4 cassettes / 4 hours Read by the author, Paul Hendrickson A New York Times Notable Book of the Year Finalist for the Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism "Meticulous in detail, epic in scope, psychologically sophisticated and spiritually rich, it ranks with The Best and the Brightest and All the President's Men". --San Francisco Chronicle More than the two presid4 cassettes / 4 hours Read by the author, Paul Hendrickson A New York Times Notable Book of the Year Finalist for the Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism "Meticulous in detail, epic in scope, psychologically sophisticated and spiritually rich, it ranks with The Best and the Brightest and All the President's Men". --San Francisco Chronicle More than the two presidents he served or the 58,000 soldiers who died for his policies, Robert McNamara was the official face of Vietnam, the technocrat with steel-rimmed glasses and an ironclad faith in numbers who kept insisting that the war was winnable long after he had ceased to believe it was. This brilliantly insightful, morally devastating book tells us why he believed, how he lost faith, and what his deceptions cost five of the war's witnesses and McNamara himself. In The Living and the Dead, Paul Hendrickson juxtaposes McNamara's story with those of a wounded Marine, an Army nurse, a Vietnamese refugee, a Quaker who burned himself to death to protest the war, and an enraged artist who tried to kill the man he saw as the war's architect. The result is a book whose exhaustive research and imaginative power turn history into an act of reckoning, damning and profoundly sympathetic, impossible to put down and impossible to forget. "A masterpiece. . . . [Hendrickson] has a gift with language that most writers can only dream about. " --Philadelphia Inquirer "Approaches Shakespearian tragedy". --The New York Times Book Review...more
Hardcover, 427 pages
September 9th 1996
(first published 1996)
No kidding, the closer I get to losing my own health and life the more I am drawn far far away to the natural recreational areas surrounding my boyhood home up in northern Michigan. It seems there is little draw for me for the actual town I was born in seeing as though the residents have pretty much destroyed it, or any reason to visit again the house my family spent its better years in together, but the outlying Huron National Forest, the historic Ausablehttp://msarki.tumblr.com/post/7738400...
No kidding, the closer I get to losing my own health and life the more I am drawn far far away to the natural recreational areas surrounding my boyhood home up in northern Michigan. It seems there is little draw for me for the actual town I was born in seeing as though the residents have pretty much destroyed it, or any reason to visit again the house my family spent its better years in together, but the outlying Huron National Forest, the historic Ausable River, Sand Lake, and the tongue of land jutting out into Lake Huron and Tawas Bay called The Point consistently conjures pleasant and luscious, if not lustful, memories for me. It was during my high school years in the early seventies that I escaped to these places, to get away from being the dutiful son and diligent student in a rather goofy high school, to get away from being public when I wanted to be private, and to believe I would eventually be going places better and far more important than the little hick town I felt I had been torturously trapped in for the previous sixteen or seventeen years.
Recreational drugs helped me to escape. Also being attached to the freak flag the old Byrd David Crosby alluded to somehow felt possible even for me. And then standing on our school chums’ and my bonded difference together in the face of harsh and critical parental authority whether coming at us from home, the school system, or even our local police. From the time my teenage years began in the mid sixties there was obviously something changing for me besides my anatomy. The normal state of teenage confusion was complicating my life in the most extreme, but it was nothing anybody else would have easily noticed at least until I turned eighteen. The Vietnam War was in full gear, there was little known about it other than the pics of thousands of body bags and the wounded, as well as college riots, tear gas, and knowing the suffering was everywhere. In 1972 there wasn’t much chance of escaping it.
A diversion even to this day is the school rivalries within high school sports. Our greatest rivals were up the Lake Huron coastline at the mouth of the Ausable River in a little town by the name of Oscoda. Wurtsmith Air Force Base was situated just west of the town back then before all the shutdowns occurred during the Clinton Years and that active military base undoubtedly provided a steady influx of athletes to the Oscoda Schools sports programs. An unfair advantage was afforded Oscoda as their teams seemed to always have at least one or two gifted black athletes on their teams at all times. My school, Tawas Area, was an all-white all-the-time institution and we worked hard to maintain our dominance over all the neighboring schools, but Oscoda presented, if not a losing dilemma for us, a promise for nail-biting anguish. By the time I advanced to high school I had pretty much given up the sporting chance of fighting my way to fame on the football field or basketball court and had instead resorted to a Silvertone electric guitar in hopes of making it big somewhere on a local stage.
