Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Robert McNamara

Robert McNamara, who served as Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, will no doubt be remembered primarily for his role in the war in Vietnam. That will be neither fair nor accurate, for McNamara shared President Kennedy's opposition to sending combat troops to fight in South Vietnam and bombers to destroy North Vietnam. His doubts lingered through President Johnson's escalation of the war, and he ultimately asked to be relieved of his duties. As a longtime president of the World Bank and a board member of the Ford Foundation, he exercised the strong, compassionate leadership for which he should be remembered. He knew that his role in Vietnam had been misrepresented and misunderstood, and for the rest of his life he did all he could to help developing nations combat overpopulation and the poverty, misery and disease that result from it.

—Ted Sorensen

Sorensen was special counsel to John F. Kennedy and is the author of Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History