I promised last night that I would write about Robert McNamara and Walter Cronkite, since I often comment on celebrities who have passed away. Here’s the promised post.
1. Robert McNamara was the Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. I first read about him in Phyllis Schlafly’s The Gravediggers, which was a critique of his “disarmament” policies. Right-wing literature usually criticized him for that and for his “no-win” strategy in the Vietnam War. It often referred to him by his full name: Robert Strange McNamara.
I also heard the name of McNamara in Oliver Stone’s JFK. In one scene, the hawkish Cold Warriors in Kennedy’s Administration disliked McNamara because he came back from his “fact-finding” missions to Vietnam and scared the President into starting a withdrawal from the area. They wanted to control McNamara in order to control Kennedy, for the benefit of the military-industrial complex. This article, however, offers a different view.
The third time I encountered the figure of McNamara was when I was watching the 2002 movie, Path to War. McNamara was played by Alec Baldwin. A scene from that movie that still sticks in my mind is when McNamara was looking out the window, and he saw a Quaker anti-war protester setting himself on fire. McNamara had a shocked look on his face. In my mind, that scene added humanity to the character, who spent much of the movie discussing military strategy. Some have portrayed McNamara as cold and calculating, but, like many of us, he most likely had a human side as well. I was also interested to learn that he had a son who protested against the Vietnam War that he himself was engineering.
The fourth time that I encountered McNamara was in the American Experience documentary of Ronald Reagan. The documentary presented a panel in the 1980’s on which McNamara served, and he critiqued discussion among government officials on how to “win” a nuclear war. He saw such discussion as unthinkable! I’ve read in many places that Reagan hated nuclear weapons, but he very well may have employed hawks who actually wanted to win a nuclear war. (Al Haig offered to turn Cuba into a parking lot, after all!) Perhaps they were responding to liberals like McNamara, whom, in their eyes, preferred crawling before Moscow to avoid nuclear annihilation.
So what is my view of Robert McNamara? I don’t know. But he’s popped into my life more than once, so I felt a need to say something about his passing.
2. I didn’t grow up watching Walter Cronkite, since my childhood was during the days of Dan Rather, and, even then, my family gravitated towards Tom Brokaw. But my parents and grandparents watched Walter Cronkite when he did the news. And, although my grandmother is probably as Republican as you can get, she still liked Walter Cronkite, and she has one of his books. He’s an American icon!
Some of my family members told me that Walter Cronkite cried when President Kennedy was shot. I got to see this when I saw Oliver Stone’s JFK.
Many right-wingers on the web are criticizing Cronkite because he became a critic of the Vietnam War, and they contend that he distorted the facts and undermined morale. I don’t know all the details, but I have read that Cronkite was initially for the war, before he took a trip to Vietnam and brought the war into families’ living-rooms. It was then that President Johnson said, “We’ve lost Cronkite, we’ve lost the nation.”
R.I.P., Robert McNamara and Walter Cronkite.