Vietnam continued to lurk in the background and in 1972 I was involved in the last lottery draft for a war that would not end and could never be won, except nobody officially was telling us that, we just felt it through and through. On February 2, 1972, a drawing was held to determine military draft priority numbers for men born in 1953. But the “last draft” was a scary thing for me, being still in high school and wondering whether or not on my graduation date if I would be called up to serve my country instead of getting to follow my own personal plan of escaping my town as fast as I could in order to claim my own forty acres and a mule I knew existed for me somewhere west of the Mississippi. In the meantime, I was bent on performing a miracle of sorts up in rival Oscoda of bedding the most desirable girl belonging to these rivals from the north. I imagined having the poor girl named Jane fall madly in love with me and accomplishing what the better jocks and men before me had not been able to do thus far. I stupidly, and most awkwardly, arranged our first date together to occur on the same day as the draft, and fifty numbers drawn into it I realized I had forgotten to listen to my fate, and steadfastly from that moment on I centered my attention in her home on the radio and the numbers still remaining to be announced. The problem with missing the first fifty numbers of a drawing regarding your fate is the feeling your number was already up and any digits to follow would only heighten the pain of knowing what was already feared as fact. I was listening well into the two hundreds when I realized Jane had absolutely no interest in my ass being on the line, and dumb though I was, I witnessed myself picking up and leaving her house because she was obviously, and ethically, not the girl for me, conquest or no conquest to come. Back in those days women weren’t drafted into the military and also not asked to serve. Only young boys were, and it still, to this day, does not feel right to me unless you were a girl who happened to care. And there were plenty of those girls somewhere, just not in my vicinity that day when it mattered to me most.
My draft number was high. Driving home south along the coastal highway of US-23 it finally came to me, 346, the most blessed number in my memory even to this day. I knew then I would not have to choose whether to serve or run to Canada. Note I had been torn every which way prior to learning my lottery number as my father was a WWII veteran and proud of his country and his chance to serve in the Navy. His own brother had freakishly died in an auto accident while hitchhiking home after getting discharged from the same war my dad was in, hurrying home on the cheap to Alabaster, a little gypsum mining town five miles south of the Tawases where the family had a twenty-two acre sandy-soiled farm my parents still live on today and call The Acres. I obviously never knew my uncle Everett, but his memory was alive and ever-present throughout that time in my life. It is easy and also chicken to say I would have served if called. It is also impossible to say I would have run away to Canada as I was told others were doing in droves. I was a rule-follower then (except for the occasional recreational drug) and always have been. It is possible I would have shown up for my inductee physical, but I am not able to say so with any certainty. This brings to mind an analogy I use often when discussing this situation that had such a huge impact on my life and the life-changing decisions that followed the calling of my high number. When 9/11 occurred, and it became legend concerning the brave men and women on the flight over Pennsylvania perhaps heading for the White House and its destruction, I immediately felt as if the man who led the charge with his cry of “Let’s roll” could have been me. I want to think it could have. But I am always careful to say I could just as well have been the fellow wetting my pants and crying under the airline seat. You just don’t know what you will do when faced with a dangerous and grave situation. I am always amazed at the almost unanimous claim every man makes regarding what he himself would have done in these situations. I am suspect always of the testosterone-charged he-man or the scary bully who is, in my personal experience, easily put down and pummeled to the ground because he should have known better than to piss the wrong guy off. But that doesn’t make me a tough guy, it is just my way of confessing to you that I hate bullies and all they stand for.
Two leading examples of bullies I have hated most recently are Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. I believe in my heart of hearts that little George was basically a decent man who got caught up in the right-wing hawkish politics of the day and followed the advice and agenda of two people he shouldn’t have. Of course, W was in charge and should be held accountable, but I don’t think he had the brainpower to hold a better and more humane conviction than he did. It was all he could do to remain the stubborn son he was credited, and unjustly admired, for being. Another group of USA bullies were the framers of the war in Vietnam. I have always remained slightly ignorant to all the history behind the war as I really had no interest in it. But almost every day I am reminded of the war that took 58,272 American lives and ruined or killed millions of others. I have always been careful to be sympathetic to the Vietnam War veterans and to realize that their shoes were ones I did not have to fill. I never protested the Vietnam war, but I was afraid of it. I never supported the war in any shape or form. I thought it was awful and something I did not want to know more about. But something changed in me when I discovered the biographer Paul Hendrickson. After reading both Hemingway’s Boat and the biography on Marion Post Wolcott I was hooked on Hendrickson. I had to read about McNamara though I really didn’t want to.
