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    In Retrospect Essay (1172 words)

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    Robert McNamaraIn RetrospectRandom House New York, 1995Vietnam had long since been a place of controversy, and where our government focusedits fear of communism for many years.

    Throughout the Kennedy and Johnson administrationsthe government maintained that the war between the Communist north and the south can only bewon by the South Vietnamese, and that our military cannot win it for them. It stressed that thefall of South Vietnam to communism would threaten the rest of the western world. Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnsonadministrations, wrote In Retrospect because he wanted to Put Vietnam in context,(xx). McNamara wanted to explain why the mistakes of Vietnam were made, not to justify them, butto help the American public understand them. He relies not only upon his memories, but uponPeople have often called Vietnam, McNamaras war, because he made it hisresponsibility. As he learned more and more about south Vietnam, he became well acquaintedwith its leader Ngo Dinh Diem.

    Diem portrayed himself as a man who shared our westernvalues. Though as our government would soon realize he was not the man we had hoped for. Diem needed to be removed from power, he was becoming more and more unpopular with hispeople. The Kennedy Administration seemed split on how democratic Diem really was.

    Hisconflicts between the Buddhists and Catholics were becoming more outrageous than ever. Theadministration supported a generals coup to get Diem out of power. Diem and his brother Nhuwere both assassinated during this coup. On November 22, 1963, Kennedy, himself, was also assassinated on the streets of Dallas. McNamara poses many questions as to whether the war would have continued on the same routehad Kennedy not been killed. McNamara feels that had Kennedy lived he would have pulled usout of Vietnam.

    His reasoning was that Kennedy had told his cabinet We are not going tobungle into war. Kennedy was ready to start pulling our troops out because it was obvious thatLyndon B. Johnson now becomes president. Many debates are being held on what to doin Vietnam. After Diems death, the Johnson Administration faced political problems in Saigon. The demands for U.

    S. military actions were growing. On August 2, 1964, North Vietnam launched an attack against an American ship in theGulf of Tonkin. A second attack was supposed to have taken place on August fourth, butMcNamara has now concluded that the second attack never happened. Using the Gulf of Tonkinevent to his advantage Johnson went to congress.

    The Gulf of Tonkin resolution gave thepresident the broad war powers. Meanwhile this resolution had been based on an attack thatmight well have never taken place. McNamara discusses whether the Gulf of Tonkin resolutiongave too much unlimited power to the president. He does not feel that the Congress understoodwhat was happening in Vietnam nor how the Johnson administration would respond to it. Though he never answers his own question as to whether the administration was given too muchleniency when it came to its actions in Vietnam, it seems as if the Congress was misled on all the facts pertaining to the Gulf of Tonkin. After the Gulf of Tonkin U.

    S. military troops were increased in Vietnam from 23,000 to175,000. McNamara in hindsight looks back and wonders, why? Why did they escalate and notwithdraw’south Vietnam seemed like a lost cause. Their leaders were fighting amongthemselves and yet we continued to fight on their behalf. He believes that we could havewithdrawn without any negative affects on our country.

    Was there another way to stop theseinjustices, McNamara feels that all other resources were not exhausted before we ventured into awar that we had little hope of winning. Our government overestimated the fall of South Vietnam, would it really have threatenedthe rest of the western world, probably not. McNamara lists eleven reasons for the major causesof Vietnam. They include that the U. S. embellished the danger it would cause us had we notintervened, both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations lacked the knowledge of that specificarea, so there was no one to consult when major themes of this war needed to be debated.

    Itseems that whenever the Johnson Administration got the Tonkin Resolution passed they failed tothink of consequences before they reacted to a situation. McNamara is not only to blame for thiswar many mistakes were made, including the entire administration, generals, and Vietnamese. The disagreements within the state department were also a fundamental cause of this armedconflict. McNamara makes it crystal-clear that many of the contentions were not fullyThe basic reasoning behind us being in Vietnam was to advise the South Vietnamese onhow to stop pressures from the north. McNamara reveals that failure to organize properly did infact cause many of the oversights made.

    There was no war cabinet to focus on strictly onOur Government must learn through these mistakes. It is obvious the mistakes that thestate department made during these fateful years. It may have been avoided had it not been for aseries of unknown disasters, such as the assassination of Kennedy, the overthrow andassassination of Diem, and the relatively unknown Gulf of Tonkin incidences. When McNamara left the state department he had realized that the U. S.

    could notachieve their objectives in Vietnam. In the last few months of his term he came to theconclusion that continuing on the present course would eventually prove fatal and cost many ofinnocent lives. Johnson did not agree so he purposely left McNamaras views out of discussionsregarding the next course of action. What they needed was a rapid end to this war, and he feltthat the bombing and the expansion of the ground war would not do the job. He proposed a listof alternatives such as stopping the bombing of the north to bring about negotiations, transferring the responsibility from our military to the South Vietnamese.

    Although he made his contentionswell-known to the president, the president was not ready to hear him. His last deed in regards toVietnam was to oppose General Westmorelands petition for 200,000 supplementary troops. McNamaras reasoning behind this book was to tell the American people what went onbehind the scenes during the Vietnam war. Many critics of the Vietnam war feel that it was theinexperience of the state department, though they were extremely intelligent, they were nottrained in the finer workings of the military which caused the escalation.

    Their were many timeswhen we could have pulled out of Vietnam, but they thought that it would cause the UnitedStates to lose rank with the rest of the world. Both Administrations, I feel overstated the threatthat if South Vietnam fell to communism than the rest of the east would fall like a line ofdominoes. McNamara summed up alot of misconceptions of what really happened, he doesnttry and sugar coat he comes right out and says We were wrong, terribly wrong. The bookmakes a lot of valid points though it is hard to follow at times. In Retrospect has allowed me tobecome painfully aware of a war that I knew relatively little about. This book shows reasons asto why, right or wrong, we intervened in Vietnam, and why we should have withdrawn soonerBibliography:

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