Monday, January 31, 2011

Chapter VII -- Revealing Conversations

McNaughton’s notes offered an insight into his state of mind after an April 4, 1966 meeting with a civilian official returning from Vietnam:

Place (Vietnam) in unholy mess.
We control next to no territory.
Fears economic collapse.
Militarily will be same place a year from now.
Pacification won’t get off ground for a year.  [i]

On May 13, 1966 McNaughton penned a long diary entry reflecting on a conversation with McNamara about frustrations with the pace of his career advancement.  McNamara tried to encourage his protégé, pointing out how far he had progressed in five years while McNaughton felt that he had not advanced at all and was still at the level at which his colleagues came in.  McNamara argued that “people at your level have a marvelous opportunity, because this administration will go on 6 more years and openings are sure to appear.” [ii]   After recounting the conversation, McNaughton mused that “What cuts the mustard is action.  (E.g., brilliant management of a shop, extraordinary effectiveness in getting things done in interagency struggles, acquaintance and influence with key Congressional leaders, manifestations from others that one is in demand.)” and he surmised that “if personnel changes in the State Department were imminent that McNamara might now have his name in the front of his mind.”  And then, his doubts surfaced: “When an administration is new and no one knows any better, all sorts of leap frogging can happen.  But after 5 years, a pecking order is established, and the ascent is slow and orderly.” [iii] 

Five days later, McNaughton and McNamara appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  His diary entry on May 18 revealed a level of personal conflict only hinted at by his speeches and memos:  “… when Bob and I appeared on TV before the SFRC last Wednesday, I was again the silent partner, consciously aware that my facial expression had to be ‘neutral.’  I told Sal to look at me and realize that behind my mask I was doing a ‘Harpo Marx’ just for her—with wild imitative laughter, grimaces of simulated pain, horror at mistakes, etc.  She said she saw no signs of my mask’s leaking.”




The June 24, 1966 diary entry:  Two phenomena particularly interest me.  One is the tendency to be a “bad loser”—to resent it when an “unwise” course of action (i.e., one you advise against) pays off (Dominican Republic?  Danang-Hue?), almost to try to trip things up to see that the unwise course proves out to be unwise.  The other is the tendency to raise one’s sights when the situation improves.  (It could be that adversaries might miss opportunities to settle because they insist on moving their settlement terms up and down as the tides of conflict flow better or worse.)”

On September 7, McNamara held McNaughton for “a revealing conversation” after their phone conversation several days earlier in which McNaughton complained that the government was at an ebb in its foreign policy that made it almost impossible to move anything in any direction.  On the phone, McNamara had dissented, referring to Averell Harriman’s appointment and saying “we are at flood, though the water may be only six inches deep.”  In this meeting McNamara remarked that “we seem to be muscle bound in our foreign policy—in VN, Europe, Japan, etc.”  McNaughton referred back to their earlier telephone conversation, to which McNamara responded that “… he must have conditioned himself to accept the most minor steps as major.”

On October 13, 1966, McNaughton joined McNamara and others on a three-day Presidential fact-finding meeting in Vietnam.  Despite pressure from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a more pronounced escalation, McNamara recommended only 40,000 more troops and the stabilization of the air war.  Noting the inability of the bombing to interdict infiltration, McNamara advised a version of the Fisher/McNaughton barrier strategy and either a bombing pause or shifting it away from the northern cities, which he felt would improved the negotiating climate.  The JCS disagreed with virtually every McNamara recommendation and pushed for an escalatory 'sharp knock" against North Vietnam.

Four days after returning from his seventh trip to Vietnam, McNaughton made his October 18, 1966 diary entry:  “I drafted Bob’s report to the President on VN.  It was pessimistic.  We are doing fine in the “new (big) war,” but no better or worse in the war for the people.  No progress since 1961.  I told Bob today that I was going to make my third try the next time the Vietnamese made public asses of themselves (the first was in December 1964 when Khanh was kicking Taylor around; the second was in March of this year during the Struggle in Danang).  Find a way out.*  Meanwhile plug, plug along, trying all along to get Saigon closer to talking to the NFL.[1]   (By the way, Gromyko told the President that there was a 60-40 percent chance of a “change” if we stopt (sic) bombing NVN.)

