Dead, Robert Strange McNamara on July 6, 2009 at the age of 93, he was an American business executive and the eighth Secretary of Defense, serving from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, during which time he played a major role in escalating the United States involvement in the Vietnam War.
Born in San Francisco, California on June 9, 1916, his father was Robert James McNamara, sales manager of a wholesale shoe company, and his mother was Clara Nell (Strange) McNamara.
His father’s family was Irish and in about 1850, following the Great Irish Famine, had emigrated to the U.S., first to Massachusetts and later to California.
He graduated from Piedmont High School in Piedmont in 1933, where he was president of the Rigma Lions boys club and earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
McNamara attended the University of California in Berkeley and graduated in 1937 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics with minors in mathematics and philosophy.
After business school, McNamara worked a year for the accounting firm Price Waterhouse in San Francisco, then returned to Harvard in August 1940 to teach accounting in the business school and became the highest paid and youngest assistant professor at that time.
Following his involvement there in a program to teach analytical approaches used in business to officers of the United States Army Air Forces, he entered the USAAF as a captain in early 1943, serving most of World War II with its Office of Statistical Control.
One major responsibility was the analysis of U.S. bombers’ efficiency and effectiveness, especially the B-29 forces commanded by Major General Curtis LeMay in India, China, and the Mariana Islands.
In 1960, McNamara became the first non-Ford family member to hold the position of president.
He did not stay in the job for long, however. President John F. Kennedy tapped him to become his secretary of defense, looking to him to reorganize the country’s defense program.
McNamara officially took over the post in January 1961. Set on improving how the Pentagon operated, McNamara helped establish planning and budgeting systems.
To revitalize the military, he emphasized the need for traditional troops and military hardware as well as improved weapons systems.
The country had to be prepared for conventional and unconventional warfare, including guerilla warfare.
In 1967, McNamara ordered a study of the U.S. role in Indochina, which was later leaked to the press and published as The Pentagon Papers.
The study covered from World War II to 1968 and contained many revelations about the extent of U.S. involvement in Vietnam during several administrations dating back to Harry S. Truman. One notable discovery was that Johnson had U.S. forces engage in covert warfare against the North Vietnamese in 1964.
In 2003, McNamara was once again in the spotlight with the release of the critically acclaimed documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons of Robert S. McNamara.
Most of the documentary featured interviews with McNamara, providing some rationale for actions taken in Vietnam as well as insight into their flaws.