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Because Our Fathers Lied: A Memoir of Truth and Family, from Vietnam to Today

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This unforgettable father and son story confronts the legacy of the Vietnam War across two generations; “an important book that should be read by every American” (Ron Kovic, Vietnam Veteran and author of Born on the Fourth of July). Craig McNamara came of age in the political tumult and upheaval of the late 60s. While Craig McNamara would grow up to take part in anti-war de This unforgettable father and son story confronts the legacy of the Vietnam War across two generations; “an important book that should be read by every American” (Ron Kovic, Vietnam Veteran and author of Born on the Fourth of July). Craig McNamara came of age in the political tumult and upheaval of the late 60s. While Craig McNamara would grow up to take part in anti-war demonstrations, his father, Robert McNamara, served as John F. Kennedy's Secretary of Defense and the architect of the Vietnam War. This searching and revealing memoir offers an intimate picture of one father and son at pivotal periods in American history. Because Our Fathers Lied is more than a family story—it is a story about America. Before Robert McNamara joined Kennedy's cabinet, he was an executive who helped turn around Ford Motor Company. Known for his tremendous competence and professionalism, McNamara came to symbolize "the best and the brightest." Craig, his youngest child and only son, struggled in his father's shadow. When he ultimately fails his draft board physical, Craig decides to travel by motorcycle across Central and South America, learning more about the art of agriculture and making what he defines as an honest living. By the book's conclusion, Craig McNamara is farming walnuts in Northern California and coming to terms with his father's legacy. Because Our Fathers Lied tells the story of the war from the perspective of a single, unforgettable American family.


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This unforgettable father and son story confronts the legacy of the Vietnam War across two generations; “an important book that should be read by every American” (Ron Kovic, Vietnam Veteran and author of Born on the Fourth of July). Craig McNamara came of age in the political tumult and upheaval of the late 60s. While Craig McNamara would grow up to take part in anti-war de This unforgettable father and son story confronts the legacy of the Vietnam War across two generations; “an important book that should be read by every American” (Ron Kovic, Vietnam Veteran and author of Born on the Fourth of July). Craig McNamara came of age in the political tumult and upheaval of the late 60s. While Craig McNamara would grow up to take part in anti-war demonstrations, his father, Robert McNamara, served as John F. Kennedy's Secretary of Defense and the architect of the Vietnam War. This searching and revealing memoir offers an intimate picture of one father and son at pivotal periods in American history. Because Our Fathers Lied is more than a family story—it is a story about America. Before Robert McNamara joined Kennedy's cabinet, he was an executive who helped turn around Ford Motor Company. Known for his tremendous competence and professionalism, McNamara came to symbolize "the best and the brightest." Craig, his youngest child and only son, struggled in his father's shadow. When he ultimately fails his draft board physical, Craig decides to travel by motorcycle across Central and South America, learning more about the art of agriculture and making what he defines as an honest living. By the book's conclusion, Craig McNamara is farming walnuts in Northern California and coming to terms with his father's legacy. Because Our Fathers Lied tells the story of the war from the perspective of a single, unforgettable American family.

30 review for Because Our Fathers Lied: A Memoir of Truth and Family, from Vietnam to Today

