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Robert Strange McNamara

McNamara, Robert Strange (măkˈnəmârˌə) [key], 1916–2009, U.S. secretary of defense (1961–68), b. San Francisco, grad Univ. of California, Berkeley (B.A., 1937), Harvard (M.B.A., 1939). He taught (1940–43) business administration at Harvard, served in World War II, and was (1946–60) an executive of the Ford Motor Company, where he was responsible for many of the managerial and product changes that enabled the company to regain its high rank among the nation's corporations. In Nov., 1960, he became the first president of the corporation who was not a member of the Ford family, but he resigned shortly afterward to become (Jan., 1961) President Kennedy's secretary of defense. After Kennedy's assassination (1963), he continued in the office under President Lyndon Johnson.

Analytical and cerebral in his approach, McNamara introduced modern management techniques in the Defense Dept. and asserted civilian control over the defense establishment. He also shifted U.S. military strategy away from heavy reliance on nuclear weaponry and strengthened conventional fighting capacity. He was a strong advocate for the escalation of the Vietnam War, was widely considered the conflict's primary architect, and came to personify the war for much of the American public. However, his growing doubts about the war eventually forced McNamara to resign from the cabinet. From 1968 to 1981 he was president of the World Bank, where he dedicated himself to the amelioration of global poverty. He wrote The Essence of Security (1968), One Hundred Countries, Two Billion People (1973), the controversial In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (1995), and Argument without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy (1999). Despite his many other achievements, McNamara is nearly exclusively remembered—and continues to be widely vilified—for his fateful role in the Vietnam War.

See biography by D. Shapley (1988); studies by D. Halberstam (1993), P. Hendrickson (1997), and J. G. Blight (2005); E. Morris, dir., The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (documentary film, 2003).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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