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In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam
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In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  1,684 Ratings  ·  136 Reviews
The #1 national bestseller--an indispensable document for anyone interested in the Vietnam War. McNamara's controversial book tells the inside and personal story of America's descent into Vietnam from a unique point of view, and is one of the most enlightening books about government ever written. This new edition features a new Foreword by McNamara. of photos. (Military Hi ...more
Paperback, 540 pages
Published March 19th 1996 by Vintage (first published 1995)
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Addendum 9/9/09. As I follow the discussion over Afghanistan, I was reminded of a report cited by McNamara that was begun at the behest of CIA director Richard Helms. Super-secret it was done to examine contingencies to see what might happen if there were an unfavorable outcome in Vietnam. Over 30 CIA analysts were consulted. It was not to be an argument for ending the war, just responses to a hypothetical question. The memo was entitled "Implications of an Unfavorable Outcome in Vietnam." (The ...more
Larry Bassett
Jul 23, 2011 Larry Bassett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, memoir, audio

Vietnam with my war. I was a teenager a college student and a young adult. I wasn't drafted as a result of a series of deferments. This is an after-the-fact story by Robert McNamara who was the secretary of defense under Kennedy and Johnson for seven years. He thinks Kennedy would've gotten out of Vietnam if he would've lived. And he thinks the Johnson should've gotten out of Vietnam in the mid 60s. He thinks he made some mistakes and failed to push issues as he should have as the US pushed fur
Hai Quan
May 18, 2014 Hai Quan rated it did not like it
In the struggle among the great powers for the domination of the world, many smaller countries became the victims with untold death and destruction. Viet-Nam was one of them.

All sides of this war-for-profit (More so on the Western side than the other sides) employed all the self-serving rhetoric , arrogant , false and paternalistic "brotherly love" to impose their imperial ambition upon their preys.Particularly, all American governments involved in the Viet-Nam war have successfully THREATEN ALL
Dec 08, 2009 Cam rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2010
I find myself repeating a common sentiment felt after reading non-fiction: where are your editors? Allow me to summarize the whole thing in a few sentences:

"We made a lot of mistakes in our decision-making and administration of the war. We had the nation's best interests at heart and whole-hearted thought that we were doing the right thing. However, we made decisions based on faulty premises and, in general, did a poor job of understanding the geopolitical climate of Southeast Asia which was lar
Sep 15, 2014 Rick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vietnam-war
“In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam” by Robert S. McNamara was a very good read. If you look at the reviews, some readers loved the book and some hated it…and often it was because some loved the man and some hated him. But if you can push aside your feelings for a moment, the book is a fascinating study of our drift into war during the 1960s. For those in their 60s, this book will be a reminder of events that transpired and that you saw in the news every night. For those that are ...more
Jun 20, 2011 Emily marked it as to-read
I am slugging through this book. It is very interesting, but not as compelling to me as fiction. I once told my dad that I didn't learn enough about the Vietnam War in school. He replied that when I was in school, people still weren't sure what really happened in Vietnam. I feel like the puzzle pieces are now being put together.

It is intriguing to be reading about a polarizing war at a time when the US is engaged on multiple fronts. It changes the way I read the newspaper.
May 13, 2008 Laurajsouthwick rated it really liked it
Very interesting. Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense, takes an apologetic and critical look at the decisions he and others made regarding US involvement in Vietnam. I hate to get all political, but some of the missteps are quite a bit too familiar for comfort, even if some of them "seemed like a good idea at the time."
Nick Black
May 16, 2014 Nick Black rated it really liked it
the description of the cuban missile crisis in this excellent memoir's appendix is one of the most terrifying things i've ever read.
Oct 31, 2013 Leni rated it did not like it
Journalist David Halberstam believes that former Defense Secretary McNamara "is guilty of something even more serious than war crimes -- the crime of silence while some thirty or forty thousand young Americans died... after he changed his mind on the war."

Then why did McNamara decide to break his silence suddenly in 1995? For one thing, he claims to have figured out the lessons of Vietnam only around 1993.

Second and more plausibly, he says he decided it was time at long last to further the heali
Dec 26, 2016 Choonghwan rated it liked it
It was a tragedy in terms of human losses and agonies which could be curtailed if not avoided. It was, however, human folly in a sense that how people so smart individually could mess up so miserably in collective manner. They had dithered, argued and mulled but not decided for 20 years. Lessons can be learned, yet it remains fiendishly difficult to practice.
Phillip Metzger
Jan 06, 2017 Phillip Metzger rated it really liked it
"It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so."

