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Vietnam, Still a 'Futile War'

Reporter Tim Weiner couldn't quite bring himself to note that the enemy was "communist" - unless he was describing an exaggerated threat.

The New York Times didn't play down their old but unabated Vietnam War rage on the front page on Tuesday: Robert S. McNamara, Architect of a Futile War, Dies.The same "futile war" headline was repeated when the story continued on page B-10.


Tim Weiner reported McNamara faced a "firestorm of scorn," and the most notable scoldwas The New York Times itself:


In 1995, he took a stand against his own conduct of the war, confessing in a memoir that it was "wrong, terribly wrong." In return, he faced a firestorm of scorn.


"Mr. McNamara must not escape the lasting moral condemnation of his countrymen," The New York Times said in a widely discussed editorial, written by the page's editor at the time, Howell Raines. "Surely he must in every quiet and prosperous moment hear the ceaseless whispers of those poor boys in the infantry, dying in the tall grass, platoon by platoon, for no purpose. What he took from them cannot be repaid by prime-time apology and stale tears, three decades late."


That's Howell Raines, otherwise known as the "architect of a futile quota system for Jayson Blair."


Tim Weiner's story was very adept at avoiding the C-word - "communism" - despite long paragraphs about Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs invasion. Weiner only used it twice outside of quotes. Here's the first one, in paragraph 27, just barely out of quotes:


By 1962, theWhite House and the Pentagon had devised a new strategy of counterinsurgency to combat what Mr. McNamara called the tactics of "terror, extortion, and assassination" by communist guerillas.


Weiner quickly found former CIA man Robert Amory to insist "Counterinsurgency became an almost ridiculous battle cry."


Here's the second one, in paragraph74:


He [McNamara] had thoughtfor a long time that the United States could not win the war. In retirement, he listed reasons: a failure to understand the enemy, a failure to see the limits of high-tech weapons, a failure to to tell the truth to the American people, and a failure to grasp the nature of the threat of communism...."I am certain we exaggerated the threat."


Weiner ended the entire opus/obit by quoting McNamara at his most anti-war:


"War is so complex it's beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend," he concluded. "Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate. And we kill people unnecessarily."