How I Almost Pitched McNamara Into the Sea

In the end, Robert McNamara said his mea culpas for the Vietnam War. He had been Secretary of Defense; his demeanor and bearing not unlike Donald Rumsfeld’s — utterly convinced he was right even when overwhelming evidence had proven him wrong.

I almost met McNamara, once. I had just finished my first year as an undergraduate at Yale where, like other Ivy League schools, the surefire, wrong logic of the Domino Theory held a sturdy grip. On a blustery, late spring day, I took a ferry from Wood’s Hole to Martha’s Vineyard looking for as summer job. The year was 1972. The season had not yet started and the vessel was nearly empty. In the middle of Buzzards Bay, I went outside to the walkway in the lee of the wind. I passed behind a solitary man leaning against the rail, staring into the sea and the ferry’s surging wake. It was Robert McNamara.

I was young and strong as a bull. He already seemed a faded mimeograph. We leaned against the rail on forearms, captured by thoughts turning like waves and set free in the wash fading without any record. After a while, he returned to the ferry cabin. A few months later, on that same passage, a stranger– furious at McNamara for his prosecution of the war– would try to throw him overboard. The obituary said he had been ill for a long time. Robert McNamara lived to the ripe age of 93.

ALAN FARAGO lives in south Florida. He can be reached at:



Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at