A few years ago my wife and I went to a screening of Errol Morris’s The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. The film was quite good, but the topic wasn’t anything I wanted to know more about after viewing the movie. Really, nobody in my circle ever really talks much about the lost war of Vietnam. I do have a brother-in-law who was a helicopter pilot there in 1968 and was involved in a deadly crash when another helicopter crashed on to his when he was on the ground. His entire crew was killed but he survived as an entirely crushed and physically broken man. The crash ended his dreams of being a commercial pilot though he would fly for another year in the military after his release from the hospital before being grounded permanently when it was discovered during his annual review that he had too few fingers left to fly with according to the rules of the military flight manual. He recovered from his serious injuries enough to overcome his disabilities. Out of of sheer will he conducted another long and remarkable career as first a carpenter and then a builder. Bill is a hero of mine and we are talking more about the war these days and our personal relationships to it, which in my case isn’t much except for what I have recently read. Which brings me to why I am writing this piece in the first place. Paul Hendrickson has written a dandy of a book on not only Robert Strange McNamara and the Vietnam War but five other people connected to McNamara’s folly. Hendrickson brings his text alive by adding more personal stories that the typical biographer leaves out. He is relentless in researching his subjects. This book was ten years in the making.
Besides the detailed history lesson of events leading up to the war in Vietnam and the lies that followed, what I took most from this non-judgmental book was the Gandhi-like acceptance of all who were involved in the Vietnam War. There is not the bitterness and anger one would expect resulting from some of the awful things that occurred there. Story after story demonstrates something that is difficult to describe with words, but easier to show with them. My brother-in-law, for example, has a determination that is colossal. He accepted his injuries and went on with his life making the best of what he had, and to this day does not think about what he lost back there in Vietnam unless somebody like me brings it up. Even McNamara went on with his life. On a somewhat different if not, some might say, perverted side note, I have noticed with great interest that in every book written by Paul Hendrickson there is at least one titillating, but gracious and even intellectual, reference to sex, and for that I am always grateful. I found it interesting in one striking example regarding McNamara that can be found toward the end of the book when Hendrickson remarked that after the death of his beloved wife of forty-one years, Margaret, he, Robert Strange McNamara conducted an adulterous romantic affair with a married woman who was raising eight children. She was often his traveling companion when Strange conducted business for the World Bank, a post Lyndon Johnson gave him in 1968 in order to get rid of him on his cabinet. Neither the woman, Joan Braden, nor McNamara denied their affair, and their indifference came across to me as something not extraordinary at all at the time, though in my world today it would be nothing short of earth shattering and shameful. After Hendrickson’s book was published Joan Braden wrote her own book, Just Enough Rope: An Intimate Memoir (1989). The columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in her New York Times Review that, ”Joan Braden has taken a lot of heat for this book, which has been criticized as a vapid kiss-and-sell by a Washington society hostess with the capital’s most notorious ‘open’ marriage.” Seems Mrs. Braden was married to a CIA agent who approved of her extra-curricular activities. But the fact that all three involved were basically indifferent to the affair and what it signified is interesting to me and I wouldn’t have known that bit of fluff if Hendrickson hadn’t brought it to my attention in a rather “oh, by the way”.
Paul Hendrickson cannot produce books fast enough for me. I am eagerly awaiting his next which I understand is a work on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright....more
This is a book about Robert McNamara and the struggle within himself over the enormity of the Vietnam War and the wartime decisions which tested his senses of loyalty and propriety toward those he worked for and the public. Famously Kennedy's Secretary of Defense, he managed the beginnings of military efforts in Vietnam for him and later the big war for Lyndon Johnson and became disillusioned when he realized the war couldn't be won. Near a mental collapse and no longer regarded as an asset, asThis is a book about Robert McNamara and the struggle within himself over the enormity of the Vietnam War and the wartime decisions which tested his senses of loyalty and propriety toward those he worked for and the public. Famously Kennedy's Secretary of Defense, he managed the beginnings of military efforts in Vietnam for him and later the big war for Lyndon Johnson and became disillusioned when he realized the war couldn't be won. Near a mental collapse and no longer regarded as an asset, as on the team, after the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive in 1968 and after the public's perceptions of what that offensive meant he was asked to resign. What surprises me is that it wasn't Tet that convinced McNamara the war effort was futile. It wasn't the savage meaninglessness of Westmoreland's search and destroy attrition strategy, or the antiwar movement at home, or the failure of efforts to bring North Vietnam to the negotiation table. According to Hendrickson, McNamara's realization came immediately after North Vietnamese regular forces fought U. S. units in the Ia Drang Valley and demonstrated they could stand up to American military power. At