          —We may be on the verge of a great step in non-proliferation.  The President is awaiting George McGhee’s reaction to some proposed treaty language that would ban common ownership of warheads (tho not of delivery vehicles).

 *I told Bob it would destroy him and would prevent LBJ’s reelection.”

The President met with the heads of government of all the troop contributing nations in Manila on October 23-26, 1966, to reach agreement on positions on the war and devise the desired framework of its settlement.  In a private conference, General Westmoreland urged expansion of the bombing campaign and indicated reluctant acceptance of the barrier concept.  The Chiefs, in a November 4 memorandum forwarding CINCPAC force proposals, added their rationale for the bombing: to "make it as difficult and costly as possible" for North Vietnam to continue the war, thus creating an incentive for NVM to end it.  Despite the growing undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the war, peace candidates in both political parties were soundly defeated in the November 8, 1966, off year election.


A series of entries in McNaughton’s diary revealed the internal conflicts that he felt in trying to reconcile issues such as his previous mistakes, loyalty to his superiors, protecting his career interests and what he knew about the situation in Vietnam.

11/13/66     McCloy said “I don’t know how Averell (Harriman) ever lived down what he did to Berlin.”  He went on quickly that he thought it was a test of greatness—to be able to live mistakes down. 

12/6/66       I have a feeling that the President is the “tough” one. And he is buttressed by Walt Rostow, who is, as Bob said, “a big bomber man.”  (I wonder if Bill Moyers left because of Vietnam—probably not.) The question may come soon when I can’t be a part of it anymore.  The trouble is, it does no good to “resign from the human race.”  And I would not make a noisy resignation, so there would not even be that effect. [iv]

12/11/66.    The one thing that is now clear is that the 1968 Presidential election is casting a pall over everything of importance in Washington.  Actually, the focus of the problem is Vietnam.  There is a stronger and stronger feeling that the war has to be over in 1968.  This mood is exactly the opposite of the one McNamara and I tried to create in the “October report”—viz., that the best way to come out best, soonest, is to gird for the long haul.  I’m afraid the President will decide to kick the bejesus out of North Vietnam in an effort to end the war quickly.  While this might do some good, I doubt it—because we haven’t come near to a winning combination in the South.  Furthermore, a cinderizing campaign against the North would not only run a high risk of enlarging the war (via China or Russia), but also convince the whole world that we were a thorough-going bully.  But what can we do?!  There is no quick way out.  In the meantime, I see Lodge’s phasing out; and I see Westy getting difficult (he is acquiring a power base of his own).

The pressures of publicly defending a policy that he increasingly knew was misguided, while maintaining an appearance of loyalty were reaching a peak as the escalation gained momentum. A family friend recalled a conversation with McNaughton’s housekeeper who suggested that McNaughton had begun to use sleeping pills as the weight of Vietnam played increasingly on his mind.  McNaughton’s son noticed, “Dad aged far more than six years from 1961 to 1967.  The pressure took a physical toll.” [v]

On December 23 McNaughton and McNamara talked before McNamara took off to spend the holiday in Aspen.  Their conversation was interrupted when McNamara’s call for the President was connected to the Texas ranch.  While waiting for LBJ to come on the phone, McNamara asked McNaughton about candidates to replace Henry Cabot Lodge as U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam.   Several names were discussed including Paul Nitze, Cyrus Vance, Ros Gilpatric and McGeorge Bundy.  After discussing the requirements of the post and the list of possible names, McNamara asked McNaughton “Would you be willing to do it?”  McNaughton answered that “The problem is mainly how to maintain one’s marital status while out there” but indicated a willingness “to do it if certain things could be worked out.”  McNamara asked what he meant, to which McNaughton answered: “Some way to be sure to see the family frequently and arrangements so I could get something done out there.”  In response to McNamara’s reply that “one can’t be sure of such arrangements," McNaughton said he did not mean “winning the ball game, but rather having the authority and leverage needed.”

