Promise and power : the life and times of Robert McNamara

Document Viewer



Transcription of Annotations

Notes on front endpapers: Kennedy wanted McN to be Pres., 270--Johnson considered him for running mate. McN testified at DNC hearing Atl. City 1964. Vietnam, 250. Halberstam, Sheehan. 1964--Goldwater campaign. Tonkin Gulf, Aug. 2. Mc testified before DNC. The Cardinal--McN refuses to discuss the marital habits of the Kennedys. Underlinings/notes: Margy's death--Margy only person who understood him. Her death from cancer--the central trauma in McN's life, greater than Vietnam. 6 interviews. Reclusive. Expected little or no cooperation. Interviews stretched to more than 20. Not self-revealing. Bad character/True good scout. "Real" Robert McNamara--insincere incompatible with facts; he helped remake Ford into successful company after the war; reformed defense budget, World Bank. Ford, Pentagon, World Bank. Bob so American--if not taking two steps forward, he's falling behind. Inextinguishable decency, loves combat/confrontation. War he led unwinnable--never considered use of nuclear weapons despite frequent public statements that he would. Lie--some of the stories he told on himself also revealed he lied. Concluded alternately tense/friendly sessions--devious tactician, man of sincere, noble goals. Quotes-- McN released most of the quotes requested, a few exceptions. Maintained stance of not speaking publicly on Vietnam, did release quotes from two oral histories. Clarified Vietnam. In book explains for 1st time, why urged US to enter the conflict. Biography not memoir. Not absolute poverty--term McN made famous on 6 continents--directed World Bank to uplift 800 million people. Began as product of the emerging middle class. Whiz Kids only ones at Ford with college degrees. After they hired, Henry Ford II ordered company to hire 50 more college grads. Lee Iacocca was the 51st. McN voted for Democrats/Liberal Republicans. Bruxism--stress is self-stress. Developed Ford Falcon in 1957. Bullied people; ruthless drive for power. Generous toward lke Iacocca and Beacham--whom he liked. Treated everyone else like adversaries--bullied/manipulated. Humiliated those who could not follow his lang. of numbers. Price of control, fear. In later years at Ford, displayed blindness/arrogance that marked next era of American auto industry. 1960--15 years. 1956 seat belts an option. Nov. 9,1960--McN, Pres. of Ford. Cardinal car was to be plain, functional. Neither Ford, nor Iacocca liked it. Nov. 1960--warned executives that US auto industry could go way of railroads if failed to ask long-term what buyers really wanted. Solution proposed in 1960 turned to in the 1980s. 34 days after winning Presidency of Ford Motors, left. Penchant for tactically useful fibs. McN was a registered Republican. Asked if he voted for Kennedy, replied his vote his own affair. Bob/Margy--Kennedys had different ideas of marital fidelity--McN refused to discuss. McN's public record suggests he believed statistics/military reports, not Halberstam and Sheehan. 1963 body count inflated by 40%. McN lying--Halberstam exposed MACV's lies, printed truth from field--hoped to warn Washington, Kennedy, to change strategies to succeed in conflict. Gen. Maxwell Taylor--no doubt we are going to win in South Vietnam. Oct. 2--Pierre Salinger announced that 1,000 advisers would leave by Dec. 31, '63--token of Kennedy's intention to leave. Dep. Sec. of Defense Gilpatric in an oral history-- McN indicated withdrawal part of plan president asked him to develop to unwind the whole thing. In 1986 McN told historian of the Office of the Sec. of Defense--Believed should train the forces to the extent we could train them and get out. The trained forces could not handle the problem--subversion by the North Vietnamese--should not introduce US forces in support of South Vietnamese even if going to be defeated. McN and Kennedy planned to leave. Shapley--suspected in interviews with McN and in reviewing quotations, that McN's belief that Kennedy would exit Vietnam was something he arrived at later, when the war became tragic/traumatic for him and nation--teary about Kennedy. No hard evidence for McN's claim. Triumph of reason. Kennedy's legislative program stalled. Bobby said that he and his brother considered moving in direction that would get VP nomination for McN. Modesty masked enormous confidence/ambition. Week of 2 Aug., North Vietnamese attacked a US destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. US struck back. During '64 McN convinced that US must directly intervene in Vietnam. US commit. increase from 15,000 advisers in Jan. '64 to 26,000 by Dec. Pentagon Papers--intensified covert warfare against North Vietnam--began planning in spring '64 to wage overt war--full year before publicly revealed the depth of involvement, fear of defeat. Nov. 1, DIEM coup. WH announced continuation of Kennedy's Vietnam policies--some wondered if this included withdrawal of advisers. Neither he nor General Maxwell Taylor disciplined Harkins for having misled them. No greater contrast with Ike's open disapproval than way McN ridiculed Harkins, did not remove him. Robert Hotz wrote McN's suppression of truth had become violent/ridiculous--reports from Vietnam contradicted by events would hurt the country. Coup, Jan. 30, displaced Big Minh and group that overthrew Diem. LBJ dropped McN from consideration as running mate. '68 both Wheeler's and McN's statements appear to be clear falsehoods--plans for intensification. 34A secret raids. Sharp phoned McNamara at 6:07 PM, Washington time, precisely on McN's deadline--said,"I'm satisfied myself." McNamara recommended air strikes, president issued orders. Friday, Aug. 7, Congress passed Southeast Asia resolution--Tonkin Gulf resolution, president ceded power to make war in that region. McN horrified by memo. Rusk, Bundy more tolerant. Leak to Joseph Alsop. McN following deep personal instincts for activism, management advice he liked to recite to others--any action better than no action--better to make a wrong decision than no decision. Didn't want to kill the Great Society/Greatness of LBJ. Ball argued forces would go to 1/2 mill., McN would tell him that he was crazy--using such a number was dirty pool. Use military power in Far East to force change in Communist policy. Top of his power--January '65. McN on mistakes of 1964-1965: Greatest failure--Vietnam at start of Kennedy-Johnson engagement in Vietnam, did not foresee that it would turn out as it did. Misjudged Chinese geopolitical objectives. Misjudgment of China was a serious error. J. William Fulbright confronted McN over evidence of a 2nd Tonkin Gulf attack in '64, decided that McN had misled him. William Clark--Paul Douglas thinks McN a liar. Margy had mesothelioma--rare cancer. McN said that she died because of the Vietnam. Left presidency of the World Bank on June 30, following his 65th birthday. Haunted by failure. Refuses to write memoirs. Subject to bouts of tearfulness, an emotional person. Last year of running war almost broken him--Bobby Kennedy died--then Margy. In interviews objective, self-critical. He was controlling his media--seeking power, via the press. McN called Bobby Mac by friends in Kennedy circle. Joan Braden--it isn't an affair--this is a friendship. No one better at selective disclosure than Bob McNamara. Believed in cause of Vietnam. Caught in dilemma--tried to limit ground war to hold down American casualties. Clarification--strategy of gradualism--officers blamed for prolonging the war, critical to minimize loss of life. Should have resigned. Breached bounds of conduct by writing that a unilateral bombing halt, would lead to talks--forced Johnson to remove him. Greatest failure, Vietnam. Lessons of McN's life, negative--management by numbers ruined America's manufacturing know-how. Bank's lending left poor countries with crippling debt. Vietnam disillusioned a generation. Abused institutions he ran; too quantitative, too powerful. Not trusted, trusts few. Rides subway, flies economy, shops in discount bookstores--virtuous, alone.


Shapley, Deborah, “Promise and power : the life and times of Robert McNamara,” One Book. One Author. One Hour., accessed June 23, 2018,


Dublin Core


Promise and power : the life and times of Robert McNamara


Shapley, Deborah


Program air date: March 21, 1993.


Promise and Power: The Life and Times of Robert McNamara is the first major biography, and only complete history, of this enigmatic man who has been a towering figure of the twentieth century. Here is the dramatic story of a brilliant but flawed leader who struggled endlessly to reconcile his Berkeley-bred social conscience with his raw drive for power. From his position as the wunderkind president of the Ford Motor Company, to his reign as secretary of defense during the Vietnam War, through his efforts as the president of the World Bank, Deborah Shapley paints an electric portrait of Robert Strange McNamara. To a generation of Americans, the name McNamara spells a nightmare in jungle green: Vietnam. Promise and Power traces how McNamara shaped the American commitment in Vietnam - and his devastating inner realization of his error. McNamara has remained silent on the war since February 1968, when he stepped down as America's secretary of defense, but in this book, for the first time, he admits, "The greatest failure of all was Vietnam." Promise and Power shows, as no other book has, how the moral ambiguity all Americans feel about Vietnam's shocking result is shared by the man who led them there. But McNamara's life story spans a wider swath of our history. Shapley describes his roots in the generation of Americans who came of age in the 1930s, his upbringing in the plain town of Oakland, California, and formative years at the liberal Berkeley campus and Harvard Business School. After World War II, talent and raw ambition pushed him to the top of Ford; he became president in 1960 and reshaped the organization. Yet he fought the company's values, too, and drew up plans to change Ford to meet foreign competition - revealed here for the first time. McNamara's fame as a captain of industry who also read Teilhard de Chardin spurred President-elect John F. Kennedy to name him secretary of defense. With Camelot-inspired activism, McNamara used management controls to revolutionize the American military, revealing the driven man whom the press dubbed "I've-Got-All-the-Answers McNamara." Promise and Power is the first profile of how McNamara was changed by failure and by the discovery all Americans made in the 1970s of the strength and power of the Third World. As president of the World Bank, McNamara marched through slums and shantytowns, holding out the promise of effective aid. He either saved the Third World or lost it, depending, of course, on which government's or banker's view is believed. Promise and Power, featuring exclusive interviews with the subject himself and four hundred other participants, and meticulous research, explores the effects of war and remembrance on this complex figure. Robert McNamara, the private individual and the public technocrat, stands before us, in light and shadow, as a remarkable man whose own promise and power changed America, and the world.


"McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009. "


Brian Lamb Booknotes Collection
Gift of Brian Lamb, 2011.


Little, Brown
George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections & Archives


This work may be protected by copyright laws and is provided for educational and research purposes only. Any infringing use may be subject to disciplinary action and/or civil or criminal liability as provided by law. If you believe that you are the rights-holder and object to Mason’s use of this image, please contact