Mass murder, to paraphrase that famous General Electric commercial, has become our most important product. The Pentagon dwarfs the biggest of American big businesses. In addition to some 3 million men and women in uniform, it employs almost twice as many civilians as General Motors. In 1968 its expenditures were $10 billion greater than the gross revenues that year of America’s five largest corporations combined.1 It is not surprising that every investigation of so monstrous an enterprise uncovers a gargantuan mess.

The latest, longest, and most extensive investigation of this kind ended with the release by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of its final report on the contract for the notorious TFX (Tactical Fighter Experimental), later to be known as the F-111. This was the largest single military contract of the Kennedy-Johnson-McNamara years, and one of the biggest blunders. The investigation stretched out over seven years. The hearings fill thirteen volumes. Though this contract is only one of the Pentagon’s more notorious pratfalls in procurement, no other has ever been subjected to so extensive and prolonged a Congressional inquiry.

The result is the most complete guided tour available into the murky labyrinth of the military-industrial complex. The final report, too quickly brushed under the rug by the press, offers an unequaled opportunity to study not just this one controversial contract but the problem of keeping so enormous a public business under a measure of control. By comparing the committee’s account with discussion of the TFX affair in several new books on the Pentagon, we can better assess the report itself and begin to see how limited Congressional and other civilian controls turn out to be. The conclusion which emerges is that the military establishment, by its sheer size and complexity, its roots in man’s most primitive instincts and its links with his most advanced technology, is essentially uncontrollable. How do you house-break—and domesticate—a dinosaur?

Even so able an industrial manager as Robert S. McNamara proved unequal to the task. In the TFX affair he started out in 1961 at the very beginning of his stewardship by hoping that he could save a billion dollars by building essentially the same fighter plane for the Air Force and the Navy. The program is ending as a billion-dollar bust. Instead of 1,700 aircraft for about $5 billion, the government will spend almost $8 billion for about 500, “and of the 500,” the committee report said, “less than 100 [the F-111Fs] come reasonably close to meeting the original standards.” The Navy is building its own plane, the VFX, now known as the F-14, so the two services will end up having what they wanted from the very beginning—two separate planes. But the F-14 may turn out to be as costly and unwieldy a contraption as the F-111 and for the very same reasons.2

Both services want one plane to fulfill so many different tasks, and to carry such complex equipment, that both the TFX and the VFX sound as if they were designed by Rube Goldberg. The Air Force’s F-111 and the Navy’s F-14 are both technological monstrosities—and trying to put them into one produced a double monstrosity which had finally to be abandoned. The prime error lay in the unrealistic requirements set up by the services in their first flush of enthusiasm for the “swing-wing” plane—and in the industrial salesmanship which encourages expensive gadgetry and complexity.

Both services started by asking for a tactical fighter. But the Air Force’s Tactical Air Command wanted a fighter which could also fly as far as the Soviet Union without in-flight refueling and compete with the Strategic Air Command in strategic bombing, albeit in the name of “deep interdiction.” It was to fly high enough to avoid interception and then suddenly duck down low enough to get under enemy radar (as the Senate report says) “with supersonic speed at tree-top heights”! The Navy wanted a new dog fighter which would also be a fighter-bomber big enough to carry six Phoenix missiles and their radars. These are for long-distance defense of aircraft carriers from a nonexistent type of Soviet nuclear bomber, though the other side has cheaper and easier ways to sink carriers.3 McNamara made the mistake of taking these requirements seriously and then compounded the difficulties by trying to build one airplane to fit both sets of fantastic specifications.

The technological complexities were matched by the intricate struggle within the military-industrial complex between two giant concerns, Boeing and General Dynamics, for the multibillion-dollar contract, the largest ever let by the Pentagon. Their allied political and local interests were drawn into the conflict, for military contracts mean jobs and bread. The Senate investigation itself, as the report admits, was begun in response to a request from Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington, a member of the investigating subcommittee. He was acting on complaint of the loser, Boeing, a major source of employment in his state. Jackson complained that Boeing’s bid had been the lower and the technically superior.


The full truth about the TFX will probably never be known. Only a novelist, a new Dreiser, could put flesh and blood on the story of how the biggest military contract of the new Kennedy-Johnson Administration came to be awarded to General Dynamics in time to save this giant defense holding company from serious financial trouble and keep its plant at Fort Worth, Texas, from being shut down.4 No one yet knows how the Kennedy Administration came to pick a lawyer for General Dynamics—Roswell Gilpatric—to be Deputy Secretary of Defense and (after John Connally resigned to run for governor of Texas) a Fort Worth banker, Fred Korth, to be Secretary of the Navy.