A week later McNaughton wrote in his diary that he had told a confidant that: “I was not letting on in Washington that I was a lame duck, but that I do plan to ‘move’ soon.  I said that I expected to make such a decision ‘by the end of the spring.’  I referred to the five directions I might go—(1) into a family newspaper, (2) with a big corporation in an executive capacity, (3) with a law firm, (4) to a different position in the government (e.g., ambassador to one of the Big Six—UK, France, Germany, USSR, India or Japan), or (5) back into the academic world.  I said that my ideal arrangement would be to have one foot in the Law School and one, say, in the Center or in the new Kennedy School.” 

“From 1967 on,” recounted Morton Halperin “ our (McNaughton, Halperin, and others in the ISA) whole purpose was to find a way out of Vietnam.”  As the spring approached McNaughton took time on a Sunday for a March 12 diary entry revealing that there were “Several things on my mind—

          —Vietnam’s future
          —US force levels in Germany
          —Strategic talks with the Soviets and on the personal side
          —Alex’s college
          —Ted’s teeth & school
          —my future.”
[1] National Front of Liberation  (or "Viet Cong")
[i]               Rational Man – Irrational Policy (A Political Biography of John McNaughton’s Involvement in  the Vietnam War) Essay, Thomas W. Janes March 31, 1977 page 121
[ii]               McNaughton 5/13/66 diary entry
[iii]              McNaughton 5/13/66 diary entry
[iv]              John T. McNaughton private diary (January 1, 1966 – April 22, 1967
[v]               Alex McNaughton, September 4, 2004


Friday, January 21, 2011

Chapter VI -- "Numbed"

In 1965, the initial buildup year for U.S. troop strength in Vietnam, the number of American military personnel in Vietnam increased from 23,300 to 184,300.  It was also the first year of significant American casualties -- 636 U.S. troops had died in Vietnam by December 31, 1965.  As the American presence in Vietnam escalated, McNaughton continued to examine information from the field, develop options and make recommendations.  The rising tide of discouraging data caused McNaughton to become increasingly skeptical about the chances for success in Vietnam and the moral justification for U.S. involvement.

On February 8, 1965, the morning after Bundy, McNaughton and their delegation returned from Saigon and their unexpected side trip to assess the Pleiku devastation, the President convened a White House meeting of the National Security Council that was attended by congressional leaders.  Johnson favored the February 7 memo’s proposed bombing program, portraying it as a way to defeat aggression without escalation.  On February 19 Johnson authorized the regular bombing strikes that became known as “Rolling Thunder” with opinion polls at that time showing 64 percent support for continuing U.S. efforts in Vietnam.  The bombing, which was kept secret from the public, began on March 2.   There was no clear consensus, even among the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as to whether the bombing campaign would have the desired impact.  On March 2 the President dispatched Army Chief of Staff Gen. Harold K. Johnson to Saigon for an appraisal and recommendation on next steps.  General Johnson’s report included a recommendation for more ground troops, and at a March 15, 1965 meeting he estimated that it could take 500,000 American troops as long as five years to achieve victory.  March 17 and March 19 requests from Generals Westmoreland and Sharp sought another two Marine battalions.

As the buildup gained momentum, traces of doubt began to appear in McNaughton’s memos.  An addendum to McNaughton’s March 24, 1965, memo, “Plan for Action in South Vietnam” outlined challenges facing the U.S.  The addendum listed options under consideration and incorporated rationalization for America’s involvement should the plan eventually fail.  It described the reasons for U.S. escalation as follows:

70% -- To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor)
20% -- To keep South Vietnam (and the adjacent territory) from Chinese hands.
10% -- To permit people of South Vietnam to enjoy a better, freer way of life.

ALSO – To emerge from crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used.

NOT – to “help a friend” although it would be hard to stay in if asked out. ..

As he began to prepare himself and others for failure to meet U.S. objectives, McNaughton validated action by stating, “It is essential, however badly SEA may go over the next 1-3 years – that the U.S. emerge as a ‘good doctor.’  We must have kept promises, been tough, taken risk, gotten bloodied, and hurt the enemy very badly….”[i]

On April 6, 1965, the President learned of significant new North Vietnamese troop infiltrations into South Vietnam.  In response, the Joint Chiefs proposed deployment of 8,000 new U.S. troops.  With conditions deteriorating and sensing a need to act, LBJ leaned toward approving the chiefs’ proposal.  Because of differing opinions on the proposal, Johnson called an April 20 meeting in Honolulu to review the proposed deployments.  The Honolulu participants, including McNaughton, concluded that bombing alone would not convince Hanoi that it could not win.  Only one or two of the Joint Chiefs disagreed.  [ii]

On July 13, 1965, McNaughton, cautious about breaking with the momentum toward escalation, attached probabilities to possible options in a memorandum to McNamara entitled "Analysis and Options for South Vietnam" describing three courses the war might take.   While making the case for U.S. deployment in excess of 400,000 troops, he assessed no better than 50% chance of U.S. success within a time horizon of more than three years.   He defined three possible outcomes as follows:

(1) Success for the USJ/GVN. (Actions one should expect to see in such a case were the extension of GVN control throughout the country, the disarming of the VC armed units, the cessation of infiltration and other DRV support, and the relegation of the terror and other insurgent activity to little more than a rural police problem.)

(2) Inconclusive for either side (self-explanatory).

(3) GVN collapse and concomitant U.S. defeat (self-explanatory).

With that amount of force, McNaughton saw the probability of Success/Inconclusive/Collapse as:

for the year 1966: .2/.7/.l
for the year 1967: .4/.45/.15 and
for the year 1968: .5/.3/.2--no further projection being made.

Throughout his life, McNaughton wrote diaries of his experiences and personal thoughts.  Beginning with his Navy enlistment, the diaries became increasingly detailed and continued through his years as a Harvard Law student, in Oxford, with the Marshall Plan, in Pekin and as a Harvard Law faculty member living in Cambridge.  Although no McNaughton diaries have been discovered for the period between McNaughton’s move to Washington through the end of 1965, a January 1, 1966 through April 22, 1967[1] diary has surfaced. 

The existence of the earlier writings and the 1966-1967 diary suggested that McNaughton likely also kept diaries for the period between 1960 and 1965.   McNaughton’s surviving son Alex believes that a new diary beginning April 23, 1967 was lost in the July 1967 plane crash that took McNaughton’s life.  After McNaughton’s death the FBI examined McNaughton papers stored in residences in Washington and Cambridge, and later McNaughton’s father destroyed many of the papers collected in the Cambridge, Massachusetts residence.  No evidence of the FBI’s examinations of McNaughton’s papers was present in McNaughton’s FBI file which was released to this author through a Freedom of Information Act request fulfilled in April, 2004.


On February 11, 1966 McNaughton wrote in the diary: "McNamara this morning, while talking with Cy (Vance) and me, said that 'there is not a piece of paper -- no record -- showing when we changed from an advisory role to a combat role in Vietnam.'"

As his Pentagon memos hinted at growing doubts throughout 1964 and 1965, McNaughton’s 1966-1967 diaries showed increasing dissatisfaction with his ISA position and a meticulous consideration of new career options.  On January 31, 1966 McNaughton told McNamara that he was interested in four slots in the Defense Department, the three Service Secretaries and the Deputy Secretary of Defense. McNamara responded that McNaughton’s ISA post was more interesting than three of those four, but concurred that the Service Secretary posts have more status and would better position McNaughton for future career moves.  In a February 28 telephone conversation, LBJ and McNamara discussed McNaughton as a possible appointee for the Vietnam Ambassador at Large position.  Referring to a Bundy memo, Johnson said: “Bundy suggests we bring the ol’ man McNaughton in" and (further quoting Bundy) that "McNaughton is growing restless on his present assignment and wants something with more status.” [2]   LBJ went on to say that he thought McNaughton would be good for the job even though "he doesn't seem to be a driver, but apparently he is."    McNamara defended McNaughton’s style, telling Johnson:” well he's been a lawyer, and lawyers don't openly drive for their clients” then seemed to argue to keep McNaughton in the ISA job saying that "his present post is at least as important as that one."   [iii]

By early 1966, a consulting relationship between McNaughton and Roger Fisher had begun to reach critical mass.  While on site in the Pentagon, Fisher had easy access to McNaughton from a temporary office two floors above McNaughton’s working area.  Fisher, the Harvard Law professor who had focused much of his scholarly work on the study of negotiation, forwarded recommendations that gained increased attention as frustrations grew about the lack of progress in Vietnam.  The two friends’ discourse pondered a range of strategies intended to pressure the enemy to enter negotiations among which were selection of bombing targets, timing of bombing pauses, making food a bargaining chip by flooding rice paddies and constructing a barrier to interdict the flow of troops and war materials into South Vietnam.

