As the twentieth anniversary of the Vietnam War's end neared, a book by former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara alleged that the government knew it could not win the war, but pressed ahead anyway.
"One fear [I had]," McNamara said in a 1995 NewsHour interview, "and I expressed it to President Johnson in December 1965, was that we couldn't win the war militarily. I said to him at that time -- and I quote it in the book -- there's only a one in three chance or, at best, a one in two chance to win militarily."
The book provoked argument and controversy reminiscent of the war itself.
Discussing it were former senator and presidential candidate George McGovern, U.S. Senator and former POW John McCain, former national security advisor McGeorge Bundy and Robert Scheer, former editor of the anti-war magazine Ramparts.
Scheer said the book showed "the abysmal ignorance that was present in the government [during the war]."
"[I]t's amazing to me to read this book ... to see (a) how little knowledge there was in the [Kennedy/Johnson] administration when they came in, and (b) when they got the knowledge, it didn't seem to affect their actions," Sheer said.
McGovern said McNamara's book told the real story behind the war.
"I want to say that I'm glad that Mr. McNamara wrote this book," he said. "I think it helps clarify the historical record when one of the chief architects of the war has the courage to say, however late in the day -- and it's awful late -- 'I was wrong, I had doubts about it all the time, I wish we had never gotten into Vietnam.'"
Bundy also thought the book would add to the war's historical record.
"I think Bob McNamara has tried very hard to tell it as he understands it," Bundy said, "and you can quarrel with or differ with his interpretations, but I think it's an honest contribution and ... it will be avery valued one."
But McCain did not see much value in the book at all.
"I believe that it's important for us to try to put to rest and behind us the division and the terrible tragedies associated with the war," McCain said. "And I think that Mr. McNamara's book contributes little. It's 25 years too late, and frankly, we don't need it."
McNamara said he wanted to reexamine the government's alleged mistakes in its handling of the conflict.
"I have no regrets about not speaking out then. I have deep regrets that we ever got involved or that I supported our involvement," McNamara said. "Most of all, I want to try and look back on what I think were our mistakes -- not all my associates agree they were mistakes -- but ... what I think were our mistakes, and try to draw lessons so we won't make the same mistakes again."