Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Body Counter

Robert S. McNamara passed away yesterday. Before joining the government McNamara was head of the Ford Motor Company. Under his leadership decisions were made using sound statistical analysis rather than old fashioned methods like engineering savvy, aesthetics, and what used to be called common sense. Eventually all large auto makers followed Ford's example. It was a profitable approach to running a business. For a while.

McNamara used this same approach as Secretary of Defense. Applying principles of accounting to warfare, he reasoned that our military should have sufficient strength to not lose against any opponent, but did not need to have anything approaching overwhelming strength. In that way wars could be contained, as opposed to actually won, ended, or prevented altogether. During the Vietnam War he is said to have often overruled recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He created a strategy based on statistical analysis which demonstrated that the best way to win the war was to kill as many of the enemy as possible. This established the “body count” system of measuring military success.

In later years McNamara admitted that his role in wartime decision making was not all to the good, and he regretted it. It is estimated that about five million people died in the Vietnam War, mostly civilians. Robert S. McNamara died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 93.

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