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In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam Paperback – March 19, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0679767497 ISBN-10: 0679767495 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 518 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; 1st edition (March 19, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679767495
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679767497
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Former Secretary of Defense McNamara's controversial indictment of American policy in Vietnam was a PW bestseller for 12 weeks.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1967 under both presidents Kennedy and Johnson, has remained silent about U.S. policy toward Vietnam until now. This memoir reveals a decent, loyal, and able man who struggled to remain loyal to the president and yet to get the United States out of Vietnam. When McNamara left office, 15,979 Americans had been killed in Viet Nam; by the time the United States left Vietnam, the number stood at over 58,000. McNamara's recollections are put to rigorous testing by his junior author, VanDeMark, who checked them against the now-declassified written and taped records of the period. Publicly perceived as a "hawk," McNamara documents his attempts from 1966 on to find a way for the United States to exit from the war. The culmination of his effort is a May 19, 1967 memorandum to LBJ, calling for U.S. withdrawal. President Johnson never sent a reply. McNamara reveals that "I do not know to this day, whether I quit or was fired." At any rate, McNamara left the Pentagon to begin a successul ten-year term as president of the World Bank. In looking back, he holds that "we sought to do the right thing...but in my judgment hindsight proved us wrong." McNamara's unpretentious, genuine, and touching memoir should contribute further to healing the wounds of the Vietnam experience; it belongs in all public and academic libraries.?James Rhodes, Luther Coll., Decorah, Ia.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

This fact was omitted and revised in the book.
larry w. few
This book is well worth reading or listening too just to obtain McNamara's perspective of this turbulent period.
Paul Brooks
Mr McNamara does not explain why this was not done during his tenure as Secretary of Defense.
Joe Domhan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By S. J. Buck on May 17, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although the mention of Robert MacNamara's name is enough to inflame passionate responses on both ends of the spectrum, I felt the book was an honest attempt by MacNamara to deal with his mistakes and, to a lesser extent, the consequences of those mistakes. It's probably as honest a self-appraisal as we are likely to see from such a prominent figure of the period.
However, I suggest that one reads this in conjunction with H.R. McMaster's splendid "Dereliction of Duty" to gain a more balanced perspective on exactly where the Johnson and Kennedy administrations went wrong. One gains the impression that MacNamara still doesn't really understand why his noble intentions met such a sordid end - read McMaster's incisive analysis of the cynical machinations of Johnson, MacNamara, Taylor, et al and it will become clearer.
MacNamara is also disingenuous about the role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as his manipulation to remove the JCS from any major forum on the strategy of the war, despite their clear misgivings, makes him clearly culpable. McMaster's judgement on the JCS is also damning, but his analysis and conclusions are more sound, I think.
One of the few retrospective acounts by a major participant which isn't entirely self-serving and worth reading for that alone.
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Stefanie_Krueger@ewb.com on June 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
Almost 30 years after his departure from the Department of Defense, Robert McNamara has decided to share his views of what led to and furthered US involvement in Vietnam. McNamara makes a few points that are helpful in understanding the decision-making process used by McNamara and his fellow policymakers. For example, McNamara is quick to remind us that US involvement in Vietnam began long before the Kennedy presidency. He also carefully outlines the mindset in which he and others were working. This mindset involved an absolute misunderstanding of the Vietnamese people and an incredible fear of the spread of Communism. These, among others described, were very real errors committed by McNamara and other policymakers. They failed to consult experts concerning many issues surrounding US involvement in Vietnam. What McNamara does not address, however, is the countless deaths, injuries and emotional scars experienced on both the American and Vietnamese sides. The only death McNamara seems affected by is that of a protester that burned himself to death 40 feet beneath McNamara's Pentagon office window. McNamara is interested in accepting his share of the blame for poor policy making, but seems unable to come to terms with the carnage that resulted from his errors. After reading McNamara's book, I have come to the conclusion that he is telling the truth about certain errors he made, but it is only half of the story. Also, beware of McNamara's ability to provoke sympathy. He describes his position with the Pentagon as being a very small part of a huge policymaking machine. He says he disagreed with many of the policies put forth, but failed to voice his opinions or his opinions were crushed by fellow policymakers. This, I do not believe.Read more ›
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Bert Ruiz on August 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book is a powerful explanation of what many people called "McNamara's War." It is intellectually honest, well-researched and an enormous insight to how President Lyndon Johnson's White House operated. The author explains how Johnson inherited a "God-awful" mess eminently more dangerous than the one Kennedy had inherited from Eisenhower. One evening not long after he took office, Johnson confessed to his aide Bill Moyers that he felt like a catfish that had "just grabbed a big juicy worm with a right sharp hook in the middle of it," McNamara writes. In the last two chapters, "Estrangement and Departure" and "The Lessons of Vietnam" McNamara bravely admits many mistakes. The most glaring was not holding the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff accountable for its many reporting failures. It took McNamara nearly thirty years to finally tell his side of the story. It was worth the wait.
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful By George P. Shadroui on October 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
McNamara seeks to explain in this book the failure of American policy in Vietnam. He roots that failure mainly in false assumptions about the intentions of the North Vietnamese -- that is to say, they were actually nationalists first, communists second, and would not have acted to destablize Southeast Asia has we simply found a way for them to unify and rule the whole of Vietnam. He also demonstrates the remarkable lack of management skills of those known as the "best and the brightest." For example, he discusses how they failed to coordinate military actions with efforts to establish diplomatic negotiations; he talks about lack of historical knowledge about Vietnam among policymakers; he documents the remarkably inept and cavalier handling of the Diem situation. The book is useful in that it does show just how limited the vision of some of our policymakers is -- it hard to believe, given the French experience in Vietnam, that our top officials did not avail themselves, for example, of that history, yet McNamara basically argues that there were no "experts" to help guide their efforts. Unbelievable.
The book is useful in understanding the limited period of Kennedy/Johnson, but McNamara does not provide any deeper analysis of Nixon policies, or explore the historical issues that led up to the 1960s in any depth at all. In that sense, the book is almost as limited as the policy McNamara helped shape. Whether the war was "just" or not, whether the communist threat was real or not, it is mainly incompetence that seems to have shaped our policy -- there was not even a group within the policymaking establishment dedicated to the war full time. These are basic management and leadership issues that suggest mainly that the guys running the show were not so bright after all.
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