With Secretary of the Air Force Zuckert and Secretary of Defense McNamara, these men overruled repeated recommendations by the top military selection board in favor of Boeing. Senator McClellan of Arkansas, chairman of the Senate investigating subcommittee, asked Secretary McNamara in December, 1962, to hold up the contract until its investigation had been completed. The contract was signed the same day despite McClellan’s request. He received a letter from Gilpatric declaring it was “in the national interest” to proceed “without delay.”

Korth and Gilpatric became the McClellan Committee’s prime visible targets. The final report, signed by all the members of the subcommittee except Muskie and Javits,5 says Korth should have disqualified himself because the bank of which he was head did business with General Dynamics and because (as Senator Mundt told him during the hearings) “it would stagger a Solomon to look objectively at a contract that meant so much to your community as this one would.”6 One cryptic passage in the final report leaves Korth under a cloud. At one point in his interrogation by the McClellan Committee, Korth defended his integrity and declared his willingness to resign if the committee found otherwise. The final report quotes this promise and adds:

Other information compiled by the subcommittee relating to Mr. Korth and his business interests while he served as Secretary of the Navy was made available to the President [Kennedy] during the early autumn of 1963. Secretary Korth handed in his resignation on October 14, 1963.7

The committee staff will not disclose the information which led to Korth’s resignation.

The report says Gilpatric “was guilty of a flagrant conflict of interest in the TFX award,” and adds: “The record shows unequivocally that he deliberately attempted to mislead the subcommittee regarding his relationship with the General Dynamics Corporation.” His prepared opening statement to the McClellan Committee said that he had made it a policy as a lawyer “of never representing any member of the defense industry in dealing with the Defense Establishment” except that he did “serve as an adviser on other matters on a few occasions for concerns such as Boeing and Convair.” Convair was the General Dynamics subsidiary picked to build the TFX.

The first part of the statement turned out to be untrue. Committee staff dug up one instance after another of just such dealings, which Gilpatric then admitted. But the most deceptive part of the statement was in making it appear that he had acted equally for Boeing and Convair. It turned out that in the Boeing affair he did no more than appear once as a witness in a renegotiation proceeding. This could hardly be equated with his work for General Dynamics. The committee found that in the two and a half years before going to the Pentagon he had spent one-third of his total time at Cravath, Swaine and Moore on General Dynamics business,8 had billed it $110,000 in fees for his efforts, and had acted as “a de facto member of the company’s board of directors.”

In “Individual Views,” appended to the TFX report, Senator Javits said he had known Mr. Gilpatric “for many years as a leading member of the New York bar” and could not accept the majority view that the latter had been guilty of a “flagrant conflict of interest.” The “vital point,” Javits went on, “is that the committee’s report itself shows that Mr. Gilpatric played only a minor concurring role in the decision to award the TFX contract to General Dynamics” and that this “seems to have been confined largely to a final meeting” with McNamara in which Mr. Gilpatric was asked his advice and “concurred in the recommendation” to give General Dynamics the contract.

Mr. Gilpatric, however, was given a chance to say just that in his own defense during the hearings but did not do so. “I want to know,” Senator McClellan asked him, “if you really recommended it [the contract award to General Dynamics] or if you are saying now you really had not much to do with it?” Mr. Gilpatric replied that he preferred to fall back upon the way he stated his role in his prepared statement. This said:


As Deputy Secretary of Defense, Mr. Chairman, my part in the TFX source selection process consisted primarily of informing myself as to the elements in the program determination and source selection and giving the Secretary my best judgment to assist him in making his decision.9

One does not have to be a sharp lawyer to see that Mr. Gilpatric’s own carefully prepared statement is hardly the same as the Javits defense. Mr. Gilpatric did not claim that his was “only a minor concurring role…confined largely to a final meeting” with McNamara. On the contrary he implied that as McNamara’s deputy, he took part fully in studying the matter and giving McNamara his best judgment on it, as with any other important matter.

Senator Javits seems to have forgotten that originally Mr. Gilpatric described his role in even more explicit terms. At a hearing before the McClellan Committee on March 21, 1963, Senator Ervin asked Mr. Gilpatric whether he was saying that his past connections with General Dynamics “had no influence whatsoever” on his advice in the TFX contract. “I certainly am, Senator,” Mr. Gilpatric replied. “Let me make it plain that while I did not have the ultimate responsibility for this decision, that rested upon the Secretary of Defense, I did participate, I did assist, consult, as is my job. But my former connection with the firm…would never influence my judgment.” Senator Javits was present during the testimony that day.10

Now, almost eight years later, Senator Javits implies that Gilpatric’s role was minor, almost incidental, and says:

Hindsight indicates that Mr. Gilpatric would have been better advised to have avoided even the appearance of impropriety by not taking part in the final decision to any extent, but this falls a good deal short of a “flagrant conflict of interest” as charged by the report.11

Senator Muskie, who ran interference for Gilpatric during the hearings, did not mention Gilpatric in his own “Individual Views” but “associated” himself with the individual views of Javits. The New York Times, in an editorial (January 2), took a similar tack, saying that Gilpatric was “less than frank” about his relationship with General Dynamics but did not appear to have played “a major role” in the decision. The Washington Post, of which Gilpatric is a director, carried a similar editorial (December 29), “The End, We Hope, of The TFX Affair.” The affair came too close to home for the liberal establishment.