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    This was a beautiful and exceptional memoir, and I’m so glad he wrote it. I feel like this has depth at so many levels: it shows us what life can be like to have a controversial, famous father; it shows us what life might be like if you grow up awash in privilege and become disillusioned by it; it raises all sorts of questions about what kind of training civil servants should have (should a car manufacturer really be the number one in charge of plotting national defense strategy?); and in other This was a beautiful and exceptional memoir, and I’m so glad he wrote it. I feel like this has depth at so many levels: it shows us what life can be like to have a controversial, famous father; it shows us what life might be like if you grow up awash in privilege and become disillusioned by it; it raises all sorts of questions about what kind of training civil servants should have (should a car manufacturer really be the number one in charge of plotting national defense strategy?); and in other ways it’s also just a routine coming-of-age story where the person decides to go into farming instead of a “white collar” job. I thought this book delivered at every level. I admit to being particularly impressed because as a straight, white, upper class male from a prestigious family, Craig McNamara is basically the epitome of privilege—and I thought he was shockingly direct and scrutinizing about where he has come from and how he felt about that. He never would have had to write this autobiography, you know—I think it was extremely gutsy to publish this memoir. I’m a bit surprised by some of the negative reviews on here, especially the ones that say the writing is choppy or weak. I thought this was incredibly well written! I was even brought to tears by the final acknowledgments. I wonder if some readers were disappointed that he didn’t solve everything perfectly by the end: he, to this day, has a very complicated relationship with his father. (It also seems that his father was a very complicated personality, on his own. So of course his personal relationships ended up being complicated.) This book does not solve any of that, and it would be unrealistic for it to do so. It leaves open questions, and Craig McNamara basically tells us that he’s continuing to process some of this. That sounds pretty normal and genuine and human to me. An added perk for me were the references to DC, and the realization that the McNamaras had lived on my favorite street to walk down—Tracy Place NW! I’ve walked by that gorgeous house many times and had no idea who its former inhabitants were. There were a few areas I wish Craig McNamara had given us a bit more detail on: his relationships with his sisters; whether he inherited money from his father and whether he feels guilt about that; and, frankly—*what* was going on in his head when he deserted his married “lover” in South America as a 20-something and does he have remorse about that whole relationship?! (I don’t see how he couldn’t, but I felt like we were left hanging on that one.) But overall, I thought this was an excellent memoir and I feel fortunate that he was gutsy enough to share about his very, very complicated relationship with his father and what that has meant for his own life.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Craig McNamara

    Because Our Fathers Lied: A Memoir of Truth and Family, from Vietnam to Today Craig McNamara. Little, Brown, $29 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-28223-9 Walnut farmer McNamara, founder of the Center for Land-Based Learning, debuts with a stunning, deeply personal look at his life as the son of the prime shaper of America’s Vietnam War policy, secretary of defense Robert S. McNamara. In searing detail, the younger McNamara reveals reams of hitherto unreported details about his controversial father’s family Because Our Fathers Lied: A Memoir of Truth and Family, from Vietnam to Today Craig McNamara. Little, Brown, $29 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-28223-9 Walnut farmer McNamara, founder of the Center for Land-Based Learning, debuts with a stunning, deeply personal look at his life as the son of the prime shaper of America’s Vietnam War policy, secretary of defense Robert S. McNamara. In searing detail, the younger McNamara reveals reams of hitherto unreported details about his controversial father’s family life and how the elder McNamara’s lies and obfuscations about the war led to their estrangement. Craig McNamara recounts hanging Viet Cong flags in his bedroom as a protest against his father; dropping out of Stanford to travel through Central and South America on a motorcycle; and ultimately becoming a dedicated practitioner of, and advocate for, sustainable farming. His unique perspective on the war’s “architect” reveals a man who was a “caretaker, loving dad, hiking buddy” as well as an “obfuscator, neglectful parent, warmonger.” Offering a complex, introspective look at how his relationship with his father turned into “a mixture of love and rage,” the author sheds light on an entire generation’s disillusionment with their forebears and reaches a depth of understanding about Robert S. McNamara that no previous book about his role in the Vietnam War has achieved. This is a must-read. (May) DETAILS

