -the president that was a war hero, and visionist and banging the hottest piece of ass of the week every week, and wanted to go the moon and everything else he's been put in Tom and Jerry's Camelot for for christs sake) stop the spread of communism.... I'd think nothing of murdering 3.4 million in my 30's back in the 1960's. As long as it was 15 dollars a head (I believe that's how he may of been groomed and probably wasn't that in touch w/ reality). And from what I undestand it was only 2,000,000 VC, so lets not get too far past $30,000,000 plus 12% of salary at 8 to 11% annually. Warren Buffet was worth $35,000,000 by then easy making 27%. I mean a guys gotta make a living doing something he's good at, right?
Now if you say he worked for LBJ (who's a bastard for beating Nelson Alrich and I believe did feel like a failure for his part) well patriotism is a powerful thing....easily manipulated and misguided, like all beliefs).


Better he should never have lived at all.

Wow. I'm guess I'm just not feeling by SMBIVies this week. I know a great many individuals who would never contemplate doing the shit RM did, and would never sleep again after having done 1/100th of it. I've never had the pleasure of meeting OP-san, but I'd wager heavily he himself is among those who couldn't and wouldn't have stepped across all of Mac's Styxes.

I'd like to have been a fly on Mac's wall. I doubt somebody as smart as he was really as Howdy-Doody honest as he played it. I smell a very big rat there.

In any event, another occasion where being religious, if anybody really is (which I doubt), would be nice. The reality of Hell for Mac would be a nice thing to believe.


Voltaire once observed that no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible. Unfortunately for Mickey Death, he grew into much too large a flake to go unnoticed.


It's nice that SMBIVAers, in their great understanding and worldliness, can recognize the man as merely part of a system that produced him, but we are dealing here with a major monster, on the order of a Himmler. Being an opportunist, a willing participant, a public defender of a policy, does not lessen the crime of involvement. JFK may have launched it, and LBJ rode it, he thought, to his personal advantage, but Mac actually got down in the trenches, with the spreadsheets and the generals, and savored the daily thrill of it.

And, let's not kid ourselves that he is currently suffering some exquisite Dantean punishment in the afterlife. He should have suffered in life, with some hideous disfiguring disease -- and had the balls to commit suicide, like his Nazi forebears.


"we are dealing here with a major monster, on the order of a Himmler"


you are conflating effect parallels
with cause parallels and means parallels
mass murderer yes
exterminator no
if u can't seperate mc from himmler
you're a nihilist misanthrope an NM
for which i solute u
i love NM's


"I know a great many individuals who would never contemplate doing the shit RM did, and would never sleep again after having done 1/100th of it"

as nick carraway's dad used to say
they haven't had all the advantages Mc had

brains energy focus a need for elite approval
straight arrow
not the proto-boho megalomaniacs
that make good brown shirts
and bible bashers

mass murder
driven by hate ???


mass muder
driven by a craving for high achievement
and duty to the prince ?


now what troubles U more ??


as an atheist materialist
'this ain't no probationary tour'
type of hair pin
i really have no concious scrupulous
desire to feed my inner demonizer

verely i can
say unto u

love the class enemy

call me
owen karl-jesus paine :

self made
second best answer man
for the roll by
of class cloven ages

"as nick carraway's dad used to say
they haven't had all the advantages Mc had"

I wasn't aware that Mc's background was all that elite. Daddy was a shoe trader, mom a nobody...right?

I'm not trying to get all hangman here. I just find it disgusting that a supposedly kind and intelligent man who admits to thinking the Vietnam mega-slaughter was a "terrible wrong" even while managing it never finished the Logic 101 train of thought that takes such a personage to a real apology.

Two words about a Berkeley brother of similar vintage: "Chalmers Johnson."

Son of Uncle Sam:

mass muder
driven by a craving for high achievement
and duty to the prince ?

Wish I just wrote that, it's what I was shooting for. He probably used a lot of military terms at family dinner.
"My mouths watering for this chicken like I fall under Directive 5120.36 !"
"Last bite!! I'll fly it in like Operation Peirce Arrow....the gulf of Tonkin has been resoluted!!! whats for sweets Margie!!"

A Willy Sherman fan?


i submit
RM had the privilege of being the class brain
the prize winner
the teachers pet
elite by merit not connections
endowed by genes not trust fund

bill bradley
--a not so bright but thoughtful oaf--
put it squarely enough i think
apropos vietnam .. empire inc blah blah blah

"with my upbringing my generation
my seeming success
a guys not likely to develop
what you might call...
the habit of bucking authority"

bite the hand that feeds you
blue ribbon prizes ????

hey i'm sure it happens
the combo of soul spirit time place

but i love chalmers
precisely because he only
went off the reservation
AFTER his career had gone over the crest of the hill

freed of the toils of tenure
and faculty jockeying

chuck has this wonderful rebirth

but feature this
in a pick up game
i'd want RM on my team

i look at him across class struggle lines
and think we could use one of him
in the politbureau
no zhou of course but who is after all...


i suspect RM was more a fan of mr peabobdy then of his boy sherman ....

what ??

ohhhh that sherman !!!!

why he had red hair son


wars not hell ...its purgatory


"Two words about a Berkeley brother of similar vintage: "Chalmers Johnson."" (MD)

MD - not sure I understand you. I consider CJ one of the heroes, precisely for changing from a war supporter to an articulate opponent of the whole system.

Were you by chance in Bzerkley when Johnson debated Franz Shurman on the subject?

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