What the record shows is that Mr. Gilpatric was a commuter between Wall Street and the Pentagon. He has been with the Cravath firm since his admission to the bar in 1931. Twice he left his law firm, one of Wall Street’s most prestigious, for a “tour of duty” in the Defense Department with which many of his firm’s clients did business. He served as Under Secretary of the Air Force from 1951 to 1953 and as Deputy Secretary of Defense from 1961 to January, 1964. He told the committee that both times he had retired from the firm and broken all ties with it to take the defense post. He denied that in both cases these were merely leaves of absence—which would clearly have raised conflict of interest questions.

But the McClellan investigators found that his law firm in 1951 advised its insurance broker to maintain his group insurance because he was on “a leave of absence…to serve as Assistant [sic] Secretary of the Air Force.” His group insurance and that of his private secretary (who accompanied him from the firm to the Pentagon) was continued in 1961-63, on the same assumption that he was again on a leave of absence. Gilpatric claimed that he had retired from the firm in 1961 but admitted to the committee, “It is a reasonable expectation that I will return to the Cravath law firm.” The expectation proved reasonable. After three years he did return to it and (as the TFX report notes) “was advanced in seniority, moving above six other senior partners to the No. 4 position in the firm.” 12

This slippery record goes far to explain the suspicions that will always cling to the TFX affair. The New York Times said, quite correctly, that the report provides no evidence to support “the rumors that President Kennedy favored General Dynamics over Boeing, the rival bidder, because he was politically indebted to its principal stock-holder [then and now again Henry Crown of Chicago—IFS] or because its plant was in Vice President Johnson’s home state.” A Congressional investigation is too coarse a sieve to catch such shadowy deals, which require neither letters nor phone calls. They need not even necessarily involve actions that look particularly dishonorable from the inside.

Defense is a giant pork barrel; politicians fight to get contracts for their home cities and states; the arms manufacturers—who live in a cost-plus world—are easy sources of campaign funds. Henry Crown, who moved into General Dynamics with Kennedy’s election, was a No. 1 “fat cat” of the Cook County machine which turned in the votes that made the hair’s breadth difference between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. For Fort Worth and Texas, the TFX contract was a major plum. From the standpoint of national politics, the prime contract with General Dynamics went to the Convair plant in Texas, with twenty-four electoral votes, and the biggest subcontract to Grumman in New York with forty-five votes, while an award to Boeing would have put the prime contract in the state of Washington with nine electoral votes and the main subcontract in Kansas with eight votes which go Republican anyway.

These are not matters which politicos discuss in public, though sometimes the smaller fry are frank about them. “During the course of the last year,” Congressman Jim Wright of Fort Worth told Richard Harwood in a Louisville Courier-Journal interview,13 when the TFX furor was at its height,

I talked about this subject with everybody I could get to listen. Believing that good and adequate reasons existed for giving fair and just consideration to the General Dynamics submission, I made it my business to try to persuade people to this point of view. I am not ashamed of that. I considered it my duty. There is nothing sinister about it. I made no secret of the fact. I talked to both military and civilian officials. I tried to be as persuasive as I knew how to be.

It may be that Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, unlike Wright, remained above the TFX contract battle, unaware of the stakes in employment, electoral votes, and campaign contributions, but that is hard to believe.

No politician has been more acutely conscious than Johnson of the political leverage in defense business. When he was first elected to the House, his first committee choice was Naval Affairs, which is knee-deep in oil as well as arms business. When he was first elected to the Senate in 1948, his first choice was the Armed Services Committee. Two years later Johnson persuaded its chairman, Senator Russell, to establish a Preparedness subcommittee and make him chairman.

