A Computer Does Not Substitute For Judgement

“A computer does not substitute for judgement any more than a pencil substitutes for literacy. But writing without a pencil is no particular advantage.”

Robert S. McNamara, from The Essence of Security: Reflections in Office (1968)


Picture of Robert S. McNamara via Defense Intelligence Agency

Robert Strange McNamara (June 9, 1916 – July 6, 2009) was an American business executive and the eighth United States Secretary of Defense, serving from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He played a major role in escalating the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. McNamara was born in San Francisco, California. He graduated from UC Berkeley and Harvard Business School and served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Afterward, Henry Ford II hired McNamara and a group of other Army Air Force veterans to work for Ford Motor Company. McNamara served a brief stent as president before accepting appointment as Secretary of Defense in 1961. He became a close adviser to Kennedy and advocated the use of a blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He also had a hand in a Cold War defense strategy known as ‘flexible response.’ During the Kennedy administration, McNamara presided over a build-up of US soldiers in South Vietnam. He grew increasingly skeptical of the efficacy of committing US soldiers to the war. In 1968, McNamara resigned as Secretary of Defense to become President of the World Bank. A Republican all his life, in 1978 he switched to Democrat. He became a stanch proponent of denuclearization, and worked and promoted projects such as the elimination of river blindness and access to birth control.

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