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“He never told me that he knew the Vietnam War wasn’t winnable. But he did know, and he never admitted it to me.” So writes McNamara of his father, Robert S. McNamara, whose middle name—Strange—made its way into the iconic figure of the Atomic Age, Doctor Strangelove. The junior McNamara was a familiar in the White House under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. The author notes that it was Bobby Kennedy who told his father that Vietnam was a losing cause. Though McNamara reserves much of his indignation for the fact of the war itself, there is most definitely a personal dimension to his complaint: His father was an unrevealing man who kept his own counsel, so much so that his son had to learn the facts of his life from books. “I shouldn’t have had to learn about it through second- and third-hand sources,” he writes. Like the son of Dean Rusk, another friend, McNamara went to the counterculture and back to the land, to which his father dismissively responded, “Craig’s dream is to save the world through farming.” He also traveled, making a second home in a country that would undergo its own Vietnam at U.S. hands: Chile. Writing this memoir is clearly a cathartic exercise for McNamara, who decries his father’s “misleading statements” and “inadequate apologies.” Also cathartic was a visit to Vietnam a few years ago, where the author met the son of his father’s North Vietnamese counterpart, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap. “I’ve lived my life through the lens of the Vietnam War,” writes the author. Despite the closeness of the writer to a key source, so did millions of people, and this memoir, though readable, sheds only a little light on the matter.

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