McNamara and the Post

I’ve been visiting family in the Washington DC area for the past few days.  This means that I read the Washington Post every morning.  What I notice most about this paper is its unabashed support for war and it twisted logic of empire.  Now, I’m not sure that it hasn’t always been this way, but I do know that back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Post had a decidedly liberal bent.  I recall reading positively glowing coverage of the RFK campaign for president in 1968, critical coverage of the police riot in Chicago at the Democratic convention that same year, and an increasingly critique of US policy in Vietnam.  On top of that, it was the Post that uncovered Watergate and carried that story to its logical end.  I’m not saying that the post was an anti-government rag or anything, but it certainly did provide those of us not enamored with the war and the other tricks of empire a reliable ally to our right.

That is no longer even remotely the case.  Rather fortuitously, at least as regards my current reading of the Post, Robert McNamara died yesterday.  The commentary of his passing was universally focused on the war in Vietnam.  According to this coverage, his identification with that war turned Mr. McNamara into a tragic figure in the Shakespearean sense of the word.  It colored, so they say, his later good deeds with the World Bank’s struggle to alleviate poverty.  Furthermore, it eliminated any positive changes he might have made in the Defense Department.  Most importantly, the coverage wrote about McNamara’s later halting contrition for his murderous role in the Vietnam war as further proof of his tragic role in affairs of state.Besides the fact that the World Bank is not actually involved in eliminating poverty as much as it is involved in creating it for certain segments of the world’s population, the nature of these remembrances is enough to make most of us who opposed the war in Vietnam gag.  The only tragedy that I can see in McNamara’s supposed soul-searching journey for a resolution to that war that favored DC is that it lasted as long as it did, ultimately killing a couple million people.  The only lesson I can see from this tragedy is to not believe well-educated architects of empire when they tell us that a war can be won.  Yet, that is exactly what DC and its sycophants in the media and academia have not learned.The proof of that last statement was found not only in a column on the Post’s editorial page the day after McNamara’s death but also in a lead editorial published by the Post’s editorial staff over the July 4th weekend.  The column, written by Jim Hoaglund, talk’s about the rightness of the US war in Vietnam, but blames its ultimate failure on a combination of personal hubris and a uniquely American belief in the sheer strength of military firepower.  Hoaglund ends his piece with a convoluted and self-serving statement that says, in essence, that Washington no longer makes these types of mistakes.  As proof he offers George Bush’ 2007 escalation of the US war in Iraq  known as the “surge.”  To further convince his readers of Washington’s changed ways, Hoaglund mentions Obama’s current escalation in Afghanistan.  Neither example offers much proof of Hoaglund’s case, but it is apparently enough for the Washington Post.

If you don’t believe me regarding the Post’s conclusion that Washington has cured itself of the hubris and intellectual arrogance that caused its defeat in Vietnam, let me refer you back to that July 4th weekend editorial.  To be honest, I could not believe what I was reading when I first read it.  So I read it again.  Yes, the Post’s editors did go on record as saying that there should be no limit to the number of US troops sent to Afghanistan.  The editorial continued, arguing that for the new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan to work, then the US must be prepared to send as many troops as needed.  Indeed, if that number had to reach 100,000, then so be it.  Mr. Obama and any other official that might reject this argument should only look at the “surge” in Iraq as to why the Pentagon should not hesitate to send more troops to Afghanistan.  It seems to this reader, that if the Post’s editors had a little more sense of history and little less hubris, then they should further back then Iraq in 2007 for proof of their argument.  In fact, why not look back into 1968 in Vietnam?

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at:









Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: