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McNamara stuck to Vietnam War despite doubts

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McNamara said it was absurd to suggest his later career as president of the World Bank from 1968 to 1981 was atonement for what some critics called “McNamara’s War.” Whatever the motivation, McNamara was tireless in trying to help the world’s poor. He tripled loans to developing countries and changed the Bank’s emphasis from large industrial projects to fostering rural development. The goal, he said, was the reduction of “absolute poverty – utter degradation” in the poorer nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

After leaving the World Bank, McNamara became a vocal opponent of the nuclear arms race as well as a consultant to scores of organizations. He was a director of The Washington Post Company and a trustee of the Ford Foundation.

But his overarching legacy is as Defense Secretary and major strategist in the first war that resulted in US withdrawal rather than victory. He was named to that post by President Kennedy who called McNamara the smartest man he had ever met.

At the time Kennedy tapped McNamara for the Pentagon, he had recently been named president of Ford Motor Company, the first person outside the Ford family to hold the job. He was just 44 and had already served as an Army lieutenant colonel in World War II and as a professor at Harvard Business School, where he earned his MBA.

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