Friday, February 6, 2015

Brief Study of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.

Joel Christenson in the Historical Office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense has authored this "Brief Study -- ISA Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs." McNaughton is prominently featured in the publication.  Here is a link:

Brief Study of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs

It offers a very good overview of the evolution of the post that McNaughton held during the peak years of his career.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Office of the Secretary of Defense Historical Office upcoming publication on ISA

A publication about the International Security Affairs function in the Pentagon is in the works from the OSD Historical Office.  I am told that it will include a page or two on McNaughton as one of the more prominent people to hold the office of Assistant Secretary of Defense of International Security Affairs.  It is scheduled for release in the October/November timeframe.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November 22

McNaughton, who initially supported Adlai Stevenson in the 1960 Democratic primary campaign, grew to be very loyal to JFK after Kennedy became president.  This is the page from McNaughton's personal calendar that included the date of November 22, 1963.  McNaughton made note of the assassination at 2 pm and drew a black border around the fateful day.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Never Lie

Here is a McNaughton quote from the April 5, 1963 issue of Time:

Before he headed up to Capitol Hill for what promised to be a rough grilling by the House Information Subcommittee on the subject of "managed news,"-Pentagon Press Secretary Arthur Sylvester was given some sage advice by a coworker. "Never, under any circumstances whatsoever, use the word lie," urged Defense Department Counsel John McNaughton. "Don't use it negatively, don't use it positively. If you have to tell the committee you want to lie down, say recline."

Read more:,9171,830081,00.html#ixzz2heLh5x9h

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ellsberg's article in UK's Guardian website

The UK's Guardian has published an article by Daniel Ellsberg entitled "Why the Pentagon Papers matter now."  In the ninth paragraph, there is a reference to McNaughton and a link to this blog.  Here is a link to the article.

I am struggling with Blogger's mechanism to respond to comments, so I offer the following in response to Alexandra today:   Alexandra -- I think that it is fair to say that McNaughton is relatively unknown here in the US too, although serious historians studying JFK/LBJ and Vietnam War would be aware of him at least to some extent. My purpose in writing this blog is to provide insight about McNaughton's life and influences in the hope that his story might shed additional light on the larger story of how the people in Washington at the time individually and collectively managed affairs.  Maybe next time around, someone will read of McNaughton’s dilemmas and approach difficult choices with a little more wisdom.  I am working on additional copy, and hope to have time to finish it and get it posted in the foreseeable future. Thanks for your interest. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Harrison/Mosher articles on McNaughton from 1964-1967

BENJAMIN T. HARRISON and. CHRISTOPHER L. MOSHER have written two fine articles on John T. McNaughton and his thoughts and actions on the Vietnam War.  Mosher writes that: “Professor Harrison and I began work on a McNaughton project late in 2001.  Our goal was to try and resolve the conflicting portraits of him in (1) The Pentagon Papers; (2) Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest.  We had a brief exchange with Halberstam in mid-2002 where he gave some advice, a few suggestions, and an important nod of encouragement.

We reviewed a great deal of literature -- general histories of U.S. involvement in Vietnam -- and began working our way through oral histories and various collections at the LBJ Library in Austin.  Late in 2003 I, I contacted Alex McNaughton and during our conversation he invited me to Connecticut to review the materials he retains relating to his father's service in Washington during the 1960s.  My wife and I made that trip in October 2003.  It was at that time that the existence of the diary first became known to Professor Harrison and myself.  Since a copy of the diary was stored with the original, Alex allowed me to bring that copy back to my home in Arlington, Virginia for photocopying -- two copies, one for me and one for my co-author.  That original photocopy was then returned to Connecticut and I believe it was that copy that was passed on to (Tom Paullin) a few weeks later.

Once Professor Harrison and I reviewed the journal we determined that rather than producing one article on McNaughton and Vietnam we would do two -- one based on all that we could gather for the first half of his service, 1964-1965, and then another covering 1966 and 1967 which was covered in, and enriched by, the diary.  That first article appeared in the British journal -- History -- in October 2007 and contained a footnote allerting readers that a second piece was to follow.  The second article was accepted by Diplomatic History in June 2009 and put in the que for publication which occured on-line on Monday, April 25, 2011.  The print version of the journal -- available to members of The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations -- will be released in June. 

Professor Harrison and I are greatly flattered by the initial response the article.”

