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IN RETROSPECT:
THE TRAGEDY AND LESSONS OF VIETNAM

ROBERT S. MCNAMARA WITH BRIAN VANDEMARK


10. Estrangement and Departure:
May 20, 1967-February 29, 1968

(selections from pp. 311-312)

I do not know to this day whether I quit or was fired. Maybe it was both.

I had long been interested in the developing countries. In a highly controversial speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Montreal on May 18, 1966, I spoke on that subject. I said, "There is among us...a tendency to think of our security problem as being exclusively a military problem." I disagreed. "A nation can reach the point at which it does not buy more security for itself simply by buying more military hardware, and we are at that point." I believe the relationship between defense expenditures and security takes the shape of a curve in which, up to a point, security increases as defense expenditures increase, then the curve flattens out and may even decline. I judged the United States to be on the flat of that curve in 1966. I believe we are on it today.

Rather than increase military spending, I told the editors, we should assist "those developing countries which genuinely need and request our help and which as an essential precondition are willing and able to help themselves." I noted that the already dangerous gap between rich and poor nations was widening, and that poverty within nations produced social and political tensions that often spilled over into conflict between nations. In sum, I believed that we would achieve greater security by transferring marginal dollar expenditures from defense to foreign aid.

One did not expect to hear such a speech from a defense secretary in time of war.


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