Vietnam War: Why Johnson Sacked McNamara in 1967

This is What We Do

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

This week, Maori TV showed Episode 5 of the Vietnam War series, which covers 1967. By the end of 1967, over 20,000 Americans had died in Vietnam. In addition to raising taxes, Johnson was forced to gut his war on poverty to help pay for the war.

This episode explains the strategy pursued by US military leadership as well as replaying media footage of key ambushes and interviewing surviving veterans from both the US and Vietnam.Vietnamese veterans talk about the ease of tracking US GIs due to the trail of cigarette butts they left behind.

Many US fatalities stemmed from the use of the M16, viewed by one military analyst as a “piece of shit.” It frequently jammed under jungle conditions and was no match for the Soviet-made AK47 the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong used.

1967 was the year that university students across the US held their first mass anti-Vietnam War protests in New York and Washington DC. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara sent Johnson a private memo advising him the US couldn’t win the Vietnam war. It recommended the President freeze troop levels and cease carpet bombing North Vietnam to bring them to the negotiating table. Johnson promptly appointed him to head the World Bank and installed Clark Clifford as Secretary of Defense. McNamara would remain silent about his reservations about Vietnam for over 20 years.


9 thoughts on “Vietnam War: Why Johnson Sacked McNamara in 1967

  1. McNamara – one of Kennedy’s “Whiz Kids” – lacked national security experience upon his appointment as Secretary of Defense, and he also had bought into the prevailing “Domino Theory” which feared a cascade of communist successes following a collapse of South Vietnam. Consequently, he was too late in realizing the futility of American involvement in Vietnam, and therefore is deserving of much blame for it. What’s most puzzling to me is that he, Kennedy, Johnson, and just about every other key figure in those administrations were fully aware of South Vietnam’s greatest vulnerability to communism – the populist hatred of their egregiously corrupt government – and yet decided to pursue the war anyway. There is some indication that the Kennedy administration was looking to deescalate American military involvement, but JFK’s assassination ended any possibility of its occurrence.

    Regarding the M16, it was neither inferior to the AK47 nor a “piece of shit.” It’s initial jamming problem was solved relatively quickly, and most soldiers were very happy to exchange their heavy and cumbersome M14s for the much lighter, faster firing, and more accurate M16. The AK47 was a larger caliber weapon with a lower muzzle velocity and low machined tolerances which meant that it was more effective against a wider array of targets and was more mechanically reliable. The M16 was superior as an anti-personnel weapon especially at longer ranges. Each weapon fit the intended purpose of their respective sides. American soldiers could count on the heavy firepower provided by artillery, helicopter gunships, ground attack aircraft, etc., and didn’t need a heavy infantry rifle. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, conversely, did.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the background on McNamara and the M16, Robert. I’m not sure if you watched the video, but because the filmmakers are taking the war year by year – I believe the attitude towards the M16 reflects the situation many GIs faced in 1967. At least according to the vets the interviewed, there was a lot of frustration that the guns constantly needed cleaning because they jammed when they got muddy (which happened frequently in the jungle). There was a lot of distress among GIs when they saw buddies killed when their M16s jammed. It’s good to here that their superiors resolved this problem.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that did happen for two main reasons: 1) design and production problems, and 2) misinformation about M16 maintenance.

        The following improvements were expedited in 1967: 1) the original cleaner extruded gunpowder was re-specified after having been replaced by dirtier ball powder, 2) the inclusion of a chrome plated firing chamber, 3) the addition of a forward-assist mechanism, 4) the deployment of rifle cleaning kits to soldiers.

        I served in the U.S. Army immediately after Vietnam. And, had I been sent into combat, I wouldn’t have wanted to be armed with any other rifle than the M16. I had many friends who did see combat, and their consensus opinion matched mine. I recall one Marine, a big burly fellow who fought in 1965-66 who preferred the M14; but, the extra weight wasn’t a problem for him as it was for the rest of us. Anyway, the ultimate success of the M16 can be assessed by its great longevity – a historical testimony which puts its initial difficulties in the proper perspective.


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