I have read both of the articles and impressed with the level of academic rigor that is included.  For those who want to do a deeper dive on McNaughton's Pentagon years, I recommend that you access the Harrison/Mosher articles.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Link to January 29, 2011 Pekin Daily Times Story on McNaughton and "Find a Way Out"

Here is a link to the Pekin Daily Times' story, printed and posted on January 29, 2011, about John T.McNaughton and this blog.   Times writer Art Drake interviewed blog author Tom Paullin and John T. McNaughton's son Alex McNaughton for the article.

The Pekin Daily Times, once owned by the McNaughton family, is now owned by Gatehouse Media.


Final Notes and Additional Information

When I started researching McNaughton, I had little intention of writing anything about my findings or sharing it other than perhaps in conversation with a few family members and hometown friends or contacts that have an interest in Cold War/Vietnam era history.  As I discovered new information about McNaughton, the piece started to write itself, but it didn’t know if it wanted to be a biography, historical treatise, academic dissertation, article for a magazine or newspaper or a script for a movie, play or documentary.  What finally emerged was a kind of amalgamation of many different formats, and it didn’t specifically lend itself to any particular one.  Because I feel the information is important, I decided to put it out as a blog for now and leave it to others who may want to expand upon it.

I never met McNaughton, even though my parents knew him and sometimes talked about him.  After working on this project, I eventually got to think of McNaughton as a friend that I knew rather well.   When discussing the stories with people who knew what I was doing, I often referred to him as “John.”    As for McNaughton’s friend Robert McNamara I remember that when I was nearing draft age, McNamara seemed the embodiment of the mythical god Mars.  However, after reading McNamara’s book, seeing the documentary film “The Fog of War,” and having the chance to speak with him he became much more human to me. 

So, why McNaughton?  He risked his life to protect United States’ and an ally’s interests in World War II, helped to keep our country and the world safe with his work on nuclear disarmament and the Cuban Missile Crisis and tried to caution those more powerful than him of the pitfalls of Vietnam.   Why me?  Well, I grew up in the same hometown and during the 1960’s there were three key figures from Pekin who had influential positions in Washington:  McNaughton, Senate Majority Leader Everett Dirksen and Life Magazine’s Washington Bureau Chief Dick Stolley.  But, nobody had ever attempted to tell McNaughton's life story.  And living my teenage years with the threat of nuclear annihilation and the draft, it was a very formative time for me and my generation.

At times, McNaughton’s story seemed right out of a morality play.  When do you speak up, when do you shut up?  In an organization, are you better perceived when warning against possible hazards, even when they eventually appear and you turn out to be right?  Some organizational research has suggested that those who ignore potential dangers and make aggressive mistakes fare better in organizations than those who warn and turn out to be correct but suffer from the “shoot the messenger” effect.  

One of the most rewarding parts of the McNaughton discovery process for me was getting access to his personal diaries from his son Alex McNaughton.  The insights in the diaries were priceless to me and it was fascinating to juxtapose the diary entries against papers McNaughton helped write on corresponding dates.   However, there are potential perils of incorporating the diary entries into “Find a Way Out.”  McNaughton was a very careful man, so even though I believe that he would have relied on the diaries to spark his memories when writing a book or articles about his time in the Pentagon, he certainly would have chosen his words more carefully than when writing in the stream of consciousness diary style.  That is worth keeping in mind when comparing this piece to the books of McNaughton’s contemporaries.

I regret that I did not start to gather information for this piece until after the death of Adam Yarmolinsky in January 2000.   Adam Yarmolinsky, who I would have loved to have interviewed, was a McNaughton friend and colleague who worked with McNaughton in the ISA until 1966 when he left government to return to Harvard Law.  Yarmolinsky’s name pops up numerous times in McNaughton’s final diary and it was Yarmolinsky who gave McNaughton’s eulogy at the National Cathedral.   Some of those who were interviewed for this story provided humorous anecdotes about Yarmolinsky and it seems that his story from the Cold War years would make an interesting project for another writer.

