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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Mar. 23, 2001 — A discussion by Robert McNamara, who was secretary of defense from 1961 to 1968, on Vietnam originally scheduled at Williams College for March will be held April 5.
Secretary McNamara created a stir with his 1995 book “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam,” in which he argued that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations made disastrous policy errors based on incomplete and inaccurate information about the Vietnam war.
“What went wrong was a basic misunderstanding or misevaluation of the threat to our security represented by the North Vietnamese pressure on South Vietnam,” McNamara said. “We were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.”
He will reexamine these errors–and other highlights of a long career in international relations–as a featured guest in a panel discussion set to take place on Thursday, April 5, at 5 p.m. in Chapin Hall.
Since the publication of his book “In Retrospect,” McNamara has made explaining “why” his chief mission. He has traveled to Vietnam and held conferences with many of his Vietnamese counterparts, attempting to identify decisions that aggravated the war, and he is planning another such trip for later this year. McNamara will draw on these conferences in his discussion at Williams.
Peter Frost, Professor of History and Frederick L. Schuman Professor of International Relations, will moderate the discussion, which will also include James Blight, professor of international relations at Brown University, and Robert Brigham, associate professor of history at Vassar College.
During his visit to the College, he will also lead two private discussions –a visit to one of Frost’s political science classes, and an informal session with members of the faculty.
McNamara graduated from the University of California in 1937 and received his MBA from Harvard University two years later. In 1940, he returned to Harvard, where he served first as an instructor and later as an assistant professor of business administration.
In 1943, he was commissioned a captain in the United States Air Force. For a tour of duty that included time spent in the United Kingdom, India, China, and the Pacific Theater, he was awarded the Legion of Merit and promoted to the position of lieutenant colonel.
After leaving the Air Force, McNamara joined the Ford Motor Company, where he became a member of the board of directors and, in 1960, its president. The following year, he was appointed Secretary of Defense by John F. Kennedy.
When his term in the Cabinet expired, McNamara spent 13 years as president of the World Bank Group of Institutions. Since leaving that post, he has dedicated himself to non-profit organizations and his writing. His books include “The Essence of Security,” “One Hundred Countries, Two Billion People,” and “Out in the Cold.” His most recent book, “Argument Without End” (1999), drew on his discussions with Vietnamese and American military officials.
He has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (with Distinction), the Albert Einstein Peace Prize, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom from Want Medal, and the Dag Hammarskold Honorary Medal, and has been awarded honorary degrees from a handful of institutions of higher learning.
Blight has a master’s degree from Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and a Ph.D. from New Hampshire University. In 1986, Blight and Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School, founded the Cuban Missile Crisis Project. He has since focused his studies on analyzing the United States’ foreign policy decisions in the 1960s and contributed to McNamara’s “Argument Without End.”
Brigham, earned his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky. He is the author of numerous books and essays on the Vietnam War, including “Guerrilla Diplomacy” and “ARVN: A History of America’s Ally in Vietnam.” His analysis of the war also appeared in “Argument Without End.”