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

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