Robert S. McNamara, the former U.S. defense secretary who died Monday, was one of the most capable public servants ever to set foot in Washington. But whatever successes McNamara had, after quitting his job as Ford Motor Co. president to serve two presidents, will forever pale when compared with one glaring failure - Vietnam.
It was 20 years after the war had ended before McNamara would finally admit in his 1995 memoir that he knew long before American troops left the Southeast Asian nation that they could not win their fight. He had argued against bombing Hanoi and other civilian targets, but President Lyndon Johnson instead listened to his Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Many still find it hard to forgive the architect of what became known as "McNamara's War." While he remained reticent in public, the war continued, and 58,000 American soldiers died. And the largely generational divide over Vietnam mushroomed into a greater cultural war that in many respects is still evident.
McNamara tried not to let Vietnam define him. He became president of the World Bank after leaving the Pentagon, and elevated it to an agency that in one year made 150 loans totaling $11.7 billion to eradicate global poverty. McNamara later made speeches against racism, and in support of helping developing nations. But he won't be remembered for that.