Richard F. Kaufman’s caustic and surgical new book, The War Profiteers, tells amid much else the story of how Johnson made this subcommittee the sounding board of the Air Force lobby and discovered the “missile gap.” Kaufman is economist-counsel for the Joint Economic Committee in its investigation of defense procurement under the chairmanship of Senator Proxmire. He notes that Texas rose from eleventh to second largest recipient of defense contracts when Johnson was in the White House. It may be that Johnson kept hands off the TFX but it would take a computer to figure the probability; the fraction would be infinitesimal.14

These things are done in the Byzantine bowels of the Pentagon, well hidden from the public eye. The Navy has a legislative liaison office which issues reports—for internal circulation only—on contract lobbying. The existence of this office was turned up and a copy of one of its reports was obtained by a lively group of college students who swooped down on the Pentagon in the summer of 1969 and came up in a sassy new book, The Pentagon Watchers, with many tidbits that put us older reporters to shame. One of them was this Navy paper, which dealt with efforts to sell the Fast Deployment Logistics Ship program. As described in the book, this report shows how closely the services and their industrial contractors synchronize their activities on Capitol Hill:

A number of key Congressmen are listed under the heading “Completed Action and Results” followed by the individuals who visited them to discuss the FDL program. The paper notes that “Mr. Dan Houghton (Lockheed) talked to Senator Russell. The Senator was not responsive. Direct contact by Navy personnel required.” Senator Kennedy and Congressman Burke were “contacted by Mr. Roger Lewis (General Dynamics), who explained the overall merits of the program. Follow-up briefing required.”15

The McClellan Committee might have subpoenaed similar internal “public affairs” papers recounting Air Force and Navy, General Dynamics and Boeing lobbying in the TFX affair. But that would have been as damaging to the bomber admirals on Boeing’s side and put the committee in conflict with the military. It is hard to believe that General Dynamics was any less active in the much larger TFX contract than it was in the FDL affair, and that it was not useful to General Dynamics to have its former lawyer and de facto director on the inside of the process, at McNamara’s right hand.

The concept of conflict of interest rests on a calculus of probabilities—not on a documentation of corruption after the fact—and on the observation that, in the government of men, appearances may be as important as reality. A man disqualifies himself because the probability of his being able to disengage himself from his interests is not high, and to keep his government agency free from suspicion. Over and above these chaste abstractions is the cynical but undeniable observation that private interests all too often infiltrate government for their own advantage. Gilpatric could have saved himself and his chief from inquisitorial pursuit if he had simply disqualified himself from any part in the TFX contract.

His failure to do so was made worse by his persistent efforts to mislead the McClellan Committee as to his close ties with General Dynamics. This invited the bitter suspicions it aroused. Perhaps the most unctuous passage in the hearings occurred on November 20, 1963, 16 when Gilpatric tried to make it appear that his connections with General Dynamics and other defense contractors were a positive asset in his job. “Is it fair to say,” Senator Javits asked him, “that in your judgment the President of the United States knew at all times that in your capacity as Under Secretary [sic] of Defense you were passing on important matters relating to former clients or clients of your former law firm?” Gilpatric replied:

I am sure he did, Senator, because I think one of the reasons he selected me for this position was because I had had this kind of broad business experience. If I hadn’t had it, I don’t think that I would have been as well qualified as I trust I have been for this office.

It would be wonderful if Gilpatric could have proved this by testifying that he gave McNamara the benefit of his experience with General Dynamics by warning him that Convair had a poor record as compared with Boeing. Or by advising McNamara not to get involved in the kind of contract McNamara finally signed with General Dynamics. This—the McClellan Committee afterward found—prevented termination of the agreement for default, insulating the company from penalty if it failed to meet the specifications.17

Gilpatric was a major piece in the chess game, but the moves were made by more powerful forces. Nor were his the only actions which invited suspicion. In the middle of 1963, after the McClellan Committee found that Boeing’s bid was lower and that the Air Force and Navy source selection teams had found its proposal technically superior to that of General Dynamics, the Defense Department’s files were closed to the committee. But the materials it needed had already been obtained by the staff, probably from its military allies in the Pentagon. The death of Kennedy, who was—with Johnson—the ultimate target of the inquiry, seems to have shocked the subcommittee into inactivity.

When it resumed its work in August of 1966, the Johnson Administration issued specific instructions to the armed services and to the contractors denying the committee investigators access to performance and cost data, trying thus to hide from Congressional scrutiny the major technical deficiencies and rising costs of the TFX program.

It was not until Nixon took office, the final report reveals, that the committee was again given access to the files and records of the F-111, as the TFX had been renamed. Not until then did the subcommittee learn that in August, 1966, McNamara had taken personal control of the program to save it from disaster. The top managerial meetings he set up were—by some sardonic and premonitory quirk—given the code name of Project Icarus, as if to recall mythology’s first TFX. The McClellan report says the name originated with an Air Force officer “who obviously had a sense of humor.” One wonders how he got away with the sly reminder that this new project, too, might turn out to have wings of wax.

