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Mcnamara And Compassion

In the course of his op-ed in today's New York Times, Philip Bobbitt, the law professor and author, makes one laughable point and one excellent point in the same sentence. This is quite a feat. The piece is about Robert McNamara and his "compassion." Here is the sentence:

It is a sign of just how much his role troubled him that both he and McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser to Kennedy and Johnson, broke their silence about the conduct of the war in the mid-1990s to claim that President Kennedy, had he lived, would not have escalated the conflict in 1965, an implausible assertion from two brilliant men that depended upon the assumption that the president would have rejected the very advice they jointly urged in 1965.

The excellent point is that for Kennedy to have completely disengaged from Vietnam, he would likely have had to ignore the advice of the people around him. The laughable point is that Robert McNamara, so "troubled" by his role in the Vietnam war, decided to break his silence after 30 years. Thirty years! Bobbitt urges everyone to show compassion for McNamara, but euphemism crops up again at the end of the piece, when Bobitt writes:

In the language of the game theorists, [McNamara] believed there was an equilibrium, a stable option that would maximize freedom and minimize harm. In the end, American frustration achieved just the opposite.

Frustration? Talking about horrific wars in these terms serves to do nothing so much as blunt compassion for the people who really deserve it.

--Isaac Chotiner