McNamara’s In Retrospect (2)

Continuing the quote from yesterday:

“Gen. William E. DePuy, Westmoreland’s operations officer and principal planner in 1965-1968, made a somewhat different but equally telling point in a 1988 interview, when he said: ‘[We] eventually learned that we could not bring [the Vietcong and North Vietnamese] to battle frequently enough to win a war of attrition. . . . We were arrogant because we were Americans and we were soldiers or Marines and we could do it, but it turned out that it was a faulty concept, given the sanctuaries, given the fact that the Ho Chi Minh Trail was never closed. It was a losing concept of operation.’

“Why this failure? Gen. Bruce Palmer, Jr. . . . offered a compelling explanation. The [joint] chiefs [of staff], Palmer writes, ‘were imbued with the “can do” spirit and could not bring themselves to make . . . a negative statement or to appear to be disloyal.’

“That certainly explains part of the failure. But the president, I, and others among his civilian advisers must share the burden of responsibility for consenting to fight a guerrilla war with conventional military tactics against a foe willing to absorb enormous casualties in a country without the fundamental political stability necessary to conduct effective military and pacification operations. It could not be done, and it was not done.”

I know from reading other accounts that McNamara suffered greatly from guilt and remorse over the war. Toward the end of In Retrospect, McNamara writes:

“In the end, we must confront the fate of those Americans who served in Vietnam and never returned. Does the unwisdom of our intervention nullify their effort and their loss? I think not. They did not make the decisions. They answered their nation’s call to service. They went in harm’s way on its behalf. And they gave their lives for their country and its ideals. That our effort in Vietnam proved unwise does not make their sacrifice less noble. It endures for all to see. Let us learn from their sacrifice and, by doing so, validate and honor it.”

More tomorrow.

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