On January 18, 1966, John McNaughton finished a paper entitled "Some Observations about Bombing North Vietnam" that was not addressed to anyone in particular– in fact, it may have been just a personal think piece that was never meant to be advanced in final form because of McNamara’s reaction.  The paper lays out McNaughton’s political argument for the bombing program and is considered significant because McNaughton was knowledgeable about virtually every facet of the program and was also aware of its limitations.  He outlined the objectives of the bombing program as follows: [iv]

a.       To interdict infiltration.
b.       To bring about negotiations (by indirect third-party pressure flowing from fear of escalation and by direct pressure on Hanoi).
c.       To provide a bargaining counter in negotiations (or in a tacit "minuet").
d.       to sustain GVN and US morale.

The January 18 McNaughton paper argued against air strikes at population targets, because of anticipated public repercussions in the United States and abroad, as well as risks of an enlarged war with China and the Soviet Union.   Probably at least indirectly influenced by Fisher’s thinking, McNaughton posited that the bombing of locks and dams might provide leverage for negotiations, without killing or drowning people, shallow-flooding of rice paddies could induce starvation of perhaps more than a million people thus allowing food to be used as a bargaining chip. [v]

Also in January 1966, Fisher presented a memo proposing an anti-infiltration barrier across the DMZ and the Laotian panhandle as a possible means of arresting troop infiltration from North Vietnam.  Fisher felt that a barrier would make it possible to cease bombing, which was increasingly seen as unsuccessful in breaking Hanoi's resolve.  The barrier would incorporate an air-dropped line of barbed wire, mines and chemicals intended to inhibit the flow of troops and supplies from the North.   Fisher, the negotiations expert, explained that the idea behind the barrier strategy was to prevent attacks, which was an alternative to being compelled to retaliate after being attacked.  There is, says Fisher, “a difference between physically preventing action versus trying to influence it by increasing costs…a difference between influence and physical effect… preventing versus inflicting pain.  We were not thinking about formal, sit-down negotiations such as we might with the Russians.  We let our actions speak loudly.  This was tacit negotiation – giving them a yesable proposition to modify their behavior -- to simplify the other party’s choice.[vi]

Six weeks later McNaughton sent McNamara a slightly revised version of the Fisher draft and on April 7 the military response recommended against the plan, anticipating that construction and defense of a barrier would require 7-8 U.S. divisions and could take up to four years to become fully operational and would require an unacceptable diversion of resources.  Nevertheless, the Army, probably directed by McNamara, had started a program in March which would lead to deployment of a set of anti-personnel route and trail interdiction devices.  Roughly concurrently, four scientific advisors had formed a working group that called itself the Jason Summer Study, which submitted an analysis of the effects of the bombing campaign, an evaluation of the enemy’s logistics and manpower, a proposition for an air supported anti-infiltration barrier; and summary recommendations.  The Jason Summer Study determined that the bombing of North Vietnam was ineffective and recommended that the barrier concept be implemented as an alternative means of slowing infiltration from the North.  On August 30 the Jason scientists presented their work to McNaughton and a favorably impressed McNamara.  A barrier plan was partially implemented between 1968 and 1972, with mixed results and minimal impact upon the outcome of the conflict.


On April 1, 1966, after McNaughton mentioned to his boss that he “was feeling a little like an engine that had become disconnected from the wheels” McNamara told McNaughton “not to leave the government until we talked.”  McNamara attributed the lack of connection to what he saw as a shortage of clear policy in the government. 


On April 8, 1966 McNaughton's diary records that "Bob (McNamara) in an unguarded moment said 'I want to give the order to our troops to get out of there so bad I can hardly stand it.'"


