The Body Counts of Robert McNamara
A Lethal Tenure at the World Bank
McNamara's Other Body Count
By JAMES BOVARD; July 9, 2009 - Counterpunch
Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who died on July 6, was best known for dishonestly ratcheting up the Vietnam War. Despite his profusive lies that vastly expanded an unnecessary conflict and cost more than a million American and Vietnamese lives, McNamara is being touted as a great man. A New York Times op-ed praised him as the most compassionate member of the Johnson administration’s cabinet.
After McNamara resigned as defense secretary in early 1968, LBJ appointed him as president of the World Bank. A Washington Post tribute praised him as “a chieftain of foreign financial aid” and stressed that he “was often described as ‘the conscience of the West,’ for his relentless efforts to persuade the industrialized world to commit more capital to improving life in the have-not nations.” World Bank lending increased twelve-fold (to $12 billion a year) during McNamara’s 13-year reign.
But rather than a boasting point, McNamara’s time at the World Bank is as much his lasting infamy as his Vietnam record. A World Bank official sketch of McNamara’s presidency noted that “his reliance upon government intervention sometimes meant turning a blind eye to coercive practices ... and could lead the Bank to ignore the inefficiency and economic cost of government policies.”
McNamara’s favorite foreign leader was Julius Nyerere, ruler of Tanzania, which received more bank aid per capita than any other country in that decade. In the early 1970s, with World Bank aid and advice, Nyerere sent the Tanzanian army to drive the peasants off their land, burn their huts, load them onto trucks, and take them where the government thought they should live. The peasants were then ordered to build new homes “in neat rows staked out for them by government officials.”
Nyerere wanted to curb his countrymen’s individualist and capitalist tendencies and make them easier to control. He even outlawed people’s sleeping in their gardens at night, which meant that monkeys were free to help themselves to their crops. In many cases, the new government villages were far from the farmers’ own lands, and so they simply gave up tilling the land, with the result that hunger in Tanzania soared.
McNamara’s World Bank financed the brutal policies of the Vietnamese government in the late 1970s. The bank gave a $60 million no-interest “loan” to the government of Vietnam in 1978, even after widely circulated reports in the West of massive concentration camps and brutal repression. The bank announced that the loan would finance “an irrigation project that will boost rice production.” But a confidential bank report admitted that “the main effort to deal with the employment problem [in the south] consists of the creation of New Economic Zones — agricultural settlements that are intended to [forcibly] resettle 4 or 5 million people by the end of 1980.” Farmers who resisted the government’s “reorganization” were sent out in leaky boats, and tens of thousands drowned in the South China Sea.
Beginning in 1976, the Bank poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a scheme by the government of Indonesia to remove — sometimes forcibly — several million people from the densely populated island of Java and resettle them on comparatively barren islands. One Australian critic noted that transmigration was largely “the Javanese version of Nazi Germany’s lebensraum.”
McNamara’s profusion of aid allowed politicians in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere to seize far more power over farmers, businessmen, factory owners, and other productive individuals. The result was a profusion of state monopolies that helped destroy hope for entire generations.
As long as McNamara could continue boosting the raw amounts of World Bank loans, he could continue pretending that he was saving the world. McNamara bankrolled socialist governments based on the same type of phony statistics that he used to justify expanding the U.S. war in Vietnam. He could strut like a vanquisher of either communism or world poverty as long as he embraced statistical hooey.
Even after laying wreckage to much of the globe, Robert McNamara was still treated by much of the mainstream media as the “best and the brightest.” (The Washington Post appointed him to its board of directors). Citizens should be wary of those who would place halos over humanity’s brutal oppressors.
James Bovard is a former World Bank consultant who serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation and is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books.
McNamara’s Evil Lives On
By Robert Scheer; July 7, 2009 - Truthdig
Why not speak ill of the dead?
Robert McNamara, who died this week, was a complex man—charming even, in a blustery way, and someone I found quite thoughtful when I interviewed him. In the third act of his life he was often an advocate for enlightened positions on world poverty and the dangers of the nuclear arms race. But whatever his better nature, it was the stark evil he perpetrated as secretary of defense that must indelibly frame our memory of him.
To not speak out fully because of respect for the deceased would be to mock the memory of the millions of innocent people McNamara caused to be maimed and killed in a war that he later freely admitted never made any sense. Much has been made of the fact that he recanted his support for the war, but that came 20 years after the holocaust he visited upon Vietnam was over.
Is holocaust too emotionally charged a word? How many millions of dead innocent civilians does it take to qualify labels like holocaust, genocide or terrorism? How many of the limbless victims of his fragmentation bombs and land mines whom I saw in Vietnam during and after the war? Or are America’s leaders always to be exempted from such questions? Perhaps if McNamara had been held legally accountable for his actions, the architects of the Iraq debacle might have paused.
Instead, McNamara was honored with the Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson, to whom he had written a private memo nine months earlier offering this assessment of their Vietnam carnage: “The picture of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one.”
He knew it then, and, give him this, the dimensions of that horror never left him. When I interviewed him for the Los Angeles Times in 1995, after the publication of his confessional memoir, his assessment of the madness he had unleashed was all too clear:
“Look, we dropped three to four times the tonnage on that tiny little area as were dropped by the Allies in all of the theaters in World War II over a period of five years. It was unbelievable. We killed—there were killed—3,200,000 Vietnamese, excluding the South Vietnamese military. My God! The killing, the tonnage—it was fantastic. The problem was that we were trying to do something that was militarily impossible—we were trying to break the will; I don’t think we can break the will by bombing short of genocide.”
We—no, he—couldn’t break their will because their fight was for national independence. They had defeated the French and would defeat the Americans who took over when French colonialists gave up the ghost. The war was a lie from the first. It never had anything to do with the freedom of the Vietnamese (we installed one tyrant after another in power), but instead had to do with our irrational Cold War obsession with “international communism.” Irrational, as President Richard Nixon acknowledged when he embraced détente with the Soviet communists, toasted China’s fierce communist Mao Tse-tung and then escalated the war against “communist” Vietnam and neutral Cambodia.
It was always a lie and our leaders knew it, but that did not give them pause. Both Johnson and Nixon make it quite clear on their White House tapes that the mindless killing, McNamara’s infamous body count, was about domestic politics and never security.
The lies are clearly revealed in the Pentagon Papers study that McNamara commissioned, but they were made public only through the bravery of Daniel Ellsberg. Yet when Ellsberg, a former Marine who had worked for McNamara in the Pentagon, was in the docket facing the full wrath of Nixon’s Justice Department, McNamara would lift not a finger in his defense. Worse, as Ellsberg reminded me this week, McNamara threatened that if subpoenaed to testify at the trial by Ellsberg’s defense team, “I would hurt your client badly.”
Not as badly as those he killed or severely wounded. Not as badly as the almost 59,000 American soldiers killed and the many more horribly hurt. One of them was the writer and activist Ron Kovic, who as a kid from Long Island was seduced by McNamara’s lies into volunteering for two tours in Vietnam. Eventually, struggling with his mostly paralyzed body, he spoke out against the war in the hope that others would not have to suffer as he did (and still does). Meanwhile, McNamara maintained his golden silence, even as Richard Nixon managed to kill and maim millions more. What McNamara did was evil—deeply so.