The Wiki-Leaks controversy, which became public about the time that I was readying the story to be posted to the “Find a Way Out” blog, put Daniel Ellsberg back in the public eye.  It is interesting that McNaughton brought Ellsberg into the Pentagon, and put Ellsberg in a position to know about the assembly of Vietnam War documents that would become known as “The Pentagon Papers” when Ellsberg surreptitiously released them to major news outlasts.  Nixon’s hatred of Ellsberg motivated him to dispatch the “White House Plumbers” to break into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in the hope of finding damaging information in September 1971.  A similar group of burglars was later caught in the act while breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in Washington, DC’s Watergate complex and brought down Nixon’s presidency.

For any readers/researchers who want more on McNaughton, there is enough “out there” to go into greater detail about McNaughton’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis and Nuclear Arms Control.  There is also a diary from the early 1950’s that chronicles McNaughton’s years in Pekin, running for Congress and returning to Harvard. At some point I might go back and add sections into appropriate places in the blog.  And, I can’t help but wonder if the “missing” diaries from the early 1960s, if they ever existed at all, will eventually surface in a release of highly classified files held in the FBI or Pentagon.

Also, based upon the fact that McNaughton did not live to tell the Cold War and Vietnam Era stories from his perspective, I think that it would be an interesting undertaking for a writer to use information from this blog and from other sources and “become McNaughton” and write a piece in the first person as John T. McNaughton explaining his role in the Vietnam saga. 

If McNaughton Had Lived…

Many have asked me what I think would have happened with McNaughton had he lived a full life.  It is important to remember that even though he was a Democrat and considered himself to be a liberal, McNaughton was very pragmatic and came from a family of Republicans.   His choice to declare himself as a Democrat came in the early 1950s after much introspection and was finally decided because of an opening to be a candidate for Congress on the Central Illinois Democratic ticket.  

On Thanksgiving Day in 1966, McNaughton’s diary recorded that a friend had “put my 'name in the hat' for presidency of the NY Stock Exchange!  (He asked, “How would you characterize your economic views?”  I said “Liberal, but not wild.  We own 8 newspapers and make money from them.”Additionally, the final diary recounts McNaughton's discussions with business sector contacts about potential big private sector salaries if McNaughton chose to leave government.

We know that McNaughton would have served for a while as Secretary of the Navy and after that I think that McNaughton would have run for Governor in Illinois in 1968 (I think unsuccessfully in what was a Republican year in Illinois as well as nationwide).   Many of McNaughton’s contemporaries eventually served in quasi public sector positions such as universities, think tanks and foundations and I think that McNaughton would have followed a similar career path.  Since his background included a better business background than many of his peers, it is likely that he would have served on corporate boards as well as some non-profit boards.  He had already joined the board of his alma mater DePauw about a year before his death.  It is also possible that he would have taken a position as corporate counsel for a for-profit corporation, and from there he might have eventually risen to a CEO position. 

What Happened to…

McNaughton’s father F.F. McNaughton passed away in Arizona in 1981 after retiring and selling the family home in Pekin.  The home and the Pekin Daily Times office still remain and look much the same as they did when John McNaughton grew up in Pekin.

McNaughton’s surviving son Alex lives on East Coast and is a successful businessman.

Some Additional Information

McNaughton’s Educational History – Class Rankings in high school, college and law school[i]

·         4th out of 199 at PCHS per registrar Louise Davis to FBI. 

·         DePauw University – 5/31/42 degree.   Took two courses in San Diego state in summer of 1939.   (According to registrar Mary Fraley, he ranked 23rd in class of 278.  She told the FBI agent James Farrell that “he did not exert himself as he should while at DePauw, although, she pointed out, he undoubtedly overcame this fault later, as evidenced by his splendid work at Harvard Law School and a Rhodes scholarship award.”)

·         Harvard Law – 5th in class of 336.  Graduated Oct. 1948 with LLB degree.

In spite of struggles with French in which he received several grades of “C” and remarks that he was “unprepared” in physical education[ii], McNaughton graduated Phi Beta Kappa at DePauw University.   A March 27, 1942 Pekin Daily Times article trumpeted McNaughton’s Phi Beta Kappa announcement listing college accomplishments including membership in Blue Key (outstanding men on campus), Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, Alpha Delta Sigma  (advertising fraternity), Duzer Du dramatics club, Economics Club, Business manager of student newspaper “The DePauw” (for which he received a salary) and a Rector Scholarship.

