Miller Center

Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara Dies

Robert McNamara

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara passed away on July 6, 2009. He was one of the most frequently recorded participants in the Kennedy and Johnson tapes. Of particular note are discussions recorded during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War. Below is a small sampling of the hundreds of recorded conversations that involved or discussed McNamara.


"I Don't Think There's a Man in Government as Valuable as [Robert] McNamara"

President Johnson heaps glowing praise on Robert McNamara's abilities in this call with Sargent Shriver.

Assessing the War, November 1965

McNamara offers LBJ a mixed review of the military situation in South Vietnam.

Cuban Missile Crisis: Using Depth Charges, October 1962

McNamara and Chairman do the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell Taylor brief President Kennedy and the ExComm on a proposal for dealing with Soviet submarines in the waters around Cuba during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Briefing Congressional Leaders on Vietnam, January 1963

President Kennedy had invited legislative leaders to the White House for a briefing by Robert McNamara on the status of the conflict in South Vietnam in the wake of the Battle of Ap Bac.

The Context for Withdrawal from South Vietnam, May 1963

Upon his return from a conference of key military and civilian officials in Honolulu, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara briefs President Kennedy on a timetable for ending the insurgency in Vietnam--an uprising he understands to be largely indigenous--and bringing American troops home. During the course of the conversation, McNamara displays frustration with the Joint Chiefs' plan for continued military assistance to Vietnam. He also lays out the context within which he believes that a U.S. troop withdrawal should occur. The Secretary and the President agree that the possible withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. advisers should take place only in an atmosphere of military success.

1,000 Troop Withdrawal from South Vietnam, October 1963 (1)

Having returned to Washington earlier that morning from their fact-finding mission to South Vietnam, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maxwell Taylor brief President Kennedy on the status of the U.S. military advisory effort. On the table is a recommendation to begin the process of withdrawing American troops from Vietnam, some of which are to leave by the end of the year, with the bulk of U.S. forces to return home by the end of 1965.

1,000 Troop Withdrawal from South Vietnam, October 1963 (2)

While discussing a new set of instructions for Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge to help manage a deteriorating situation in South Vietnam, President Kennedy continues to ruminate on the public relations dimension of an American troop withdrawal. As he does in the meetings of October 2, Kennedy considers the prospects for troop reduction against the backdrop of the war effort.

More War or More Appeasement, February 1964

In this discussion with McNamara, Johnson seemed to backtrack from both his public and private statements on Vietnam and to reconsider the wisdom of escalation.

Vietnam: A "Deeply Dangerous Game," March 1964

LBJ and McNamara discuss how to describe the escalation in Vietnam.

Tonkin: Preparing a Response, August 1964

LBJ and McNamara discuss how they should respond if a second attack against U.S. Navy ships takes place in the Gulf of Tonkin.

"The Best in the Army," April 1964

McNamara recommends General William Westmoreland to replace Henry Cabot Lodge as US Ambassador to South Vietnam.

Ground Troops and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, July 1965

Speaking with Secretary McNamara about various options open to the administration, Johnson reflects on the August 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution and its implications for an expanded American military commitment.

Vietnam Update, June 1966

McNamara updates Johnson on progress in Vietnam.