Robert McNamara, who served as U.S. Defense Secretary under President Lyndon Johnson, died earlier this week. He was known as the architect of the Vietnamese War. But in his 1995 memoir, McNamara shockingly concluded that the Vietnamese War had been wrong because it was unwinnable. At the time of the publication of the memoir, President Bill Clinton stated that he felt vindicated in having protested the War (even, in Clinton’s case, on foreign soil) because McNamara admitted the war had been a mistake. Clinton was wrong.
There are two parts to the Just War Theory. The first part is whether a war is morally justified. If it is, then the second part is whether a war is prudent. One factor as to whether a war is prudent is whether it is winnable. Unwinnable wars are imprudent. If, for the sake of argument, McNamara were correct that the Vietnamese War were unwinnable, then it would have been an unjust war, because it would have been imprudent. However, imprudence was not the reason that Bill Clinton and many other anti-Vietnamese War protests regarded the war as unjust. They believed that the Vietnamese War was morally unjust because, for various reasons, they were sympathetic to the cause of the Communists. Therefore, it did not matter to these protestors whether the war were winnable. Anti-Vietnamese protestors like Clinton were not concerned that the War was unjust because the United States might lose, but were concerned that the War was unjust because the United States might win, which is why Clinton worked with the Soviet KGB in the 1969 Fall Campaign of propaganda intended to strengthen the Communists’ morale and weaken the morale of the South Vietnamese and their American and other allies. Indeed, Clinton was among a select group of Americans who were allowed to visit the Soviet Union in 1970, apparently to be honored for their efforts. The details surrounding this trip remain a mystery, as Clinton will not admit to this day what he was doing there, nor offer any apology to veterans for his war-protesting and draft-dodging.
McNamara’s admission of the imprudence of the Vietnamese War – even if correct – cannot possibly vindicate Clinton’s contention that the War was morally unjust in the first place. Regardless of the argument over whether the War were prudent, the suffering of the millions of Indochinese who were oppressed, imprisoned, tortured or killed because of the Communist takeover of Indochina vindicates not Clinton and his comrades in the so-called “peace movement” who succeeded in forcing the United States to withdraw from the War that permitted the Communist victory, but those who regarded the Vietnamese War as a noble cause.