Saturday, May 7, 2011

Vietnam War: An Example of Non-Obliquity

John Kay reminds me that the war in Vietnam was guided by the bean-counting mentality of McNamara and the influence of the Whiz Kids at the RAND Corporation in California ( 163). It was the zeitgeist of the moment. Plan the future by numbers. My soldier husband who served in the Army during the Vietnam War confirmed it. Nightly reports were made to match the numbers--numbers of dead bodies and places of attack. Progress was measured by body count. Not unlike the operations specialists who were trained to put pieces of a car together on an assembly line at Ford Corporation (for the Whiz Kids had also pulled Ford out of trouble in that late 40s), the soldiers were also accountable for reporting the portions of the algorithm that would determine the next day's battle strategy. Numbers and analysis led the way. But it did not work, as we all know so very well.

What was missing? McNamara, before his death, wrote these words:

"We misjudged then--as we have since--the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries. . . . We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own experience . . . . Our misjudgment of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders" (Kay quoting from Robert S. McMamara and Brian VanDeMark, IN RETROSPECT: THE TRAGEDY AND LESSONS OF VIETNAM [ New York: 1966, pp. 321 and 339], 108).

There is more to life than what we can see. Our challenge is to develop those sensitivities, even those garnered from the study of anthropology, sociology, theology, psychology and the human sciences, including our own developed intuition and sense of self, that "place in the gut" where you know what is true and good and noble. That will strengthen our decision making--and thereby deepen our lives.

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