that time McNamara saw that the enemy was willing to sustain the horrendous losses of that campaign and any other and that they could never, not by bombing, not by battlefield attrition, be brought to a condition they'd consider as defeat; they'd never give up. That was in November, 1965. Yet McNamara continued to prosecute the war as Secretary of Defense without expressing reservations about the course or conduct of the war to those he worked for or to the public. Hendrickson, as many before him, perhaps rightly, sharply condemns him for this. So this is a book which is anti-McNamara. On the first page Hendrickson uses the word he most wants to emphasize: "lies." He uses the word several times in the book, and 3 pages from the end again calls McNamara a liar. That's the tone of the book. That's Hendrickson's message, that McNamara lied about the war to the American people, to Congress, to the administration he served, and even to the military he led. Hendrickson's picture is of a brilliant technocrat who mostly went wrong because he failed to connect the human to his work. That idea is most effectively demonstrated by the 5 people whose stories he chooses to tell and whose lives were deeply affected if not ruined by the war: a young helicopter crew chief mentally and physically scarred by his combat experiences, members of a South Vietnamese family ultimately forced to flee the country after Saigon's collapse, a Quaker antiwar activist who immlolated himself in protest, an Army nurse, and a New England artist who tried to kill McNamara long after the end of the war. Judging by what Hendrickson writes about his aims here, I think he considers this biography. To me it had the feel of journalism. To me it returns too many times to his points of contention and becomes polemic. Yet what he has achieved is a deeply moving work. This is a book which in the end doesn't make you angry or make you regret lost opportunities or the enormous waste of war--it just becomes acutely sad, for McNamara, for the 5 lives Hendrickson highlights, for everybody....more
An indictment of Robert McNamara (as an isolated, conflicted central figure) and the Vietnam War. Told through the stories of five people deeply affected by the events leading up to and during the war: a conscientious objector who self-immolated outside McNamara's window to protest the war; a combat Marine; an Army nurse; a wealthy Vietnamese family; and an artist who tried to throw McNamara off a ferry. Extremely disturbing and moving as the book develops McNamara's inner conflict along with thAn indictment of Robert McNamara (as an isolated, conflicted central figure) and the Vietnam War. Told through the stories of five people deeply affected by the events leading up to and during the war: a conscientious objector who self-immolated outside McNamara's window to protest the war; a combat Marine; an Army nurse; a wealthy Vietnamese family; and an artist who tried to throw McNamara off a ferry. Extremely disturbing and moving as the book develops McNamara's inner conflict along with the tragic stories of some of those who were deeply affected by his decisions. ...more
Paul Hendrickson's hatred of Robert S. McNamara ruins this book in my opinion. He claims right and left that McNamara lied but does not give us properly sourced references to back up any of his claims. His stories of the five people affected by the Vietnam War is interesting, but Hendrickson makes a martyr out of Norman Morrison, the man who stood outside McNamara's window at the Pentagon on November 2, 1965, and burned himself alive. Was his sacrifice truly a noble act of defiance, or did it siPaul Hendrickson's hatred of Robert S. McNamara ruins this book in my opinion. He claims right and left that McNamara lied but does not give us properly sourced references to back up any of his claims. His stories of the five people affected by the Vietnam War is interesting, but Hendrickson makes a martyr out of Norman Morrison, the man who stood outside McNamara's window at the Pentagon on November 2, 1965, and burned himself alive. Was his sacrifice truly a noble act of defiance, or did it simply add another casualty to the list of Americans who died thanks to the Vietnam War? Hendrickson seems to think the former, but I am not so sure. Isn't it better to stay alive and protest a war until it finally ends?
The biggest flaw of the book remains Hendrickson's hatred of McNamara. While I believe anger is a good motivator for a writer, letting it spill over into your thought processes regarding the shaping of your manuscript is rash in the extreme. Hendrickson nevertheless plunged into his manuscript with this approach guiding him every step of the way. The result is the book becomes spread out and limp, rather than taut and forceful.
As far as I am concerned, "The Living And The Dead" is more a screed by Paul Hendrickson than an objective look at McNamara and the Vietnam War....more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it,
click here.I'm not a war book person, necessarily, nor am I a reader of political history. My husband recommended this book to my stepson as the best book he's ever read. The three of us enjoy long dinners on the weekends in conversation, so I read it to be part of the conversation.
I had doubts early on that it could be the best book ever, but recognized it to be a very engaging book, which surprised me given that it's about policy development and the Vietnam war. As the book develops it becomes almost imI'm not a war book person, necessarily, nor am I a reader of political history. My husband recommended this book to my stepson as the best book he's ever read. The three of us enjoy long dinners on the weekends in conversation, so I read it to be part of the conversation.
I had doubts early on that it could be the best book ever, but recognized it to be a very engaging book, which surprised me given that it's about policy development and the Vietnam war. As the book develops it becomes almost impossible to put down.