The April 30 diary entry observed, “There’s a certain weariness in the government.”  He noted that “In State, Tom Mann is resigning; George Ball apparently intends to quit this summer; Bob McNamara is taking an awful beating from the press and from the Hill; I care less about things.  Partly, it’s because I don’t feel I can ‘get through,’ but that’s not the main thing, because I’m sure I have more influence now than ever before—on the NATO reorganization, on the US reaction to France, on nuclear-sharing arrangements, on Vietnam, etc. [vii] It’s just that it thrills me less to get a sentence into a Presidential speech or to sit at a table with Cabinet officers, or to have dinner with a Prime Minister.  I’m numbed.  Perhaps it’s time for new blood.”  [viii]


Add caption

Map of Vietnam in February 1967
Pentagon Papers  Volume 4, Chapter 2  "US Ground Strategy and Force Deployments 1965-1968



The second half of 1966 and the early months of 1967 found McNaughton involved with a wide range of issues and travels.  His international itinerary included stops in France, Germany, Italy, India, Turkey, Greece, Guam, the Philippines, the Bilderberg conference (held in England) and Vietnam.  Domestic travel included visits to New York City; Cambridge, MA; Lawrenceville, NJ (to see his son Alex at school); and Greencastle, IN (for DePauw University board meetings).  He also took a family trip to Scotland and traveled to Puerto Rico with his wife.  In the 1966-1967 timeframe, McNaughton delved into questions such as international monetary policy, the balance of power in Europe and nuclear arms control -- but mostly his family, his career and Vietnam.



[1]  The April 22, 1967 entry filled the last page of the marble covered notebook, suggesting there is no other significance to the diary’s ending on that date.
[2]  Johnson said that the Bundy memo also indicated that JTM is "a very talented man" and "would be wasted on the (Ambassador at Large) job.


[i]           “Plan for Action in South Vietnam” March 24, 1965
[ii]               Robert McNamara, In Retrospect, Page 182-183
[iii]              LBJ Conversation 9680 with Robert McNamara Monday, February 28, 1966, 7:50 AM
[iv]              JCSM-41-66 McNaughton draft, "Some Observations about Bombing . . ." (Pentagon Papers Gravel edition Volume 4, Chapter I,
[v]               JCSM-41-66 McNaughton draft, "Some Observations about Bombing . . ." (Pentagon Papers Gravel edition Volume 4, Chapter I
[vi]              Roger Fisher, December 19, 2005, telephone interview 
[vii]             John T. McNaughton private diary Unclassified.  Jan 1, 1966 through April 22, 1967
[viii]            John T. McNaughton private diary Unclassified.  Jan 1, 1966 through April 22, 1967


Friday, January 14, 2011

Chapter V -- Just Between Family and Friends

Upon his promotion to General Counsel for the Department of Defense, McNaughton resigned from Harvard and moved to a comfortable home on Lowell Street in Northwest Washington.  The McNaughtons lived a frugal lifestyle, commuting around Washington in a well-traveled Rambler station wagon.  The family’s living room contained a baby grand piano and an electric organ that McNaughton enjoyed playing. [i]   The household’s red hot line phone, which McNaughton’s son Alex McNaughton never recalls ringing, provided a portentous contrast to the otherwise unremarkable setting. 

Cambridge and Harvard contacts would prove helpful in keeping McNaughton networked with other administration insiders.  John McNaughton and Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy first became friends when they were next-door neighbors in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Negotiations expert Roger Fisher, who later advised McNaughton on a barrier strategy for Vietnam, lived across the street in Cambridge.  The McNaughtons sometimes vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard where they mingled with many of the Washington and Cambridge cognoscenti.[ii]  In a January 1966 diary entry McNaughton noted a conversation in which William Bundy relayed information “between old Berkeley Street buddies” in updating him about a bombing pause. 

Although his typically long work days left little time for frivolity,[iii] McNaughton’s appointment books and diary indicate that his busy calendar often included dinner parties and receptions where the McNaughtons interacted with Washington insiders including Katharine Graham, Claire Booth Luce, and Scotty Reston, as well as many military and embassy officials.  He would also lunch and occasionally meet colleagues for drinks at locales including the Federal City Club, Metropolitan Club, and the Cosmos Club.  McNaughton also made time for squash and tennis at the St. Albans School courts with partners that included Hoopes, McGeorge Bundy, Alain Enthoven and Walt Rostow.  McNaughton was seen around Washington enough that on at least one occasion, McNamara had to defend McNaughton when LBJ suspected that McNaughton was the source of leaks to the press pertaining to the situation in Vietnam.  McNaughton’s self-imposed “two-drink rule” helped insure that he would not become too forthright with reporters who were frequently in his company.  