Insightful Quote from an Oral History Interview

McNaughton remembered that “Secretary McNamara, on this Sunday afternoon, made an observation which should occur to any of us.  And that was that during this moment of crisis – and we’d been in it for five days then, though we hadn’t yet made any speeches – great changes in the world might be brought about.  There are an inordinate number of things in the world in which we get ourselves encrusted into position, where if you can just take advantage of a horrible situation like this to make these changes – to make an initiative with the Soviet Union with respect to something quite different – maybe to run some risks you otherwise might not run…” 

“...there was an approach to the brink in this crisis – this is the time when you begin to think some of the little things you’ve been arguing about just don’t seem worth it, and why don’t you get them settled?   It’s like having a serious illness in the family, and you ask yourself whether this petty bickering that’s been going on…” [iii] 

Some Random Anecdotes

While in the Navy, McNaughton had wired his father and asked him to go to Washington, find Sally and, as proxy for him, ask her to marry John.  The bride-to-be and the senior McNaughton shopped the capital’s jewelry stores until she found the right gem, he slid it onto her ring finger, and she kissed him in the store.  Upon his return from sea, John and Sally McNaughton married at the First Presbyterian Church in her hometown of LaGrange, Illinois. [iv]

A story circulated during the 1954 house campaign that McNaughton had met with Paul Sommer, a conservative businessman who was CEO of Keystone Steel and Wire, one of nearby Peoria’s largest industrial employers.  During the meeting, the two men had a disagreement and McNaughton reacted by calling Sommer a fascist. [v] 

FBI Special Agent Dougherty, quoting Dr. Harold Brown, Director of Defense Research and Engineering, in a statement for the FBI needed for McNaughton to gain “top Secret” clearance on Nov. 19, 1964: “(Brown) said that McNaughton has demonstrated his loyalty to the United States in his handling of the test ban matter and is certainly ‘not soft on Communism.’  He remarked that if McNaughton sees an opportunity to gain something from the Russians or their satellites by a concession that might in a small part be helpful to them, he does not ‘cut off the nose” of the United States and eliminate the United States’ opportunity to benefit.

McNaughton diaries outtakes

There are also a number of pieces that I think are very interesting and in some cases humorous, but were not included in the story as written in this blog.   Here are a few in chronological order:

A childhood diary offered a glimpse at how his Methodist father’s life experiences led him to impart his lessons on his son.   The young McNaughton wrote: “What I will probably always remember the longest is my first punishment.  I will never forget it.  It was the reckoning for telling some of my father’s confidential business.   It didn’t hurt him any, but it didn’t do him any good, and to this day I don’t believe that it did me any good either.” 

Thursday, June 19, 1952    “I’m beginning to see that patronage is a part of politics.  The moral distinction is made, rather, between getting paid for no work or for some work for the gov’t.  Work for the party is definitely expected in any case.”

3/20/66 Sunday.  Joe Alsop asked me to lunch yesterday.  I scarcely know him.  His purpose was to lobby for a more vigorous bombing program against North Vietnam.  Specifically, he wants their POL taken out.  He says that McNamara is applying “analyses” where “rule of thumb” and intuition should apply.  He says he knows something about the “pyramid” of logistics systems and that taking out the POL is “promising,” no matter what analysts say.  I told him that there was no real difference in approach, that anyone would come out the way he does if the issue were confined to POL.  But there is the related issue of risking enlarging the war.  He poo-pooed this, saying the risk is small and, anyway, was a risk assumed overtly in February 1964.  He argued that fear of escalation was tainting the analyses of POL strikes.  (I told him he was simply wrong on this point—so far as the in-house analysis is concerned).  He also said that if the US doesn’t take out the POL—something which is so obviously “promising”—it will be the “downfall of Bob McNamara.”  (Blog author’s note:  I find this entry interesting because Joe Alsop was a writer who had a syndicated column that ran in newspapers throughout the United States and that he was trying to influence US actions as opposed to reporting upon what McNaughton told him.)

