Explaining History

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McNamara and Vietnam 1960-68

Robert McNamara was John F Kennedy's choice to fix the sprawling bureacracy at the Department of Defence. McNamara employed an economist's mind to problems, had greatly increased the destructive power of the USAAF during the Second World War by using data and intelligence to firebomb Japanese cities more effectively, and became the first non family member to run the Ford Motor Company. Kennedy wanted business people in government to bring the dynamism of the American corporate world to the state (whether this was ever really achieved is a matter of debate). McNamara brought the same managerialist approaches to the war in Vietnam, with limited success, as much of the conflict defied his kind of quantified approach. Whilst McNamara understood kill ratios and other statistics, he and the rest of the government understood virtually nothing about the politics and society of the country they sought to protect from the north and the real motivations of the Vietnamese peasants.

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