In a January 4, 1996 personal letter to friends he said, “Sally and I are living fairly typical lives for Washington functionaries” and ended the letter by saying “and there is plenty to chat about.”  His diary entry that day indicated that McNaughton had lunched in the State Department, discussed a bombing pause and surmised whether or not North Vietnam would “blink” sometime in the next eighteen months.  Another diary entry noted that the resentment Sally had initially developed for his father and the family’s daily newspaper was transferred to his typewriter when he lived in Cambridge and then focused on McNamara when they moved to Washington.  After mostly negative media and diplomatic reaction to 1966 bombing of facilities in Hanoi and Haiphong, McNaughton finished a diary entry observing that “Sally has been particularly taciturn.”

Although they commonly talked about their and their friends’ lives and careers, 1960s era Washington wives did not openly discuss policy with their husbands.  Spouses received no formal indoctrination about secrecy although it might have been discussed between couples; however confidentiality was mostly assured by husbands not discussing important classified information.[iv]  By following the news, knowing their husbands’ responsibilities and observing their moods, wives could make inferences about what was going on.  In his book In Retrospect[v] Robert McNamara described his family’s feelings about his role in the war after a protestor burned himself to death under McNamara’s Pentagon window.  McNamara said that he reacted to the horror of the protestor’s action by bottling up his emotions and avoided talking about them with anyone including his family.  Wrote McNamara: “There was much (his family) should have talked about, yet at moments like this I often turn inward instead -- it is a grave weakness. The episode created tension at home that only deepened as dissent and criticism of the war continued to grow.”  

Sally McNaughton, known for a keen sense of humor and hearty laugh, was not personally ambitious, and was at best ambivalent about her husband’s high-pressure career.  When John joined the Navy after college, Sally signed up as a WAVE and was commissioned as a lieutenant junior grade.  She did not embrace military life, and would later tell the story of a drill instructor who told her to “pick up your g__ d___ feet” as a result of her laconic performance in marching drills.  While her husband typically rose at the crack of dawn, Sally McNaughton slept late whenever possible and smoked cigarettes to help relax.  She ran the family, ferrying their boys back and forth to school and other activities, but left cooking and other tasks she considered tiresome for domestic help.  She never felt completely comfortable in Washington, preferring the life of a Harvard professor’s wife with summers off and getaways to Cape Cod, the Shore or Martha's Vineyard.  Her halfhearted pursuit of housework and indifference to Washington society did not apply to activities she considered to be meaningful -- she volunteered in the D.C. schools, was fluent in several languages and was learning Russian at the time of her death.

McNaughton’s ability to compartmentalize the multifaceted demands of his job carried over to his time with his family.  Often on Saturdays, his son Alex would join him for breakfast in the E-Ring cafeteria, followed by a trek to the Pentagon’s officers club where they swam and took scuba lessons.  Despite a heavy workload the rest of the week, McNaughton seldom came into the Pentagon on Sundays, part of which were reserved for accumulated home reading on issues that could be deferred during the week.[vi]  McNaughton’s name and face were not well known outside of the Pentagon, so his family was not subject to the same level of public criticism as McNamara’s when America’s involvement in Vietnam escalated.  Alex McNaughton has recollections about his mother’s worries and recalls times standing with her by the radio as they anxiously listened to news reports during times of crisis, but says that he and his father never discussed Vietnam.


McNaughton (center) with his aide Colonel Robert C. Hixon and Rear Admiral Kennth L. Veth, Commander Naval Forces Vietnam. Leaving Danang Air Force Base for flight to USS Constellation.  July 9, 1967.



[i]                Alex McNaughton, September 4, 2003
[ii]               Alex McNaughton, September 4, 2003
[iii]              Townsend Hoopes, July 2003
[iv]              Townsend Hoopes 12/21/03 e-mail response to TSP questions
[v]               Robert S. McNamara, In Retrospect, pages 216-217.  
[vi]              Adam Yarmolinksy, Eulogy for John T. McNaughton, July 25, 1967