So secretive was this Project Icarus that no recording or stenographic transcript was made of its proceedings. The files, when the McClellan Committee finally obtained them in March, 1969, after two years of effort, turned out to consist principally of hand-written minutes of the meetings by an Air Force officer. The McClellan Committee compared these notes with the testimony McNamara gave to Senate Armed Services and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee during the same period and found the testimony seriously misleading.18

McNamara’s optimism about the F-111 before these committees hid the serious difficulties with which he was wrestling privately in Project Icarus. McNamara seemed to regard Congressional committees as natural enemies, and as the allies—which they usually were—of the military chiefs with whom he was often embroiled. He also seems quickly to have acquired the bureaucratic ethic which justifies deception in defense of “the team.” But to reread his testimony in the TFX affair is to feel his anguish that anyone should doubt his personal integrity in that contract award, and indeed neither the McClellan Committee nor any other of his Congressional critics ever questioned it. Nor do I.

McNamara’s testimony on this score is altogether convincing. He gave the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing a complete list of all holdings by himself and his wife to show that he had divested himself of any stock in any of the 15,000 corporations which do a business of $10,000 a year or more with the Defense Department. “We desire,” he told the McClellan Committee after submitting this same list again, “that there be no influence whatsoever of self-interest in the decision-making process of the Pentagon.”

There seems a country boy naïveté in McNamara’s later remark to the McClellan Committee that “to the best of my knowledge there is none.”19 He said neither Lyndon Johnson, then Vice President, nor Governor Connally, then Secretary of the Navy, nor any other political figure had ever discussed the TFX contract with him. “They have all learned long since,” he said, “that I pay no attention whatsoever to such pressures.” He protested that “the press of the country” had implied “that I am either subject to political influence, self-interest or stupid.” He added touchingly, “Last night when I got home at midnight, after preparing for today’s hearing, my wife told me that my own twelve-year-old son had asked how long it would take for his father to prove his honesty.” To which Senator McClellan replied, “Well, don’t you think that is true with all of us in public?” McNamara responded, “I call it harm and not good.”20 Even in cold type after so many years, the pain and the sincerity come through.


How explain the errors of judgment made over and over again by so able a man in this TFX affair? Two new books on the military establishment by close associates in his Pentagon years provide some clues in his defense. One of the books is How Much Is Enough? Shaping the Defense Program, 1961-69 by Alain C. Enthoven and K. Wayne Smith, two of his “whiz kids.” Enthoven rose to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis and Smith to be Enthoven’s Special Assistant. The other, The Military Establishment: Its Impact on American Society, is a Twentieth Century Fund study by a group of experts under the direction of Adam Yarmolinsky who was McNamara’s Special Assistant and Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs. Neither book, significantly, defends the TFX project but both supply wider perspectives and a kinder verdict than the McClellan Committee. These throw a light on the psychological as well as the technological factors involved. Yarmolinsky writes for example:21

Engineering is an inexact science and a design cannot be fully assessed from studies and wind-tunnel tests of models. A detailed and stringent review process, in addition, can fail to become a means of uncertainty resolution, and become instead a means by which uncertainty is ignored. In the case of the F-111, for example, plans were presented to the Congress for building a force of 1700 airplanes before a single airplane of this advanced design had been flown. Apparently the efforts of its proponents to win acceptance for the program within the Pentagon, against not always rational opposition, so convinced the proponents themselves, that previous military development problems seemed irrelevant. [Emphasis added.]

McNamara’s pride was involved. His reputation as a manager was at stake. The momentum of his conflicts with the military carried him into faulty and costly misjudgment in this affair. Yarmolinsky in another passage throws some fresh light on how the contract was won. To understand the passage about to be quoted, we must first recall that the Navy’s bomber admirals did not want to share a common plane with the Air Force, and that one of the differences between Boeing’s bid and the General Dynamics bid—and the difference which weighed so heavily in General Dynamics’s favor in McNamara’s eyes—is that the latter offered a higher degree of “commonalty” between the Air Force and Navy models of the TFX. “The essential difference,” Yarmolinsky writes, “between the Boeing and the General Dynamics proposals was that General Dynamics bet that the Secretary of Defense meant what he said about producing a common Air Force-Navy airplane, and Boeing bet that the services would persuade the Secretary to forget it. Boeing lost.”22

Unfortunately this seems to have been one major case in which McNamara was wrong. How come his famous “systems analysis” did not save him from so egregious an error? “Systems analysis” is an elusive term, not easy to define. Though its first application at the Pentagon antedated McNamara, it was above all the hallmark of his administration. It meant subjecting the plans of the military services to civilian review within the Department and bringing to bear in that review the kind of cost projections for various strategies which the computer made possible. It sought to apply sophisticated techniques for bringing to light the hidden and often fallacious assumptions below the surface of what is called “common sense.” It sought to evaluate weaponry in a broad range of military options rather than in isolation.

