Robert McNamara: Top Ten Additional Lessons of War

Robert McNamara, former US Secretary of Defense and subject of previous postings here around the Errol Morris documentary Fog of War added some other lessons from his experience:

  1. The human race will not eliminate war in this century, but we can reduce the brutality of war—the level of killing—by adhering to the principles of a just war in particular to the principle of ‘proportionality’.
  2. The indefinite combinations of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations.
  3. We [the USA] are the most powerful nation in the world—economically, politically, and militarily—and we are likely to remain so for decades ahead. But we are not omniscient. If we cannot persuade other nations with similar interests and similar values of the merits of the proposed use of that power, we should not proceed unilaterally except in the unlikely requirement to defend directly the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii.
  4. Moral principles are often ambiguous guides to foreign policy and defense policy, but surely we can agree that we should establish as a major goal of U.S. foreign policy and, indeed, of foreign policy across the globe: the avoidance, in this century of the carnage—160 million dead—caused by conflict in the 20th century.
  5. We, the richest nation in the world, have failed in our responsibility to our own poor and to the disadvantaged across the world to help them advance their welfare in the most fundamental terms of nutrition, literacy, health and employment.
  6. Corporate executives must recognize there is no contradiction between a soft heart and a hard head. Of course, they have responsibilities to stockholders, but they also have responsibilities to their employees, their customers and to society as a whole.
  7. President Kennedy believed a primary responsibility of a president—indeed the primary responsibility of a president—is to keep the nation out of war, if at all possible.
  8. War is a blunt instrument by which to settle disputes between or within nations, and economic sanctions are rarely effective. Therefore, we should build a system of jurisprudence based on the International Court—that the U.S. has refused to support—which would hold individuals responsible for crimes against humanity.
  9. If we are to deal effectively with terrorists across the globe, we must develop a sense of empathy—I don’t mean “sympathy,” but rather “understanding”—to counter their attacks on us and the Western World.
  10. One of the greatest dangers we face today is the risk that terrorists will obtain access to weapons of mass destruction as a result of the breakdown of the Non-Proliferation Regime. We in the U.S. are contributing to that breakdown.

Robert McNamara (1916-2009): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_McNamara

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict History, Conflict Processes, Philosophy of Conflict, Top Ten Conflict Tips from Great Thinkers, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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