5/18/66/ Wed.  I had a good talk with Averell Harriman tonight from 5-6:15 in his office.  He thinks we should be “talking” with the VC and with the North Vietnamese. He thinks our bargaining position is not too good, but it won’t hurt to talk.  He reported that Bob had told him we should offer to pull out of SVN if the DRV would.  Averell pointed out that the Communists didn’t abide by the Laos deal “for one minute,” but maybe there’s something there.  He said Bob said he’d go for a coalition government.  Averell thinks we could get the Russians to try quietly to work out a deal.  He rejected the idea of a “public” third-party appeal to which the US could with honor accede.
            He thinks Ky is a total loss—ever since he went wild and dumped Thi.  He refers to Dulles’ allowing us to become a prisoner of Nationalist China and of Germany!  He thinks we are a prisoner of the Saigon govt.  He also thinks we may be a prisoner of Lodge.  (I told him the remark Lodge made to Bob: “We’d be there fighting with monkeys”!)  Averell said, “I didn’t know it was that bad. 
Then he sat there.  “Rusk is here, Lodge is out there, Rostow is over there…”  He was struggling for a way to get hold of the problem—he thinks Rusk “is no longer thinking.  He has bent over, ducked down his head, and is plunging into the line.”  He then added that “Dean could hardly wait to get me off the 7th floor.  It was no secret.  I kept coming up with ideas and making him think.”  Averell said he would “deny that I know you” if I repeated his remark. 

Feb 26, 1967  ◦The President yesterday said re Vietnam that he did not want to behave in an “unseemly way” (the remark by Russell smarted), but that he wanted to push along on both fronts—military and diplomatic.  He said, “Write me a paragraph that says we’ll stop bombing, and that if they stop infiltrating we’ll stop augmenting, then—pick up some of the Manilla Declaration—if they pull out we’ll pull out, and then elections, and if it comes out communist we’ll abide by the results.”

[i]               Educational information was collected from various FBI reports obtained through a Freedom of Information  Act request and DePauw report card in Alex McNaughton’s files.

[iii]              November 4, 1964 oral history interview for JFK library, Larry McQuade interviewer,  on subject of Cuban      Missile Crisis. 

[iv]              Pekin Daily Times 125th Commemorative Edition, June 24, 2006, Page 11.

[v]               James M. Unland, August 14, 2003

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chapter IX – The Irretrievable Loss of a Friend

Just after noon on July 19, 1967, the midair collision of a Piedmont Airlines jetliner and a twin engine Cessna took the lives of John and Sally McNaughton, their younger son Ted and 79 others near Hendersonville, North Carolina.[1]  The couple had flown to North Carolina to pick up Ted from camp and the three of them appeared relaxed in a breakfast photo taken just before departing for the Hendersonville airport.  McNamara was told of the tragedy while in Baltimore visiting his wife who was hospitalized for surgery for an ulcer.  McNamara appeared to accept the loss stoically, but the President soon heard that, from exhaustion or grief, McNamara’s jaw was quivering uncontrollably. [i]

Ted, John and Sally McNaughton at breakfast on July 19, 1967

The day after the crash, McNaughton’s ISA deputy Townsend Hoopes wrote a memo to the ISA staff: “We have suffered a surpassing personal loss: and suffered it with the shock and disbelief that are themselves ironic and somewhat incredible for people who live amid daily reports of wholesale carnage across the world.  How sharp and painful is the difference in impact between impersonal death and the irretrievable loss of a friend.”[ii]

Death and Memorial announcment for McNaughton and family.

The funeral for John, Sally and Ted McNaughton was held at the National Cathedral on July 25, 1967 followed by a procession to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.  The Secretary of the Navy designate, his wife and his youngest son were interred near the plot where John F. Kennedy, the man whose administration brought McNaughton to the nation’s capital, had been put to rest less than four years earlier.  President Johnson drove to the funeral with Sen. Everett Dirksen, whose home was less than a mile away from McNaughton’s former house in Pekin, Illinois.  Vice President Humphrey, all the Joint Chiefs of Staff, half the cabinet, Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy and the secretaries of the Army and Air Force attended along with two planeloads of the McNaughtons’ central Illinois friends.  Secretary McNamara was an honorary pallbearer.  McNaughton's friend and former colleague Adam Yarmolinsky gave the eulogy.

What were McNaughton’s future plans?  Alex McNaughton said that “Dad always wanted to be President.” [iii] McNaughton’s father told a family friend that the McNaughton family had met to discuss financing John McNaughton’s run for elective office, an assertion that may be supported by a photo of McNaughton with his father and brothers in Springfield, the Illinois capital, about a month before his death.[iv]  McNaughton had changed his legal residence back to Illinois, probably in anticipation of returning home to run for governor or Congress. [v]

The turning point year of 1968, starting with a precipitous drop in public support for the war in the wake of the Tet Offensive, would almost certainly have ended McNaughton’s Presidential aspirations had he lived.  None of the key Vietnam figures from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were successful in running for important elective offices, although many continued to serve in key advisory positions in and out of government. 