The clearest exposition I have yet encountered of what this meant in practice may be found in the book by Enthoven and Smith. There these top systems analysts, writing with the benefit of hindsight and long after the bureaucratic battle was over, find three basic errors on McNamara’s part in the TFX affair. The first is that he accepted what I have called the Rube Goldberg requirements set by the Air Force and the Navy for the new plane. “It is typical of the ironies of the defense business,” Enthoven and Smith write, “that McNamara was severely attacked later for overruling the Services, when, in fact, the troubles that were to beset the F-111—very high cost, failure to meet technical objectives, crashes in testing and weight growth in the Navy version—stemmed not from McNamara’s decisions but from the unjustifiably demanding performance requirements set by the Services for the aircraft.”23

This is, we may pause to note, diametrically opposite to the weak and inane conclusion with which the McClellan Committee ended so monumental an investigation. Its main conclusion was to give more power to the military “so that technical aspects of weapons development programs would be managed where they should be—by the individual services which eventually will be responsible for using in combat the weapons that they develop.” This is exactly where the trouble started, in the absence of any civilian review of the unrealistic requirements set forth by the services. The McClellan Committee revealed by their recommendations that in the final showdown it could do no more than act as a sounding board for military protest, in this case largely from the Navy’s bomber admirals.

This limitation was also reflected in the committee’s praise of the Nixon Administration for moving toward “greater decentralization” at the Pentagon, by which it meant principally the downgrading of the office of systems analysis and the remaining “whiz kids.” In one important instance, where both the military and McNamara were at fault, the McClellan Committee could only give the slightest hem-and-haw. Both the military and McNamara were at fault in rushing the TFX into production before fully trying out the design by constructing and testing a few demonstrator aircraft. In headline language, this is the principle of “fly before you buy.” But on this point the McClellan Committee can only say, in the faintest of whispers, “There also is stated to be concern with the problems of conducting research and development concurrent with early production.” The committee could hardly have put the matter more feebly.

But now, lest we create the impression that systems analysis is a panacea, let us go back to the posthumous “whiz kid” verdict on the TFX, as given by Enthoven and Smith. They now say McNamara’s second error was to try to build one aircraft to satisfy both Air Force and Navy requirements. They say that the principle of a common plane was sound but “the Air Force’s desire for a deep interdiction tactical bomber and the Navy’s desire for a fleet interceptor” made it “very difficult for a single aircraft to do the job.” The third basic “decision,” they say, avoiding the word “error” at this point, was the choice of General Dynamics as contractor.

But where were McNamara’s famous “whiz kids” when these basic mistakes were made? It is at this point that Enthoven and Smith blur the picture, and become less than fully candid. They quote Senator Jackson as saying at a hearing in September, 1967, that “maybe if we had used systems analysis in connection with the TFX, some of the problems that we are now experiencing and have experienced since the procurement got under way might have been avoided.” He added, “This might have been systems analysis’ greatest triumph.”24

The authors now explain, in words measured very carefully, “The main reason the TFX’s performance requirements were not given such an analysis was that in 1961 the Secretary of Defense did not yet have an independent analytical staff. It was not until 1965 that the Systems Analysis office had the charter and the manpower to review systematically the requirements aspects of proposed engineering development programs. Had the office been fully staffed and functioning at that time, the history of the TFX might have been different.”25

But this excuse begins to fall apart on closer inspection. In the first place, when one checks back on the hearing to which Enthoven and Smith refer, we find that in September, 1967, two years after the systems analysis office had “the charter and the manpower,” Dr. Enthoven was still defending the TFX and claiming that both the Air Force and the Navy were satisfied with the plane: “the Air Force pilots who are flying it are terribly enthusiastic about it,”26 while the Navy had come “to the conclusion that for the job of Fleet Air Defense for which it is intended it is the best choice.” 27

In other words, Dr. Enthoven, two years after systems analysis had, by his own account, achieved its full expansion, was still giving a Congressional committee the same kind of misleading information as McNamara was. Enthoven does not disclose this in his book but he does tell us that a year later in the summer of 1968, i.e., after Clark Clifford had taken over from McNamara, systems analysis recommended a sharp cutback in the F-111 program. This recommendation, Enthoven writes, was based on:

(1) the belief that the deep-interdiction mission for which the plane was designed [i.e., the idea that a tactical fighter could also double in brass as a strategic bomber—IFS] was not likely to be a productive use of resources and therefore should be reduced, (2) disappointment over the cost and performance of the plane in relation to alternatives, (3) recognition that the general financial situation of the country required a tougher scrutiny of all defense programs, and (4) realization that the cost and capability of U.S. tactical air forces had grown enormously in the past eight years without a sufficient reason.28

Why did it take eight years, and why did Enthoven wait until McNamara had left the Pentagon to make those recommendations? Could it be that the whiz kids dared not face his wrath by opposing him on the project on which he had so set his heart and staked his managerial reputation?

