I came of age politically during the mid-1960s, the years during which the Vietnam War escalated.
One of my most terrifying moments in my then-young life occurred when a group of college friends and I gathered to watch the televised draft that would determine lottery-style which of us would be sent into battle in the Southeast Asian jungles.
My number (actually my birthday) was never called. But as each of those years during the 1960s passed from one to the next, my political skepticism grew. Eventually, I stopped believing a single word that anyone from the Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon administrations said about the war—or for that matter, anything else.
When Robert McNamara died two weeks ago, he left only Henry Kissinger as the last of the living Vietnam War hawks.
What is so fascinating about the war's proponents who died before McNamara—including most prominently Secretary of State Dean Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, General William Westmoreland as well as Johnson and Nixon—is that, although the evidence mounted daily that Vietnam was doomed to failure, each of them refused until late in their lives to come to terms with the magnitude of their misjudgment.
And then they admitted their errors only grudgingly.
In his 1996 book, In Retrospect, McNamara reluctantly confessed that he ignored urging from public and private sources to withdraw from Vietnam.
McNamara's book led to a scathing New York Times editorial—perhaps its most famous—titled Mr. McNamara's War that concluded:
"It is important to remember how fate dispensed rewards and punishment for Mr. McNamara's thousands of days of error. Three million Vietnamese died. Fifty-eight thousand Americans got to come home in body bags. Mr. McNamara, while tormented by his role in the war, got a sinecure at the World Bank and summers at the Vineyard." [Mr. McNamara's War, Editorial, New York Times, April 12, 1995]
Like McNamara, U.S. National Security advisor McGeorge Bundy remained undaunted by the loss of life to which he contributed. When pressed at a 1976 Harvard Neiman Fellowship awards dinner about whether he miscalculated on Vietnam, finally said: "Yes, I did. But I'm not going to waste the rest of my life feeling guilty about it."
Bundy's statement is shocking callous given the numbers of American and Vietnamese lives lost—many would say pointlessly.
What, then, has become of Kissinger?
The former Nixon Secretary of State has lived a charmed life, to say the least. Kissinger, like McNamara, has amassed a small fortune through his New York-based consulting firm with its global insider connections.
And, no coincidence, during the recent financial upheaval, Kissinger came out smelling like a rose. AIG received $150 billion in bail-out funds, in part because Kissinger sat on the company's Board of Directors.
Most amazingly, Kissinger's opinions on international matters is still solicited and paid for richly.
An example of the worthlessness of Kissinger's input was his advice to George W. Bush about Iraq War strategy. In a 60 Minutes interview author Bob Woodward said that when consulting with Bush, Kissinger blamed the US defeat in Vietnam to a "loss of will" and "lack of will."
Instead of withdrawing from Iraq, Kissinger repeatedly urged Bush to "stay the course".
Kissinger's counsel cost thousands more American lives.
How these life and death decisions about war are made and cast into stone remains a mystery.
None of these men were neither ignorant or poorly informed. Instead they viewed themselves the most outstanding, capable, and effective members of the power elite.
In fact, their presumptuous world views, arrogance and ignorance led America into and kept us mired in what historians call "the wrong war in the wrong place with the wrong foes at the wrong time."
Sadly, the harrowing Vietnam War represented America's loss of innocence.
McNamara, et al took an America then so singularly blessed with affluence and peace into an era marked by a bottomless cauldron of dissent, inter-generational strife, and put us on the precipice of social and political revolution.
We will never fully understand why the Vietnam War escalated when ample evidence existed that it should have been ended.
Even though most of Vietnam's architects are now dead, Vietnam is not behind us. America has yet to come to terms with the tragic miscalculations made by the people we trusted to protect us.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.