Because Our Fathers Lied by Craig McNamara, Little Brown & Co. 2022, 288 pages
“It’s impossible not to be my father’s son; I can’t be but what I am.“
Although a decade has passed, I still recall the morning Robert McNamara passed away. It was July 6, 2009 and I was sitting at my father’s kitchen table when the announcement came on the morning news. McNamara had served as Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy administration and, as a bona fide JFK and RFK fan, I instantly chimed in and mentioned to my father what a great man McNamara was and how he helped guide our nation through the Cuban Missile Crisis and the like. My father who was standing with his back to me, turned around and proceeded to vigorously chastise the now-deceased McNamara for having the blood of thousands on his hands from Vietnam. Though drafted during the war, my father never left the United States and almost never spoke of the Vietnam War at any time in my youth. Thus, his animated reaction was, to say the least, unexpected.
The brief and awkward family disagreement about McNamara’s legacy stayed with me. Much later, when I learned Craig McNamara (Robert McNamara’s son) was finally putting pen to paper to write his version of the Vietnam story, I was curious. Father and son disagreements and how families may, or may not, reconcile in a house divided piqued my interest.
Craig’s story is a familiar one to young boys who grew up in the long and wide shadow of their father and who had to find a way to cope and measure up. For Craig, given his father was United States Secretary of Defense, it unfolded on an intense level. How does any son disagree or question someone of McNamara’s caliber? Where does he start? What is his process?
In Because Our Fathers Lied, Craig McNamara offers a glimpse of his approach. As an adolescent, he voiced minor opposition to the policies his father championed under President Johnson. Later, he became an active protester on his college campus, always with a sense of self-reflection and perhaps a twinge of guilt for his contrary actions (from those of his father), leaving him in a constant state of cognitive dissonance.
During a motorcycle road trip through South America, reminiscent of Che Guevara’s motorcycle diaries, Craig McNamara finds the seed of the thought and the interest that ultimately spurred him to lead the life he leads today. He pursued a life in agriculture and farming. And it is this holistic approach to life and his life’s work that gives him a sense of purpose and joy, particularly considering the relationship with his father and his father’s legacy appear to remain a source of personal discontent.
Tellingly, Craig writes, “It’s impossible not to be my father’s son; I can’t be but what I am.” Craig knows he will always be the son of his father, but also his own person with his own opinions and own perspective. Perhaps, he and we all are both.
Throughout the book Craig McNamara offers stories that are both fascinating and diverse, touching on both the unknown as well as some of the most prominent names in post-WWII public office.
Father and son relationships, the core of the book, are often complicated. And, when these complexities are played out on the world stage, the likelihood they can get to the heart of the matter is increasingly remote. Because Our Father’s Lied asks the reader what to make of the legacy of Robert McNamara. Craig McNamara is not asking us to agree with him, or even stating a case for one perspective or another, it is just the story of a son finding his way through a life less ordinary, a complicated one, and showing us that while we may never have all the answers, we can ultimately find peace and purpose in our own lives. Although the journey may not be a smooth one, it is a journey worth taking.
Book review provided by Wayne B Marek.
Marek is a musician and bibliophile. In addition to two decades spent building a personal library, Wayne reads and writes regularly on topics of history, public policy, and leadership.