The answer may be suggested in a paper submitted to Senator Jackson’s Subcommittee on National Security in April, 1968, by Dr. James R. Schlesinger, then director of strategic studies at RAND and now assistant director of the Office of Management and Budget under Nixon. In a paper on “Uses and Abuses of Analysis”29 Dr. Schlesinger asked:

Will the decisionmaker tolerate analysis—even when it is his own hobby horses which are under scrutiny?… Dr. Enthoven has quite properly objected to the canard that analysis is somehow responsible for what are regarded as the mishaps of the TFX decisions, pointing out that the new procedures were only tangentially involved. A more penetrating question it seems to me, is: why did the analysts steer away from the issue? How many hobby horses are there? Are they off limits to the analysts?

In veiled but revealing terms, Dr. Schlesinger then went on to say:

An acquaintance, who has been deeply involved in analytic activities in one of the Departments, recently commented to me on his experience. Analysis he felt had been relevant in only a small proportion of the decisions. Half the time a decision had been foreclosed by high-level political involvement: a call from the White House, interest expressed by key Congressmen or Committees. In an additional 30 percent of the cases, the careers of immediate supervisors were involved. Analysis could not influence the recommendations; it could only serve as an irritant. [Emphasis added.] But, he argued, in something like 20 percent of the issues, analysis was unfettered and contributed to much improved overall results.

This, in my opinion, could only refer to Defense; in no other department had systems analysis been tried long enough or widely enough to provide the basis for such observations. I stumbled, while working on this review, onto a story I cannot prove that a systems analyst under Enthoven did submit a critical memorandum on the TFX very early in the decision-making debates. My information came from within the military bureaucracy but I am pledged not to reveal my source. I was told that a twelve-page memorandum recommended that a contract decision be postponed until a full “systems analysis” could be made. The memorandum argued that the Air Force and Navy mission requirements were too diverse to be met successfully by a single plane. I was also told that Dr. Enthoven in a hand-written note rejected this memorandum instead of passing it on to Gilpatric and McNamara on the ground that it would call down bureaucratic wrath on the fledgling systems analysis office. It would be interesting to hear Dr. Enthoven’s version of this account, which I cannot document.

In any case, Dr. Enthoven was not as powerless before 1965 as he leads the reader of his book to believe, After four years at RAND, he joined the Department of Defense in May, 1960, in the Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, when the TFX requirements were being developed. On May 23, 1961, he became Deputy Controller for Systems Analysis (Programming). He rose up the bureaucratic ladder in October, 1962, to be Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Systems Analysis) in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), and in September, 1965, was sworn into the newly established position of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Systems Analysis). All these parentheses were part of the bureaucratic titles and attest the fact that systems analysis was his job from early 1961, soon after McNamara took over.

Dr. Enthoven’s reputation for precocity and brilliance are fully supported by his book, which I found most informative and a pleasure to read. Of all the books on the Pentagon I have come across, this is perhaps the most instructive. I hope to discuss its virtues and its equally revealing limitations in a succeeding article. Dr. Enthoven earned honorable scars from the military and deserves high credit for the part he played in some of McNamara’s most notable achievements—among them his long fight to delay the anti-ballistic missile and a new bomber, and in the scrapping of Skybolt. At the hearing I have mentioned, in September, 1967, before the Jackson Subcommittee, Dr. Enthoven objected to all the emphasis on the TFX and with justice called attention to McNamara’s (and his own) achievements in those early days.30

Why not talk about the B-70, for example? That was a very controversial decision…. We could have wasted $15 billion on the B-70…. Or let us talk about Skybolt. A month after it was cancelled everybody agreed…that Skybolt would not have been a good weapon system. Or why don’t we talk about the Nike-Zeus [the earlier version of the ABM] …. We could have wasted $15 or $20 billion on Nike-Zeus…. I worked on the analyses leading to the B-70 and Nike-Zeus decisions…and Systems Analysis had a lot to do with them. [Emphasis added.]

Now let us go back to the quotation in the Enthoven book from Senator Jackson saying that blocking the TFX might have been “systems analysis’ greatest triumph.” The book does not quote what Senator Jackson said immediately after this:31

Senator Jackson: I think the real question here is why systems analysis wasn’t used before the key TFX decision was made in November 1962…. Techniques of systems analysis were available then, and as we have been told this morning, they were being used during this same period in the fall of 1962 in deciding to cancel Skybolt. I think you will find that Mr. Hitch [Charles J. Hitch, then Comptroller in the Pentagon and Dr. Enthoven’s immediate superior at the time] was not consulted at all in connection with the TFX matter.

Dr. Enthoven: I believe that is correct.

Senator Jackson: Mr. Hitch told me so.

Dr. Enthoven: I believe it is correct that we were not involved in that.

