Sunday, April 24, 2005

In Retrospect

Flicked through the cable channels tonight and came across Robert S. McNamara, former Secretary of Defense (1961-69). He was on a C-Span 3 program called "Lessons of Vietnam" filmed at and hosted by Harvard's JFK School of Government. Fascinating stuff - it included clips from the 2003 documentary "The Fog of War" and a discussion of McNamara's 1995 book, "In Retrospect."

The most intriguing part regarding our Vietnam policy involved a 1967 memo by then-CIA Director Richard Helms. Helms had requested an analysis of the impact on US national security if the US pulled its troops lock, stock and barrel out of Vietnam. The answer: negligible. Given that our stated rationale for being in Vietnam was due to the Domino Theory (if South Vietnam goes Communist, then goes Laos, then Cambodia, then maybe Japan...), this analysis is shocking to say the least. It's no surprise this memo took so long to be declassified.

A major theme in the brief time I watched: empathy. McNamara explained that The Cuban Missile Crisis was largely averted by the actions of one man: Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson. Thompson was an Ambassador-at-Large in Washington at the time and had served one of two stints in USSR as the US Ambassador there. Based on his personal experience with Khrushchev, he strongly advised against massive retaliation against the Soviets and persuaded President Kennedy to respond to Khrushchev's "first" letter regarding Cuba. While the US had empathy for the USSR, there was no such advocate several years later for the Vietnamese.


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