Image: Flickr | Tommy Truong79
To any History, Politics or American Studies student, the words ‘Vietnam War’ and ‘Robert McNamara’ bring back rather dull memories of yet again going over some of the darker days of US political history.
However, it seems that Dr. Aurélie Basha i Novosejt has managed to both bring
the subject back and give a fresh look on one of the most controversial historical figures of the 20th Century.
On Thursday 19 September, Dr. Basha i Novosejt, lecturer in American History
here at the University of Kent, launched her new book entitled ‘“I Made Mistakes”: Robert McNamara’s Vietnam War Policy, 1960-1968.’ After briefly explaining how she came to be passionate about this particular historical event, Dr. Basha i Novosejt gave a short summary of the ins and outs of her in-depth study of McNamara’s influence over the Vietnam War.
To give context, McNamara was the Secretary of Defence from 1961 to 1968 during
the start of the Vietnam War, and was one of the officers who hurried and increased thelaunch of American troops in Vietnam, even though he knew the war was pointless and a lost cause, causing the death of thousands of US soldiers and Vietnamese soldiers andcivilians.
If that story rings a bell, in a nutshell, this is what the Pentagon Papers, released bythe New York Times and the Washington Post in 1971, summarised. (I would encourage you to see The Post, a film with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, which cleverly tells the story of this political bomb and the effect it had for the American government and its image at home and across the world).
Needless to say, McNamara is not a well-liked figure of American culture. However,from the presentation Dr. Aurélie Basha i Novosejt gave this Thursday, I had the feeling that more than tackling a prominent political figure of the United States, she tackled the even more important subject of trust and accountability in politics.
McNamara was not particularly in favour of the war in Vietnam, and he knew that itwas a lost battle from the beginning, yet he did not say or do anything to ring the alarm, and watched as the disaster he knew would unfold eventually did. Even worse, rather than taking the blame and admitting his mistakes, when confronted about the issue later on, McNamara argued that he did what he did out of respect for hierarchy and loyalty to the government.
In the current chaotic political context, both here, with a Brexit deal that never seemsto be found, and internationally with the rise in power of Trump, Putin, and controversial far-right figures such as Marine le Pen in France or Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Dr. Basha i Novosejt’s historical study of loyalty, accountability and ethics in politics and international relations seem more important than ever. The issue of accountability and moral values in politics appears as the key to understanding both contemporary issues and western political culture.