Just why the systems analysts were not consulted and just why these bright and often brash young men did not “put their two cents in” anyway are still unanswered questions. To have volunteered their opinions and opposed both the military requirements and the idea of building a common plane would have meant bucking the Air Force, which wanted the plane; Harold Brown, soon Secretary of the Air Force, then head of research and engineering, which was for “commonalty” in the TFX; the bomber pilots and the bomber admirals who saw in TFX their chance to develop a new strategic bomber disguised as a long-distance tactical “interdiction” bombing plane; both the Boeing and General Dynamics lobbies; and McNamara himself.

Dr. Enthoven may well have felt that systems analysis was still too precariously perched in the bureaucracy to risk sticking its neck out. Considering the passionate attachment McNamara developed for the TFX, his desperate eagerness to make it work and show those blankety-blanks on the Hill and in the military services that he was right, it might well have taken more temerity than Dr. Enthoven could muster to tell his beloved chief that he, one of the maestro’s favorite protégés, thought he was wrong. With so proud and stubborn and super-confident a man as McNamara such unasked advice might well have prevented the rise on the bureaucratic ladder of both Dr. Enthoven and systems analysis.

The 1967 Jackson Subcommittee hearing revealed that the younger men McNamara had brought into the Department were not asked for their opinions on the TFX. The older men like Gilpatric, Zuckert, and Korth clearly did nothing to dissuade him, or to urge deeper analysis. Without the slightest imputation of impropriety to McNamara, one can still say that those around him with an interest in seeing the TFX go to Fort Worth, Texas, and General Dynamics certainly did not urge him to look before he leaped.

I believe the truth is that for internal “political” reasons within the Pentagon, McNamara had to balance off his veto of the B-70 and any new strategic bomber by giving the Air Force its long-distance interdiction bomber and the Navy its new fighter-bomber for the carrier fleet. He honestly thought he could save money by using the new “swing-wing” to build a common plane. The Navy’s bomber admirals and Boeing went to the McClellan Committee as a means of counterattacking McNamara and under-cutting the improved kind of civilian systems analysis he was applying to the B-70, to Nike-Zeus, and to Skybolt. For McNamara it was not merely a question of whether the TFX would work but whether he was to maintain his authority over the military bureaucracy. This was the leverage which won the contract for Fort Worth, for Texas, and for General Dynamics.

The pity of it is that neither the McClellan Committee nor the two new books from McNamara’s devoted entourage deal with the deepest and most important of the issues raised by the TFX. As I wrote in The New York Review just two years ago, there were three errors involved. The first and least important was giving the contract to General Dynamics; I believe Boeing would also have botched the job of meeting those fantastic specifications. The second was in trying to build one plane. The third—and most important—was in surrendering to the pressure of the Air Force for a new bomber when missiles had made the bomber obsolete and to the pressure of the Navy for a new missile weapons system just so they could go ahead with their expensive and equally obsolete game of carriers and bombers. The McClellan Committee report really deals only with the first. The McNamara apologists do not go beyond the second. The nearest Dr. Enthoven comes to the third question is still very distant from the central issue. He writes:

Systems Analysis studies suggested that there is reason to question the value of deep interdiction against industry and lines of communication in both Europe and Asia…. Historically speaking the case for the deep-interdiction mission is poor. Neither in Germany, in Korea nor in Vietnam were U.S. forces able to choke off, through bombing alone, the production of war material or its movement to the front.

But that does not touch the basic issue, which is the obsolescence of the strategic nuclear bomber in the missile age. The fundamental objection to the TFX is that under cover of a demand for new tactical aircraft the bomber generals were smuggling in a new strategic bomber. But what of importance would there be left for bombing after the first missile exchange in a nuclear war? What purpose could “deep interdiction” serve except a kind of mechanical blood-lust, a compulsive desire for the last full measure of destruction when the main concern should rationally be to preserve some modicum of life on both sides so humanity could go on?

To spend billions on a new strategic bomber in the name of an obsolete form of deep-interdiction bombing just to appease our bomber generals and the aircraft industry was the kind of expensive lunacy only a rich country like ours could indulge. The same holds true for the bomber with the Phoenix missile the Navy wanted and is getting in the VFX. This is to defend our carriers from a nonexistent Soviet bomber. I came up two years ago with a passage from a House Appropriations Committee hearing in 1968 in which Chairman Mahon of Texas got Air Force Secretary Brown to admit there was no sign that the Russians were building a new bomber, and that such defensive planning as the Phoenix missile represents is meant to counter the kind of bomber we think the Soviets ought to be building if they were playing the bomber game our way!32

How can we bring the military monster under control when this, the ultimate idiocy in the TFX affair, goes unmentioned either by the McClellan Committee, by Muskie and Javits in their “Individual Views,” or in the post mortems of whiz kids like Enthoven and Yarmolinsky?

This is the first of two articles. Next: The “Systems Analysis” we need and the whiz kids never practiced.

This Issue

March 11, 1971