How Many Millions Would Not Have Died If Robert McNamara Had Stayed at Ford

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The commencement
speaker to the graduates of the University of Alabama in 1955 was
a Ford Motor Company executive who, with what may be counted as
irony or prescience today, encouraged innovation and breaking out
of the corporate mold.

“In any
corporation, and we are no exception, there is a certain inertia,
a tendency to discourage fresh thought and innovation,” the
speaker acknowledged to the spring grads on a warm evening in Denny

“It takes
a degree of moral courage to withstand that pressure, particularly
when you are in competition with a half a dozen eager beavers who
eagerly spout the party line. Sometimes, unfortunately, it also
takes a certain dexterity to espouse an unpopular view and still
keep your place in the pecking order.”

Give him credit
for living up to his own ideals. A decade later, the speaker –
Robert S. McNamara – would be watching the Vietnam War mushroom,
one bomb after another. McNamara, former secretary of defense and
one of President John F. Kennedy’s “best and brightest”
held firm to his convictions. And came to regret it.

McNamara died
last Monday. Commentators and his contemporaries have been reflecting
over the past week on the lessons learned from McNamara’s life.
Perhaps the one with the most sting and brutal truth came from Bob
Hebert, a columnist with The New York Times.

Hebert wrote,
“Robert McNamara, Lyndon Johnson’s icy-veined, cold-visaged
and rigidly intellectual point man for a war that sent thousands
upon thousands of people (most of them young) to their utterly pointless
deaths, has died at the ripe old age of 93.”

Hebert continued,
“Long after the horror of Vietnam was over, McNamara would
concede, in remarks that were like salt in the still festering wounds
of the loved ones of those who had died, that he had been ‘wrong,
terribly wrong’ about the war.”

An African-American,
Hebert, mid-1960s, was “lucky” that upon the draft, he
was sent not to Vietnam but to Korea to serve in the intelligence
office of an engineer battalion. “I was staggered on the first
day of basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., to be part of a motley
gathering of mostly scared and skinny kids who looked like the guys
I’d gone to high school with. Who looked, basically, pun intended,
like me.”

The end result
of that never-declared war can be capsuled, though callously, in
two sentences: Many of those “scared and skinny kids”
were among the 58,000 Americans who lost their lives in Vietnam.
The other side, the side that won, lost 2 million to 3 million,
including noncombatant women, the elderly and children.

On Sunday,
May 29, 1955, in giving the address before the graduating class
at the University of Alabama,

McNamara received
an honorary doctorate of law from university president Oliver C.

At that time,
McNamara, then of Ann Arbor, Mich., was vice president of Ford Motor
Company and general manager of the Ford Division of Ford Motor Company.

According to
the UA student newspaper, The Crimson White, in announcing his upcoming
commencement speech on May 17, 1955, the Ford executive was a native
of San Francisco, educated at the University of California and earned
a master’s degree from Harvard’s Graduate School of Business

The announcement
further stated that he held an assistant professorship at Harvard
in 1940 and went to England as a civilian consultant for the War
Department. Later, commissioned as a captain in the Air Force, he
departed the service early in 1946, became a lieutenant colonel
in charge of the statistical control unit at Wright Field in Dayton,
Ohio, and then joined Ford Motor Company.

At Ford, he
managed the financial analysis office until 1949, when he was promoted
to controller – a post he held until his appointment as general
manager of the Ford Division in August 1953. Other sources say he
worked his way up at Ford and is credited with the company’s
expansion and success after World War II.

the rest of the article

13, 2009

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