I mentioned yesterday that, while having followed Robert McNamara's decisions and legacy for many decades, I had never dealt with him personally. Mark Feeney of the Boston Globe, who wrote the paper's obituary of McNamara two days ago, sent this recollection of his own encounters:
I briefly interviewed him on the phone, twice, the first time in regards to "The Fog of War." The most amusing thing about that conversation was how flabbergasted he was by the price of movie tickets. The fact he wasn't trying to be funny made it all the more amusing.
My most memorable McNamara experience didn't involve direct contact. This would have been the summer of 1978 [when Feeney was in college] on Martha's Vineyard. I was standing on the main street in Edgartown with a couple of friends, and there was a car waiting at a stop sign. I don't recall if I recognized that the driver was McNamara or only realized that's who it was after hearing the question I'm about to relate. It came from a middle-aged white guy (clearly not a summer resident) standing by the car. "Hey, are you Secretary McNamara?" he asked through the open passenger-side window. Before there was an answer, the man added, "You're one of my heroes. Let me shake your hand." He then reached in and shook hands with McNamara.
What made the scene so memorable was McNamara's response. He visibly flinched; his face just collapsed. It was horrible to see. One could easily imagine numerous similar confrontations--few, if any, ending so cordially. Here was someone who, a decade and a half earlier, had been one of the three or four most powerful men in the world reduced to fleeting agony by an innocuous question. Brief though the moment was, I've never forgotten it.
I can't imagine Donald Rumsfeld either being so publicly available or responding in such a way. Neither fact speaks well of the man.
The last point bears emphasis, and is one I wish I'd made yesterday. If we thought that Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, or for that matter George W. Bush would eventually reflect as deeply on the consequences of their decisions as Robert McNamara clearly did, they would deserve the respect for moral seriousness that the McNamara of "The Fog of War" era had clearly earned. My guess is that, Nixon-like, all of them (and certainly Cheney and Rumsfeld) instead scorn McNamara for giving in to doubts and doubters.