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8th Secretary of Defense of the United States, sworn in by John F. Kennedy, January 21, 1961

born June 9, 1916
San Francisco, California


Military Career

Career Track

  • 1939: Price Waterhouse
  • 1940: instructor, assistant professor of business administration, Harvard University
  • 1946: Ford Motor Company, manager of planning and financial analysis
  • 1957: director, Ford Motor Company
  • 1960: CEO, Ford Motor Company (the first CEO who was not a member of the Ford family)
  • 1961: Secretary of Defense
    During his term in office, the loftiest issues dealt with by McNamara were the global proliferation of nuclear weapons, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.

    With the world-wide proliferation of nuclear weapons to world powers, McNamara believed that the United States must maintain the "first strike capability". He also placed a heavy emphasis on deterrence (see Robert McNamara's Mutual Deterrence Speech). He felt the United States must make it clear to the enemy that it -- even if hit first with nuclear weapons -- could sufficiently retaliate and effectively destroy the enemy society.

    During the Cuban Missile Crisis, top military advisors urged Kennedy to engage in air strikes, hitting specific and exact targets within Cuba. Initially, McNamara agreed, however he came to the conclusion that no such actions could be as surgical as the military implied. "Once you've started a shooting war, there's little you can do to stop it."

    Similarly, McNamara was initially in favor of military action in Vietnam, forming the opinion during visits to Vietnam in 1962, 1964, and 1966 that the enemy would soon halt attempts to overthrow the US backed Vietnamese forces.

    By 1967, McNamara was openly looking for opportunities to cease fighting. His opposition to continued military action (summed up later in The Pentagon Papers), cost him respect and influence within the Johnson administration. Ultimately, this led to his resignation of the office, officially announced by Johnson on November 29, 1967, and officially ending his term on February 29, 1968.
  • 1968 - 1981: president of the World Bank Group of Institutions

Miscellaneous Honors

Books Authored

  • One Hundred Countries, Two Billion People
  • Out of the Cold
  • In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam ". . .we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why."
  • Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy

Of Interest

"has come nearer to being exactly what we planned a Secretary of Defense to be when we first wrote the Unification Act." -- Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson

A Simple Desultory Philippic:(Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd into Submission), by Simon and Garfunkel, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme

references: http://www.defenselink.mil, http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/McNamara/mcnamarabio.html, http://library.thinkquest.org/11046/people/r_mcnamara.html, http://www.britannica.com/
The most interesting point in ophie's resume of Robert S. McNamara, is his backround in business administration, and his tour at Ford, particularly as manager of planning and financial analysis.

I think it can be argued that his lasting gift to the government of the United States is the business administration approach to issues that of their very natural are not business, but political economy.

Regardless of his views after leaving office, his career before epitomizes all that is wrong with public administration. It is not business.

The application of business methods, by business people, who move back and forth between business and government, is what is meant by the term military-industrial complex, though it extends far beyond the military.

Notions of pure efficiency, generating profit, cutting those activities that don't, may make for a good bottom line but they do little to create an equitable country. This is the province of the public sector.

By 1967, ophie reports, McNamara was looking for ways to end what he had started. But the train was already moving too fast to stop. It is the way of business that must be changed. It is the way of thinking that must be changed.

The change of heart of one of the technicians of destruction is too little, too late--and only goes, maybe, to ease the conscience of this poor man.

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