There is no question that Robert S. McNamara’s legacy is alive in the Department of Defense nearly a half century after his departure and a full century after his birth. The character of this legacy, however, is still up for debate. Is it mainly a legacy of cowardice reflecting his lack of public candor regarding the Vietnam War? Is it a legacy of sanity and bravery flowing from his efforts to control the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union? Or does McNamara’s most enduring influence lie elsewhere?

In a recent essay marking McNamara’s centennial, mathematician and national security analyst Abhijan Rej argued that the former defense secretary’s real legacy lies in the changes he made to Department of Defense decision-making. Rej maintains that McNamara should be remembered most for “the introduction of a body of knowledge that views national security problems, including those that are related to conventional and nuclear war, as economic problems.” “In the end,” Rej concludes, “McNamara’s legacy lies not in the choices his Pentagon made, but in the ways such choices were formulated and examined.”

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