General Paul Harkins was the America head of the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam in the early 1960s. Robert Strange McNamara was an American business executive and the eighth Secretary of Defense appointed first by President Kennedy in 1961. He kept his position under President Lyndon Johnson until 1968. He was considered a brilliant thinker and was responsible for implementing what was called systems analysis and later called policy analysis. Like so many of Kennedy’s advisors he was a Harvard Graduate. Harvard has never been famous for graduating students filled with modesty. They considered themselves the best and brightest.
McNamara loved data and he constantly demanded more of it from those under his supervision, such as General Paul Harkins. As a result, Harkins, doing as he was told, provided McNamara with mountains of data. In fact, McNamara was provided with “far more data than could ever be adequately analyzed.” As a result alarming reports from field officers such as John Paul Vann were not given the attention they deserved.
General Harkins had little use for sceptical reporters such as Neil Sheehan. Sometimes he even preferred that “bad news was buried.” Why advertise your own shortcomings?
When bad news is not seen or paid sufficient attention to, military analysts like McNamara are not in the best position to make the best decisions, no matter how bright they were. Even the best and brightest need all the news–the good, the bad, and the ugly. If military leaders are not in a position to make the best decisions their soldiers suffer more than anyone else.
The current occupant of the White House at the end of 2017 is famous for treating any news he does not like as “fake news.” As a result he too can fall into the same trap that Kennedy did. In fact this is much more likely in Trump’s case, because Kennedy was not a moron. Morons, more than most, need all the bad news.