Robert McNamara


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(b. San Francisco, 9 June 1916; d. Washington DC, 6 July 2009)

US; Secretary of Defense 1961–8 The son of a wholesale shoe industry executive, McNamara was educated in state schools, graduated BA from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1937 and gained an MBA from Harvard in 1939. He began working for the accountants Price Waterhouse that year, but a year later he returned to Harvard as an assistant professor of business administration. During the Second World War he became a consultant to the US Department of War in 1942, he was commissioned captain in the USAF in 1943, was awarded the US Legion of Merit, and promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1946. He saw active service in England, India, China, and the Pacific. Retiring from active service in 1946, he has since then held the rank of colonel in the AF Reserve. On returning to civilian life he joined the Ford Motor Co., and between 1946 and 1961 held various managerial posts until eventually becoming company president in 1960 (the first non-member of the Ford family to hold that office). In 1961 Kennedy appointed McNamara Secretary of Defense. He continued to serve in this post under Lyndon Johnson until 1968.

McNamara occupied this highly sensitive position during a period of increased tension in East-West relations, marked by the building of the Berlin Wall (1961), the Bay of Pigs fiasco (1961), and the Cuban missile crisis (1962) and the controversial escalation of American involvement in Vietnam. Although admitting to having shared in the responsibility for the latter policy at the time, he subsequently aroused controversy by expressing doubts about the wisdom of America's stance in Vietnam. Whilst in office he was instrumental in setting up the Defense Supply Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency with the Defense Intelligence School.

McNamara left public office in 1968 and served as president of the World Bank until his retirement in 1981.

Subjects: Social Sciences.

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