7 Jul 2009

Robert McNamara, key Vietnam War figure, dies

10:09 am on 7 July 2009

Former United States Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, who will be remembered most as leading architect of America's involvement in the Vietnam War, has died at the age of 93.

Mr McNamara also forged brilliant careers in industry and international finance, but his painful legacy remains Vietnam.

More than anyone else except possibly President Lyndon Johnson, Mr McNamara became to anti-war critics the symbol of a failed policy that left more than 58,000 US troops dead and the nation bogged down in a seemingly endless disaster in Southeast Asia.

He became a familiar face to the nation as one of "the best and the brightest" assembled by President John Kennedy to form his policy-making brain trust.

Mr McNamara was named defense secretary by President Kennedy in 1961 and held the post longer than anyone before or since. He put his corporate organizational skills to use in trying to modernize the Pentagon during the Cold War.

But he left the Cabinet in 1968 under pressure from President Johnson. By then disillusioned with the war, Mr McNamara had criticized US bombing of North Vietnam.

He spent the rest of his life trying to explain the US role in Vietnam and apologizing for his mistakes, becoming the subject of an Academy Award winning documentary, The Fog of War.

In the film, he discussed the difficult decision-making process during the Vietnam conflict as well as his Pentagon role in the Cuban missile crisis.