Robert McNamara : biography
The Truman and Eisenhower administrations had committed the United States to support the French and native anti-Communist forces in Vietnam in resisting efforts by the Communists in the North to unify the country, though neither administration established actual combat forces in the war. The U.S. role—initially limited to financial support, military advice and covert intelligence gathering—expanded after 1954 when the French withdrew. During the Kennedy administration, the U.S. military advisory group in South Vietnam steadily increased, with McNamara’s concurrence, from 900 to 16,000. U.S. involvement escalated after the Gulf of Tonkin incidents in August 1964, involving an attack on a U.S. Navy destroyer by North Vietnamese naval vessels. McNamara was instrumental in presenting this event to Congress and the public as justification for escalation of the war against the communists. The Vietnam War came to claim most of McNamara’s time and energy.
President Johnson ordered retaliatory air strikes on North Vietnamese naval bases and Congress approved almost unanimously the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the president "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the U.S. and to prevent further aggression."
In 1965, in response to stepped up military activity by the Viet Cong in South Vietnam and their North Vietnamese allies, the U.S. began bombing North Vietnam, deployed large military forces and entered into combat in South Vietnam. McNamara’s plan, supported by requests from top U.S. military commanders in Vietnam, led to the commitment of 485,000 troops by the end of 1967 and almost 535,000 by June 30, 1968. The casualty lists mounted as the number of troops and the intensity of fighting escalated. McNamara put in place a statistical strategy for victory in Vietnam. He concluded that there were a limited number of Viet Cong fighters in Vietnam and that a war of attrition would destroy them. He applied metrics (body counts) to determine how close to success his plan was.
Although he was a prime architect of the Vietnam War and repeatedly overruled the JCS on strategic matters, McNamara gradually became skeptical about whether the war could be won by deploying more troops to South Vietnam and intensifying the bombing of North Vietnam, a claim he would publish in a book years later. He also stated later that his support of the Vietnam War was given out of loyalty to administration policy. He traveled to Vietnam many times to study the situation firsthand and became increasingly reluctant to approve the large force increments requested by the military commanders.
McNamara said that the Domino Theory was the main reason for entering the Vietnam War. In the same interview he stated, "Kennedy hadn’t said before he died whether, faced with the loss of Vietnam, he would [completely] withdraw; but I believe today that had he faced that choice, he would have withdrawn."
To commemorate President Harry S Truman’s signing an order to end segregation in the military McNamara issued Directive 5120.36 on July 26, 1963. This directive, Equal Opportunity in the Armed Forces, dealt directly with the issue of racial and gender discrimination in areas surrounding military communities. The directive declared, "Every military commander has the responsibility to oppose discriminatory practices affecting his men and their dependents and to foster equal opportunity for them, not only in areas under his immediate control, but also in nearby communities where they may live or gather in off-duty hours." (para. II.C.)[https://www2.arims.army.mil/rmdaxml/rmdadocuments/ERR%20DOCUMENTS/srpshv1.pdf The Secretary of the Army’s Senior Review Panel on Sexual Harassment] p 127 Under the directive, commanding officers were obligated to use the economic power of the military to influence local businesses in their treatment of minorities and women. With the approval of the Secretary of Defense, the commanding officer could declare areas off-limits to military personnel for discriminatory practices.While the directive was passed in 1963, it was not until 1967 that the first non-military establishment was declared off-limits. In 1970 the requirement that commanding officers first obtain permission from the Secretary of Defense was lifted. Heather Antecol and Deborah Cobb-Clark, Racial and Ethnic Harassment in Local Communities. October 4, 2005. p 8