A father’s lies counteract with a son’s ruthless honesty

As a young boy, Craig McNamara recalls swimming in the White House swimming pool while his father and President Lyndon B. Johnson were discussing Vietnam just feet away.

“In writing this memoir, I realized that my entire life has been lived trying to understand the Vietnam War,” explains the 72-year-old walnut farmer and author of Because Our Fathers Lie from his home in Winters, California. in the USA.

The deeply personal but overtly political family reminiscences focus on Craig’s father’s legacy. Robert McNamara was President of the World Bank from 1968 to 1981, but history tends to remember him as the administrative architect of the Vietnam War – which killed more than 58,000 Americans and 3.4 million Vietnamese.

McNamara served as US Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968. “My father always had a seemingly impenetrable protective wall around him,” says McNamara.

Under John F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara played a central role in trying to undermine Fidel Castro’s socialist government in Cuba. This began with Operation Mongoose in November 1961, during which McNamara set up a covert CIA intervention on the Caribbean island.

Because our fathers lied by Craig McNamara
Because our fathers lied by Craig McNamara

Then came the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when Washington found itself in a tense 13-day nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union and Cuba that almost ended in nuclear Armageddon.

With Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, McNamara increased American troops in Vietnam to half a million.

“I now believe that if Kennedy and my father had lived and tried for re-election, Kennedy and my father would have ended the Vietnam War much, much sooner,” says McNamara.

However, history took a different course. A year and a half after Kennedy’s death, in the spring of 1965, Robert McNamara gave a televised press conference after the US had deployed its first combat troops to South Vietnam. He claimed that the new military offensive was well on its way to defeating the communist enemy. He has lied.

“I would even go so far as to say that maybe as early as 1963, when President Kennedy died, my father realized that the Vietnam War was going to be unwinnable,” McNamara explains.

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“But he knew with certainty that by 1965 the war was unwinnable.”

The truth of this story emerged decades ago in the Pentagon Papers. The top-secret US Department of Defense study of US political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967 was (ironically) commissioned by Robert McNamara himself.

However, it later shattered his public reputation when former Department of Defense analyst-turned-whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg leaked the classified information to the New York Times in 1971.

The historic journalistic scoop revealed how the US became embroiled in a long, costly, unwinnable war with questionable goals.

“I would even go so far as to say that perhaps as early as 1963, when President Kennedy died, my father realized that the Vietnam War was not going to be won.”

“During the research for this book, I spent a lot of time with Daniel Ellsberg, who is now 92 years old,” explains McNamara.

“And through my conversations with him, I really learned a lot about what my father was thinking during the Vietnam War.”

The same year that Ellsberg published the Pentagon Papers, Craig McNamara took a 6,000-mile motorcycle ride from Palo Alto to Chile.

“I was well traveled, both politically and geographically,” he explains.

Eventually he found himself in Santiago, cheering on a political demonstration for far-left leader Salvador Allende. The speaker was Fidel Castro.

“I arrived in Chile in September 1971, when Salvador Allende was celebrating his first year as Chilean President, and Fidel Castro came to Chile for three weeks,” McNamara recalled.

His father, meanwhile, happened to be working at the World Bank in Chile. The CIA was also in town.

What kind of interference the US government carried out in Chile during this period is still a matter of great debate.

On September 11, 1973, the democratically elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by Chilean forces.

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The coup eventually led to kidnappings, state-sponsored murder, torture and mass incarcerations of left-wing political opponents – many of whom mysteriously disappeared.

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro

Most liberal historians argue that the Nixon administration had blood on its hands because it did everything it could to fund and support the Chilean far right to create the necessary conditions for the coup.

They point out that the Nixon administration pumped $1 million into anti-Allende propaganda as early as 1970. CIA agents also worked closely with the most extremist elements of the Chilean military.

Craig McNamara, now a left-wing activist, remembers the atmosphere in Santiago at the time.

“Just before Allende was assassinated in September 1973, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was also taking place in the Chilean capital,” he says.

“Then I read in a local paper that Robert McNamara, President of the World Bank, was coming to speak.”

McNamara points out the irony of the situation: He and his father were literally a few blocks apart in Santiago, but neither bothered to contact the other.

“I believe that the World Bank adjusted its loan packages for Chile at the time because of the political situation,” says McNamara.

“The World Bank has started cutting its loans to Chile to undermine the Allende government.”

McNamara spends quite a bit of ink and time in his book recalling that soulful two-year sojourn in South America. He lived in a cave and had an affair with a married woman. But in the end he grew up. He also fell in love with sustainable farming.

After graduating with a degree in Plant and Soil Sciences in 1976, he met his current wife, Julie. In 1980, the couple co-founded Sierra Orchards in Winters, California, which is now a 450-acre, diversified farm producing organic walnuts.

“The experiences I had during this trip to South America really set me on my career path towards becoming a sustainable farmer,” says MacNamara.

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“I began observing working class families in poverty across the continent and it gave me a more nuanced understanding of the power of food, held not by the peasants but by those who have money and those who hold political power , which is not true.”

Because Our Father’s song is emotionally engaging and ruthlessly honest, the author manages to humanize his father while attempting to make sense of his toxic historical legacy.

The final verdict comes from private conversations the author had with Ellsberg and several other historians. They describe Robert McNamara as a hawkish statistician whose unquestionable loyalty to the military-industrial complex never wavered.

Errol Morris tells Craig McNamara that his father is a war criminal. The acclaimed American film director came to this conclusion after interviewing Robert McNamara for 23 hours while filming The Fog of War (2003), an Oscar-winning documentary focused on “Eleven Lessons” in modern warfare.

They had already appeared in print, following McNamara’s controversial memoir In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (1995).

The author closes his memoirs with the same question he began with: why did Robert McNamara never personally take responsibility for pivotal moments in the Vietnam War? After all, his military decisions have brought misery to millions of people.

McNamara says he tried having that conversation with his father multiple times, but the stoic, silent response said more than words ever could.

His father was never willing to face a moral reckoning. Or maybe he just didn’t care. If so, Robert McNamara took that knowledge with him to his grave when he died in Washington in July 2009 at the ripe old age of 93.

Does the author still view his father’s legacy with mixed feelings of guilt, love, affection, disgust and shame?

“However, shame is not a word I would apply to my life or my relationship with my father,” concludes McNamara.

“Regret maybe. But I’ve tried to live a life with no regrets.”

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