In September 1994 when McNamara was researching his book In Retrospect, his assistant discovered a memo from Richard Helms, who was at CIA at the time, to LBJ suggesting what would probably happen “if we had just pulled out?”  The memo implied that the consequences would not be as dire as had been previously predicted.   With frustration in his voice, McNamara rhetorically asked “Why didn’t we have access to this memo?  I did not know it existed until about 1995. Was the threat as great as the President and the CIA thought?”   “This” McNamara said “is much the same argument that is going on now with Iraq.  The Domino Theory -- the term that Eisenhower coined to refer to the need to prevent the loss of Vietnam and Laos to the Chinese Communists which it was believed would reckon the security of the West – was it justified?  This issue was never fully debated.” [vi] 

Some thirty-five years after the fall of Saigon and with lingering public dissatisfaction with our country’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan, historical dialogue focuses on how the United States entangled itself in the Vietnam conflict, not whether or not the United States should have been involved -- there is fairly broad consensus that we should not have been involved.  However, even such a noted anti-war activist as Noam Chomsky conceded in his 1970 book For Reasons of State that “It is fashionable today to deride the domino theory, but in fact it contains an important kernel of plausibility, perhaps truth.  National independence and revolutionary social change, if successful, may very well be contagious.  The problem is what Walt Rostow and others sometimes call the ‘ideological threat,’ specifically, ‘the possibility that the Chinese Communists can prove to Asians by progress in China that Communist methods are better and faster than democratic methods.’” [vii]

McNamara’s In Retrospect posed the question: “Were such high costs justified?  Dean Rusk, Walt Rostow, Lee Kwan Yew, and many other geopoliticians across the globe to this day answer ‘yes’. They conclude that without U.S. intervention in Vietnam, Communist hegemony-both Soviet and Chinese-would have spread farther through South and East Asia to include control of Indonesia, Thailand, and possibly India.  Some would go further and say that the USSR would have been led to take greater risks to extend its influence elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Middle East, where it might well have sought control of the oil-producing nations.  They might be correct, but I seriously question such judgments.”  [viii]   

It is convenient to blame McNamara, McNaughton and their close colleagues for Vietnam, some even referred to the conflict as “McNamara’s War.”   Others argue that McNamara and McNaughton had limited influence, and that the Vietnam escalation was largely driven by the White House hawks such as Johnson, Rusk and Rostow.  In his book The Limits of Intervention Townsend Hoopes recalled that George Kennan once said that “if you trace back along the chain of cause and effect – treating each cause as the effect of an earlier cause, until you arrive at the first cause – you are forced to make a judgment of ‘cosmic forgiveness’ and ‘cosmic unforgiveness.’” 

“Going up is fun” wrote F.F. McNaughton in his daily column the day after his son’s death, “Much of John’s life he was going up.  There HAD to be bad years ahead – bad years and old age.  That plane crash freed him of them.” [ix]   His death helped McNaughton escape public scrutiny related to his involvement in Vietnam and deprived the world of a brilliant man who had learned lessons from costly mistakes and almost certainly would have made significant contributions in a complex world where the art of compromise is a fundamental skill for survival.  And, the early departure kept McNaughton from telling his side of the story, even though many of his superiors, counterparts and direct reports wrote articles, books and autobiographies after their time in office was complete.

In an October 12, 1968 speech at DePauw University, friend and colleague McGeorge Bundy described McNaughton as “a man unafraid to confront reality, and yet, unwilling to abandon the test of right when he accepted the test of possibility. He did not suppose that war could be left to the soldiers alone.  Or that peace could be made without them.  He cared for Southeast Asia, but he cared also for the fabric of our free society.  Above all, he believed that we must not kid ourselves, and he was right.”  Bundy surmised that “if John McNaughton were with us I think he might still be smiling a little. He knew the complexities of the contest in Vietnam, and he knew at close hand the problems of command and control in Washington.” [x]

John T. McNaughton’s friend and mentor Robert S. McNamara concluded In Retrospect by citing a favorite poem, Rudyard Kipling’s “The Palace.”   McNamara’s book was widely praised and widely criticized, and it was McNamara’s chance to tell his story and make amends in his own words.  McNaughton never had the opportunity to write his book and if he had, perhaps he would have also used literature to conclude his thoughts.

