Monday, July 06, 2009

Someday, After A While

Despite the glut of repetitive coverage for the quickly-rising number of dead celebrities reported over the past few weeks, with a specific nod to Michael Jackson's shocking death, there's an article memorializing Robert McNamara, who died this morning at the age of 93, and there will likely be nothing further mentioned on this topic by any of the large news outlets, simply because the coming days will see far more Michael Jackson tribute/coverage and real "news."

However, McNamara wasn't a second-rate plug-in political hack like Karl Rove or Dick Cheney or Joe Biden. McNamara was a tough and bright guy who took us from the crusty, artificial sheen of the 1950's into the modern era. Not only did he revolutionize the way the military-industrial complex interacted with its civilian counterparts, he took the entire system into the then-emerging world of computers and organized the US military into something not just mighty but relatively efficient.

And of course there are a couple of other issues with which he had direct involvement: Cuba and Vietnam.

While most relatively alert Americans have a concept of these terms within the scope of their nation's history, far too many regard those two nations as, respectively, a tourist destination of the future (or a good source of spanish-speaking major league baseball pitchers) and an excellent source of knowledge for southeast Asian cuisine.

In the Kennedy Administration, McNamara was tabbed -- from his post as President of Ford Motor Company -- as Secretary of Defense. He shepherded the US through the botched Bay of Pigs invasion and the subsequent fallout and guided the nation's policy on Vietnam -- incorrectly receiving much of the blame the US military wound up receiving.

As to the former, to paraphrase, he suggested it was mere luck that Russia and the US didn't engage in a nuclear war over Cuba, and the latter, he said, was a failed political state during the administrations of both Kennedy and Johnson.

"External military force cannot reconstruct a failed state, and Vietnam, during much of that period, was a failed state politically. We didn't recognize it as such."

Rarely do public figures these days acknowledge their mistakes. Far fewer learn from them.

In retrospect, his death at 93 is certainly anticlimactic, for sure; it's ironic that the man who led Kennedy and the nation through such turbulent times and outlived so many of his peers was relegated to a footnote in the wake of posthumous Michael Jackson coverage.

Incidentally, there won't be a test, but if you have any interest whatsoever in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy's assassination and extremely good interpretative historical fiction, the James Ellroy novel American Tabloid (2001) is a must-read. It doesn't do much for McNamara's legacy, and he will likely be remembered with increasing respect the further this nation progresses past the haunted legacy of Vietnam. Unfortunately, by relegating his passing as a mere footnote in the wake of Michael Jackson tribute coverage is extremely unfortunate and somewhat disappointing, but, if nothing else, patently American.

As I mentioned above, while the press spews forth multiple orgasms in the form of Michael Jackson coverage, it seems at once simultaneously wrong and disturbingly appropriate that one of the men who guided us here is regarded with so little significance to the modern America to which he contributed as we glorify relatively insignificant entertainers from the country, or the semblance thereof, which has emerged.

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