It's easy to not like this book and believe it to be a weak (and belated) apology for the war in VietNam. However, if you can get past your feelings on the human toll of the war and simply read this as a case study of the fog of war, you will find this to be a fascinating read. Be forewarned, it is a bit long--and certainly longer than it needed to be--but it does capture the thought process
Alex Milledge
Aug 09, 2014 Alex Milledge rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before any person considers it necessary to go to war as a legitimate use of policy, one should at least read McNamara's In Retrospect in order to learn many valuable lessons that one must consider, as well as a nation, before it decides to wage war.

I found McNamara to be an honorable man in every regard, and despite his lack of political skill, it actually made him a bit more lovable than the people he was surrounded by in the Johnson Administration. he did not play the game of politics like Jo
Don Keninitz
Jan 02, 2017 Don Keninitz rated it it was ok
A sniveling effort at offering a feckless mea culpa while simultaneously excusing the author's complicity in the Vietnam War.

Seldom has it taken so many words to say so little.
Sep 12, 2013 Peter rated it really liked it
It was so refreshing to read the work of an old style Catholic boy like McNamara, who had the courage, years later, to make his public confession (and share with us his learnings).

Ironically, I found myself reading Robert McNamara’s book “Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam” during these past few weeks as I vacationed at the beach while the Syrian situation continued to unravel.

It was refreshing to encounter his degree of honesty, and his consistency of principle which apparently enco
John Woltjer
Apr 05, 2014 John Woltjer rated it it was amazing
I was just listening to Errol Morris being interviewed about his new movie about Donald Rumsfeld. Morris also made the documentary, The Fog of War, about Robert McNamara, and in his interview was asked by Bob Edwards how he compared the two men: Rumsfeld and McNamara. Basically, McNamara was a reflective man, tormented by the decisions that he made regarding the conduct of the war in Vietnam, and Rumsfeld is, decidedly, not. I read, In Retrospect just after it came out and was absolutely riveted ...more
Sep 27, 2016 Ryan rated it it was amazing
I should preface this review with two things. First, if Robert McNamara is one thing, it's intelligent. A graduate of U.C. Berkeley and Harvard's Graduate School of Business Administration, he cut his teeth both as an instructor for the U.S. Army Air Corps' statistical control program during World War II, earning the Air Corps' Legion of Merit and leaving service with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1946, and at Ford Motor Company, where, by 1960, he was serving as its President. Second, I am ...more
Jun 22, 2010 Lara rated it it was amazing
Mcnamara's honesty in looking back and objectively detailing how our country got into Vietnam is an account that everyone should read. He has an intelligent and organized approach; along the way the reader learns much about how our government works and how decisions are made. It is a must read- also watch the documentary "Fog of War", excellent as well.

"The reward of suffering is experience"

"We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started
Ken Bickley
Sep 26, 2014 Ken Bickley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very difficult book to read. Even though it's been half a century now, and I never served in the military, I recall vividly the turmoil that the war in Viet Nam caused. McNamara's book is not a defense of the decisions that led to that failed attempt, nor is it self-serving. He told, as honestly as possible, how he and Dean Rusk, despite the knowledge that John F. Kennedy would not have done so, persuaded Lyndon B. Johnson to begin sending combat troops to fight the Viet Cong for the ...more
Sep 16, 2007 Nathan rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: People who thought Fog of War was a comedy.
In Retrospect was a book I had no desire to read, at all, on the basis that its author was, is and ever shall be one of the least credible monsters in the history of US government. Vietnam was McNamara's war. After hearing so much about the documentary Fog of War, I really wanted to read this book and see where McNamara was coming from more than thirty years after the war he and the Democratic administrations of the times started and escalated. The first few chapters of the book imply that it wi ...more
Oct 12, 2009 Jack rated it really liked it
In the preface, McNamera quotes from T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding:

We shall never cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

He looks back, with the objectivity that Time allows, and writes with a candor that doesn’t fail to criticise himself as well as being fair to others. Despite disagreements with Lyndon Johnson and the Joint Chiefs on the execution of the war, he makes clear that he holds them all in high
Apr 07, 2016 Olivia rated it liked it
I became fascinated by Robert McNamara after watching the documentary The Fog of War, which I actually found really interesting. This was a moment where I got to place a proper face and personality to a figure I'd been studying and I really engaged with hearing his story and take on things. That doesn't mean to say I agree or believe everything he said. After all, I'm a historian and we tend to take things with a pinch of salt and a lot of cynicism.