"These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,
And, like the baseless fabric of vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with sleep."
- William Shakespeare, The Tempest, 4.1

In the daily column he wrote for his own newspaper not long after his son’s death, F. F. McNaughton noted how much he would miss son John McNaughton’s frequent letters home.  McNaughton’s last letter home arrived on his father’s desk one hour before his death.  The last words of the letter were: “All’s well – John.” [xi]

[1] McNaughton’s plane crashed within a few minute’s drive of the home of beloved Illinois poet Carl Sandberg.   Sandberg died in bed just three days after McNaughton’s crash.

[i]                A. J. Langguth, “Our Vietnam” page 451
[ii]               Townsend Hoopes, July 20, 1967, Memo to ISA Staff
[iii]              Alex McNaughton, August 11,  2003
[iv]              Ellen L. Paullin, June 2003
[v]               Ellen L. Paullin/Alex McMaughton
[vi]              Robert S. McNamara, July 23, 2003
[vii]             Noam Chomsky, “For Reasons of State”  page 31) 
[viii]            Robert S. McNamara, “In Retrospect” page 319
[ix]              F.F. McNaughton, Pekin Daily Times,  7/20/67
[x]               McGeorge Bundy, DePauw University, October 12, 1968
[xi]              F.F. McNaughton, Pekin Daily Times,  7/31/67

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chapter VIII -- Not a Word of This to Anybody

In a 2003 interview, Morton Halperin recalled a rare late night conversation when McNaughton expressed his doubts about the Vietnam War.  McNaughton rhetorically asked Halperin: “What right do we have to be there? … to get our people killed and to kill their people?”   After the conversation had ended and Halperin was back in his office cleaning up, McNaughton stopped on his way out of the office, looked at Halperin and said: “Not a word of this to anybody.”  

McNaughton’s Saturday, April 22, 1967 diary entry reveals a remarkable intermingling of thoughts about his own future, concerns about Vietnam and affairs in Europe.  He had talked with Benno Schmidt at J. H. Whitney & Co. about a partnership at the private equity firm, and also had discussions about being a vice president and General Counsel of IBM’s wholly owned subsidiary, World Trade Corp.  In the same entry he noted that McNamara approached him a couple of weeks earlier to inquire about his interest in being a Service Secretary, then asking if McNaughton would leave government if he didn’t get one of the jobs.  McNaughton answered “yes” and “yes.”   McNaughton then wrote, “The President today approved a tough schedule of bombing NVN; he’s in a ‘god damn those sons o’ bitches’ mood,” and went on to observe that  the big issues are the extent to which a compromise could be made, would appear as a US defeat and would thereby erode US power in the world.  McNaughton’s diary records that he then switched his thoughts to European matters, musing about whether President Johnson would “give away” anything while in Germany for (former West German Chancellor) Konrad Adenauer’s funeral.

On May 19, 1967 a defining McNaughton memo was circulated.  It was his first strongly worded on-the-record criticism of the war.  Although U.S. public sentiment was still solidly behind the war at the time, McNaughton’s memo was prescient about the much wider anti-war movement that would become fully energized after the Tet offensive in early 1968.  He described the war as “. . . . increasingly unpopular as it escalates-causing more American casualties, more fear of its growing into a wider war, more privation of the domestic sector, and more distress at the amount of suffering being visited on the non-combatants in Vietnam, South and North. Most Americans do not know how we got where we are, and most, without knowing why, but taking advantage of hindsight, are convinced that somehow we should not have gotten this deeply in.  All want the war ended and expect their President to end it.  Successfully or else.”  

