What Robert McNamara learned

The legendary defense secretary on childhood memories, JFK’s death and lessons from Vietnam

Robert McNamara, the fabled architect of the Vietnam War, sat for an interview with Esquire several years ago and took the opportunity to reflect on matters personal and professional—from JFK’s death and his first childhood memory to his late wife and the lessons learned from the disastrous military invasion he oversaw. “One of the lessons of Vietnam was that we as a people, as a nation, must learn to empathize with others in the world—particularly our opponents,” he said. “Sympathy is not a synonym of empathy: Empathy means understanding; sympathy means agreeing or embracing. I don’t think we as a nation have learned to empathize.”