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This Happened

This Happened—November 29: Robert McNamara Resigns

Updated November 29, 2023 at 12:00 p.m.

As a key proponent of expanding the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara became the target of much the ire of the U.S. anti-war movement. He finally resigned after being the longest serving Secretary of Defense.

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Who was Robert McNamara?

Most closely associated with the Vietnam war, Robert McNamara served as Secretary of Defense under U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Before entering public service, McNamara served as President of Ford Motor Company and would be considered, for better or worse, as the consummate technocrat throughout his career. After resigning as Defense Secretary, he served as head of the World Bank.

How did Robert McNamara escalate the Vietnam War?

During Kennedy’s term as president alone, the number of U.S. troops in South Vietnam increased from 900 to 16,000 under Mcnamara’s supervision. He made multiple decisions to expand the draft, forcing many American youths to fight and sometimes die in a war they did not believe in.

Why did Robert McNamara finally resign?

In 1967, people around him began to notice changes in McNamara’s demeanor as the effects of stress and doubt took hold. He stopped shaving, his jaw would tremble, and he began to describe the war in Vietnam in a way which sounded hopeless. On November 29, he ended his seven year tenure and resigned as Secretary of Defense. McNamara expressed regret, but never made a formal apology, instead saying, “I'm very proud of my accomplishments, and I'm very sorry that in the process of accomplishing things, I've made errors.”

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