McNaughton then continued that he feared “…there is the fatal flaw in the strategy in the draft.  It is that the strategy falls into the trap that has ensnared us for the past three years.  It actually gives the troops while only praying for their proper use and for constructive diplomatic action.”  McNaughton posited that the “philosophy” of the war should be agreed upon now, so that “everyone will not be proceeding on their own major premises, and getting us in deeper and deeper…”[i]

McNaughton further observed that, “A feeling is widely and strongly held that ‘the Establishment’ is out of its mind. The feeling is that we are trying to impose some US image on distant peoples we cannot understand (anymore than we can the younger generation here at home), and that we are carrying the thing to absurd lengths.”  McNaughton’s own plans to remove himself from the daily angst of Vietnam were a reflection of what was in the minds of many of his colleagues.  McNaughton concluded his memo by cautioning that, “In this connection, I fear that ‘natural selection’ in this environment will lead the Administration itself to become more and more homogenized--Mac Bundy, George Ball, Bill Moyers are gone.  “Who next?”

Seeking advice on whether he should resign, McNaughton lunched with old friend, Lincoln Gordon, and learned that Gordon had also once considered resigning from government.   Gordon advised McNaughton that his superior had told him to “…go ahead and resign, but you only make page nine of The Washington Post, no other newspapers in the Country, and lose your chance to change policy for the better.”  Gordon told McNaughton that he decided to continue in government service.  McNaughton then looked at Gordon and said, “You know, I feel the same way.”   [ii] 

John T. McNaughton and President Lyndon Baines Johnson (undated)

McNaughton’s way out arrived that summer.  At a 1967 Rose Garden swearing-in ceremony for McNaughton and three others,[1] President Johnson remarked that the four nominees “…came from New England, the west coast, metropolitan centers of the East and a small town in the Midwest.”   McNaughton, the man from the Midwest, had been designated to be Secretary of the Navy effective August 1, 1967.   Close McNaughton colleagues offer similar, but slightly differing explanations for McNaughton’s planned departure to the Secretary of the Navy post.  “The position was open.” said McNamara, “It was higher in status than his current position.  I hated to see John leave ISA.   I missed John in that position (ISA), although we had other capable people.”[iii]     Hoopes recalled that McNamara had persuaded McNaughton to consider the possibility of a different job in Defense Department that would offer fresh perspectives and challenges and a new set of problems.  [iv] 

In spite of the Navy Secretary job’s many responsibilities, McNaughton would not have been in the operational chain of command and would not have had authority over how naval assets would be deployed and thus would have minimal tactical involvement in Vietnam decisions.  His focus would have been to assure that ships and crews were ready for deployment. [v]    Morton Halperin, however, said that if McNaughton had lived to perform his duties as Secretary of the Navy it is “hard to believe John would have sat idly by…”  He would have wanted to be, speculated Roger Fisher, “close to the action.”

McNamara’s In Retrospect expresses its author’s considerations about whether he himself should have resigned in protest of the war he no longer supported: “To a degree, I held such power, and some said I should have used it by resigning, challenging the president’s Vietnam policy and leading those who sought to force a change.  I believe that would have been a violation of my responsibility to the president and my oath to uphold the Constitution.” [vi]

In June 1967, McNamara asked McNaughton to start quietly collecting documents for future scholars to use, including papers from the Department of Defense, the State Department, the CIA and The White House.  McNaughton assigned the project, which would become “The Pentagon Papers," to Halperin who subsequently tasked it to Leslie Gelb.  The previously secret project gained notoriety when Daniel Ellsberg, who had first been brought to the Pentagon by McNaughton in 1964, surreptitiously copied the secret documents and slipped them to major news outlets.  In spite of McNaughton’s opposition to the war, two of his colleagues later speculated that McNaughton would have disapproved of Ellsberg’s actions.  In a summer June 2003, interview, Morton Halperin surmised that McNaughton “would have hated” Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers saying, “if John were there, he would never have given the notes to Daniel Ellsberg.”   In July 2003, McNamara asserted: “John would have been aghast.  (Ellsberg) violated security procedures he had sworn to uphold.”

[1]  The three other nominees referenced were Charles F. Baird (Undersecretary of the Navy) Paul Nitze (Deputy Secretary of Defense) and Paul C.Warnke (Assistant Secretary of Defense who was replacing McNaughton).

[i]               The Pentagon Papers (Gravel) Volume 4, Chapter 2, " pp. 277-604.       
[ii]              Thomas W. Janes March 31, 1977.  pp. 145-146
[iii]              Robert S. McNamara phone interview, July 11, 2003
[iv]              Townsend Hoopes telephone interview with Thomas Paullin
[v]               Robert Timberg, The Nightingale’s Song, page 403
[vi]              Robert  McNamara, “In Retrospect”,  page 314