And here's the part that makes it compelling...the amount of research that the author has done and the humanity that he unearths in each character. It is marvelous. And it has been the source of really great conversations both about the policy of the Vietnam war but mostly about the psychology of the souls in the story.
I agree with the other reviewers. The author is not a McNamara fan. Throughout the book you can see his personal struggle with objectivity but I do believe, in the end, he does his very best to put that aside so the reader can draw her own conclusions, which I believe i did. ...more
When I read Moneyball, I said, wouldn't it be great if all of life, not just baseball, could be run by what the numbers actually tell us, and not our hidebound notions about things. When I began to read this book, I thought it was going to present the dark underbelly of that idea, the be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario. Because Robert S McNamara was just such a numbers guy. His pet field, control accounting, was all about running things by the numbers. After he helped to run the Army Air ForcWhen I read Moneyball, I said, wouldn't it be great if all of life, not just baseball, could be run by what the numbers actually tell us, and not our hidebound notions about things. When I began to read this book, I thought it was going to present the dark underbelly of that idea, the be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario. Because Robert S McNamara was just such a numbers guy. His pet field, control accounting, was all about running things by the numbers. After he helped to run the Army Air Force according to the numbers, he helped to run Ford Motor Company according to the numbers, and then became Kennedy's Secretary of Defense, and tried to run the Vietnam war according to the numbers. And it was a disaster. But it was not the numbers that failed McNamara. It was something else. Hendrickson makes a point of saying that McNamara was not merely the cold, calculating man he was thought to be. He did have a sensitive side; it was just rarely seen. McNamara's problem was that the numbers did tell him the truth about Vietnam. They told him that the war could not be won. But he continued to promote the war. He continued to send thousands of men to their deaths. Why? That isn't easily answered, because McNamara himself has been reluctant to talk about the whole Vietnam thing. He has said that he was being loyal to his president (first Kennedy, and then Johnson) by following his lead. Hendrickson suggests that he lacked moral courage, or that he was addicted to his position of power. One thing Hendrickson is sure of is that McNamara lied. As the book goes on, he returns to the mantra more frequently: He lied, he lied, he lied. Hendrickson juxtaposes internal memos, full of doubts and propositions for scaling back, alongside gung-ho press releases from the same dates, saying, "Everything's going great; we're making progress; we just need to continue."
But psychoanalyzing McNamara is only part of Hendrickson's book. He also writes about the "five lives" of the title, people whose lives were in some way damaged by Vietnam. The first was James C Farley, a soldier who was featured in a Life Magazine photo essay. (All of these very fine pictures are available online.) The tragic mission ended with Captain Farley hunched over a supply chest, crying. Next is Norman Morrison, a Quaker who set himself on fire to protest the war. Then Marlene Kramel, an Army nurse who came through the war emotionally stable, but requiring multiple surgeries for mysterious tumors. Then some members of the Tran family of Vietnam who endured imprisonments and torture. Then an unnamed artist who tried to kill McNamara by throwing him over the rail of the ferry to Martha's Vineyard. These five lives are interesting, and they are all historically informative about life during the Vietnam era, but I thought that to lay all their sufferings at the feet of one man, even if that man were a liar and a moral coward, and even if he was Secretary of Defense, was a bit of a stretch.
Hendrickson writes lyrically, often focusing on details that carry emotional significance for him, and returning to them: the young McNamara studying in his room under a cone of light, Farley bending over his box (and that box labeled "Valuables"), the smell of kerosene on the clothes of Morrison's baby daughter, the "stuff" that Marlene and the other nurses got on them (blood, muck, mud, toxic chemicals). Sometimes he writes fancifully, as when he calls a Vietnam protest winding its way toward the Pentagon a "sea serpent." Sometimes I grew impatient with the more poetic touches, saying in my head, come on, this is history, just lay it out there straight. This is history, but Hendrickson's history is a world of intertwined significance, where a butterfly beats its wings, or a man in an office writes a memo, and a man halfway around the world lays down his head and weeps. Hendrickson is deeply enmeshed in his subject. He spent years researching and interviewing, not just his subjects, but everyone who knew them. The facts he has accumulated are impressive. In the end I think it would have been more powerful if he had rambled and mused a little less, and left some of the details out. ...more
Hendrickson's book on McNamara weaves together five lives affected by the former Secretary of Defense's prosecution of the Vietnam War. This is a tremendous work, very knowledgeable on the war's dire specifics and suitable for a course in conjunction with other works such as TTTC, Home Before Morning, etc.
Hendrickson made substantial use of the archives of the LBJ Library and Museum.