However, his book was certainly much more in d
Jul 05, 2010 Deana rated it really liked it
Recommended to Deana by: Veronica
In case you don't recognize the name, Robert S. McNamera was the Secretary of Defense during most of the Vietnam war. He wrote this book in the late 90s using notes and memoirs written by himself and others during the time of the events. His reasoning was because he saw the administration at the time making many of the same mistakes that his administration made in Vietnam. I feel that is even more true now with the situation in Iran and Afghanistan.

This was a book club book. At first, I was hesi
May 06, 2015 Kenneth rated it liked it
A view of the Vietnam battlefield from the conference room. Here are the experiences from what most will call “one of the architects of the US side of the Vietnamese conflict”. I felt as I read his account that I was miles and miles away from the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam. In all fairness to the former secretary of defense, he certainly traveled many times to the war torn country to evaluate the progress of his troops, spending much time away from his wife and kids. Yet in reading this ...more
This was a good insight into one of the men who was responsible for getting this country deeper and deeper into the tragedy that Vietnam became. McNamara admits and explains some, but definitely not all of the tragic decisions he and LBJ made during their tenure in office. Their inner circle which included the Bundy brothers would repeatedly ignore strong evidence presented by the State Department, Joint Chiefs, and the CIA that their graduated response escalation would not work. Their arrogance ...more
Daniel Bakken
Mar 17, 2012 Daniel Bakken rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan are striking. Vietnam, like Afghanistan, was under siege by guerilla fighters based outside the country (North Vietnam and Pakistan). We are unable to pursue and defeat them because they are sheltered by nuclear powers (China and Pakistan). The governments of South Vietnam and Afghanistan are corrupt, ineffective, and unpopular. We maintain the fiction that the local government and army is in charge while fighting the war ourselves. We use technologi ...more
Jul 21, 2009 Kristen rated it really liked it
Lucidly-written, seemed largely free of ideological (political) bias, and reflective. The author does not hesitate to point out his own failings, and does so in a way that explains rather than attempts to justify the mistakes. This book differs from many current "memoirs" or books about political events in that it was written long enough after the events in question for the author to fully develop his thinking "in retrospect." He does not seem to be attempting to salvage his image, but truly to ...more
Jun 23, 2014 Jennifer rated it liked it
This book is important. For one thing, it reminds us that even with the best of intentions incredibly smart and able people who have been placed in positions of great power can make rushed, hasty, superficial and wrong decisions. We all should be questioning our assumptions; especially if human life is at stake. Obviously, McNamara wanted to apologize for his role in prosecuting the Vietnam War. He needed to and he does. But, in some places it seems a bit easy. Yes, you should have asked more qu ...more
Jul 15, 2008 Graham added it
important: I gave this book 5 stars because I believe it is an important historical document. Robert McNamara explains some of his beliefs and reasoning that helped to shape our country's position in Vietnam in the 60's.
There is also information here that may be new to many people , for example, he gives convincing evidence that president Kennedy had decided to begin withdrawal of our personnel by the end of 1963, and have everyone out by 1965.
In chapter 11 , he gives a brief list of our fai
An extremely interesting perspective on the Vietnam War. In Retrospect is a policy history - battles are barely mentioned, and generals are only discussed as they influenced the shape and tenor of the war. This book provides an insider view of the start and escalation (though not the end) of the war by one of the wars own architects.

McNamara's tone is interesting--at times quite self-critical, at times defensive, and at times passing the blame for aggressive policies and delusional national secu
May 25, 2011 Earl rated it liked it
McNamara's personal accounts of Vietnam were illuminating. It's saddening to see how there were several opportunities for peace in Vietnam, or at least opportunities for America to extricate itself from the conflict, that were wasted. Misalignments in strategy between the diplomats and the military were the cause of a lot of this. McNamara's insistence that if the South Vietnamese can't fight for the themselves then we shouldn't be there was unheeded. The over valuation of a small Asian country' ...more
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Robert Strange McNamara (June 9, 1916 – July 6, 2009) was an American business executive and the eighth Secretary of Defense, serving from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, during which time he played a large role in escalating the United States involvement in the Vietnam War. Following that, he served as President of the World Bank from 1968 to 1981. McNamara wa ...more
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