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McNamara & Vietnam

In response to:

The Abuse of McNamara from the May 25, 1995 issue

To the Editors:

Your second piece on McNamara’s book about his dissent [NYR, May 25] not being made public at the time was good, but still no mention was made of the underground press, which I consider the real heroes of that disastrous Vietnam conflict.

All of that information which the military and the administration hid from the public and Congress was available from sources like I.F. Stone’s newsletter, the Los Angeles Free Press, The Village Voice, and, if I am not mistaken, the early New York Review of Books.

I.F. Stone is gone, and so is the “Freep,” but I am sure that it was through those two that I learned that we fired the first shots in the Gulf of Tonkin, which fooled Congress and the American public into going along with that misguided macho exercise that cost 58,000 American lives, and 3 million Southeast Asian lives….

David B. Zoellner
Evanston, Illinois

Theodore Draper replies:

The twenty-five miles from the North Vietnamese coast of the US destroyers are not as fanciful as Peter Dale Scott seems to believe. On page 131 of his book, Robert McNamara writes: “At the time of the incident, the Maddox lay in international waters, more than twenty-five miles off the North Vietnamese coast.” In any case, the mission, not the mileage, is what mattered. Whether the Maddox and other US vessels were five or twenty-five miles from the North Vietnamese coast, the relevant fact is, as I wrote, that they “carried out electronic reconnaissance.” Scott makes a mountain out of a molehill by giving so much importance to the exact mileage. The last words of my article have been misinterpreted by Scott and others. I wrote: “McNamara now writes that ‘we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.’ With this book, he has paid his debt.” By “debt” I clearly referred to the previous words about owing “to future generations to explain why.” Of course it would be fatuous to think that any book could pay back the debt incurred by actions during the war.

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