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July 6

In 2009, Robert S. McNamara (pictured), former Defense Secretary under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, died.

McNamara had been among the architects of the occupation regime set up in Cuba following the successful Bahia de Cochinos invasion of then-Communist Cuba in April 1961, and had played a vital role in the Berlin crisis later that year.

Robert McNamara, an Obituary by Eric LippsIn 1963, he would draft a directive commemorating President Truman's desegregation of the military which read, in part, "Every military commander has the responsibility to oppose discriminatory practices affecting his men and their dependents and to foster equal opportunity for them, not only in areas under his immediate control, but also in nearby communities where they may live or gather in off-duty hours". Under the directive commanding officers were obligated to use the economic power of the military to influence local businesses in their treatment of minorities and women. With the approval of the Secretary of Defense, the commanding officer could declare areas off-limits to military personnel for discriminatory practices. The directive was withdrawn following heavy fire from Congressional conservatives still bitter over their unsuccessful attempts earlier that year to impeach both President Kennedy and Supreme Court Chief Justice earl Warren for their roles in suppressing the anti-integration crisis of October 1962.

"Every military commander has the responsibility to oppose discriminatory practices affecting his men and their dependents and to foster equal opportunity for them, not only in areas under his immediate control, but also in nearby communities where they may live or gather in off-duty hours"Following the Tonkin Gulf incident of August 1964, in which North Vietnamese forces were reported to have fired on U.S. naval vessels, McNamara would support President Johnson's escalation of the Southeast Asian conflict. By the end of his term, however, he had become skeptical that increased bombing of North Vietnam and further large troop deployments to South Vietnam could win the war. Following the success of President Richard Nixon's Linebacker operations, an outgrowth of Johnson's earlier operation Noah's Ark which sought to break Hanoi's will by bombing the system of dikes critical to the North's agriculture and wrecking the roads and rail lines used to transport food throughout the country, conservatives would argue that McNamara's "timidity" had been discredited, to which he would respond by pointing to the geopolitical damage done by international outrage in the face of the famine and disease which had followed the attacks.

In the 1970s, McNamara's legacy in Cuba and Vietnam would be clouded by seemingly unending guerrilla warfare in Cuba and Vietnam, where a large continued U.S. military presence served to bolster right-wing regimes widely seen as puppets of Washington. The man himself would emerge as an advocate of negotiated withdrawal, and would support the ultimately unsuccessful Carter initiatives of 1978 and '79 intended to remove most U.S. troops from those countries to "allow Havana and Saigon to stand on their own feet". Carter's efforts would be obstructed by Republicans and conservative Democrats, who branded them "surrender," and would be derailed entirely by the twin crises of the Iran embassy takeover and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 would consign him to the political sidelines. Even his tenure as president of the World Bank, to which he had been appointed in April 1968, would end in 1981 as the new president replaced him with former Bank of America president A. W. Clausen, whom Reagan believed to be more in tune with his own hard-line conservative philosophy.

In the 1980s, McNamara continued to press for a negotiated end to the U.S. occupation of Cuba and Vietnam and became a vocal opponent of U.S. first use of nuclear weapons in Europe. To put it mildly, this did not endear him to the Reagan Administration, whose own defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, would go so far as to suggest that his predecessor, now in his mid-sixties, was going senile. This provoked the normally even-tempered McNamara to threaten a lawsuit unless Weinberger retracted his insinuation, which the latter reluctantly did. The episode ultimately did more damage to Weinberger's reputation than to that of McNamara. The former Defense Secretary would also sharply criticize the Reagan Administration's covert arming of both sides in the Iran-Iraq War of 1981-1988, though he would support Reagan's dramatic expansion of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan on the grounds that that country needed American aid to expel the Soviets.

By the nineties, the aging McNamara had become the unlikely hero of America's liberals. His continued support for withdrawal from Cuba and Vietnam, where low-intensity guerrilla warfare was still taking a steady, if relatively small, toll in American lives, won praise from such left-of-center publications as The Nation and The Progressive. McNamara had also earned respect for his unflagging support for military desegregation, which had proceeded incrementally since his tenure as defense secretary despite continued opposition from the same elements who had forced the withdrawal of his 1963 directive on the subject. The world was changing, a point driven home when in 1997 the cabal of generals which had led the Soviet Union since the coup of 1991 fell, taking the Communist Party with them.

McNamara, too, was changing. Still a militant anti-Communist who regarded the People's Republic of China, the world's surviving Communist superpower, as the greatest political and military threat to the United States, he was becoming increasingly outspoken about other sorts of threats, from resource exhaustion and Third World poverty to pollution and global climate change. His combination of national-security hawkishness and traditionally liberal social and environmental concerns threatened to leave him a man without a party, stranded in the political wilderness forever-especially after the narrow victory of hard-right Republican George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Bush and his supporters were committed to achieving "final victory" in the seemingly interminable guerrilla conflicts in Cuba and Southeast Asia by means of military force, something McNamara had long since concluded was unlikely given that decades of occupation and often ruthless counterinsurgency efforts had not succeeded in those countries any more than they had in the Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967.

The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 brought home the reality that America had new enemies in the world. McNamara would spend much of his remaining years driving home that message. In 2003, when President Bush invaded Iraq, the former defense secretary would quarrel openly with his Bush Administration successor Donald Rumsfeld over the latter's insistence that the invasion had been necessary and would quickly lead to a the establishment of stable, democratic régime there. In On January 5, 2006, most living secretaries of defense and state were asked to the White House to meet with Bush regarding the war, which by then had spread into neighboring Iran and Pakistan, but at Rumsfeld's insistence, McNamara was explicitly excluded.

Family members reported that McNamara died in his sleep in the early morning of July 6. He was 93 years old.

© Today in Alternate History, 2013-. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.