  3. 5 out of 5

    Eric Grunder

    On the one hand Craig McNamara's writing is choppy, disjointed and not particularly elegant. On the other hand, because of that, the words of the only son of former Defense Secretary and Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara add a poignancy to the choppy, disjointed and inelegant relationship between the two. As a child the son stood at the edge of history being made by John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. As a young man, the son's politics and understanding of that history and its outcome took a di On the one hand Craig McNamara's writing is choppy, disjointed and not particularly elegant. On the other hand, because of that, the words of the only son of former Defense Secretary and Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara add a poignancy to the choppy, disjointed and inelegant relationship between the two. As a child the son stood at the edge of history being made by John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. As a young man, the son's politics and understanding of that history and its outcome took a different path than the father. And even into the son's middle age and the father's death, while their paths repeatedly crossed, they never resolved. This book is about a son seeking understanding and truth but, in the end, receiving only silence and obfuscation. In that important sense, this is a terribly sad and troubling book. But it also a journey into a son's unmistakable love for one of the most pivotal figures of the second half of America's 20th century despite the elder McNamara's silence and likes and failure to accept responsibility. That most Americans can't fathom McNamara is less surprising given that in 250 pages Craig McNamara couldn't spell out his father's inner secrets either.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay Martinez

    The first time I’ve ever read something that made me think of the family members of people who go down in infamy. This book explores all the ways a son grapples with his father’s misdeeds while still always loving him a lot. Complicated to think about for the author and for the readers! PS I know someone from this book’s acknowledgments!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Eventually time reveals the truth. This book is by the son of Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under president Johnson. McNamara led the US deeper and deeper into the Vietnam War which he knew was not winnable. The consequences for Craig McNamara were enormous. He knew his father was lying about the war, but they could never talk about it. As I look at the world today and the lies that are being told about what we have all seen with our own eyes, I wonder what the consequences will be for t Eventually time reveals the truth. This book is by the son of Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under president Johnson. McNamara led the US deeper and deeper into the Vietnam War which he knew was not winnable. The consequences for Craig McNamara were enormous. He knew his father was lying about the war, but they could never talk about it. As I look at the world today and the lies that are being told about what we have all seen with our own eyes, I wonder what the consequences will be for the children of today’s liars as well as for all of us.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gerry Connolly

    Craig McNamara has written an honest and heartfelt memoir about his relationship with Robert McNamara, JFK’s and LBJ’s Sec of Defense and architect of the Vietnam war. Yearning for a closeness that was always rebuffed Craig struggles with the horrors unleashed in Vietnam-and the remoteness of an emotionally distant father. Craig rebels by traveling through and living in South America ultimately becoming a walnut farmer in California. Throughout it all he tries to understand how his father could Craig McNamara has written an honest and heartfelt memoir about his relationship with Robert McNamara, JFK’s and LBJ’s Sec of Defense and architect of the Vietnam war. Yearning for a closeness that was always rebuffed Craig struggles with the horrors unleashed in Vietnam-and the remoteness of an emotionally distant father. Craig rebels by traveling through and living in South America ultimately becoming a walnut farmer in California. Throughout it all he tries to understand how his father could engineer a war he knows is unwinnable . the only answer he ever got from his Dad was “loyalty”. I had dinner with Craig and we talked extensively about his father’s culpability. It remains, for him, an unresolved but haunting question. Bob McNamara should have embraced this loving son who hated the war but remained steadfast in his love for his father.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sooz

    Overall I am on the disappointed side ... I expected more. I don't feel I learned anything new about Robert McNamara which - I suppose given how little his own son knew him- isn't a surprise, but I don't feel I got to know Craig either. He's had a interesting and widely varied life but maybe he just isn't the kind of writer that can convey more than a factual account of those experiences. Again, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised the kind of writer that can really get to the heart of the matter Overall I am on the disappointed side ... I expected more. I don't feel I learned anything new about Robert McNamara which - I suppose given how little his own son knew him- isn't a surprise, but I don't feel I got to know Craig either. He's had a interesting and widely varied life but maybe he just isn't the kind of writer that can convey more than a factual account of those experiences. Again, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised the kind of writer that can really get to the heart of the matter and express themselves in a way that touches the reader ... well that kind of writer doesn't come along every day.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Hambourger

    Lots of people have difficult relationships with their fathers, but Craig McNamara’s father was also responsible for innumerable human deaths. What does that mean for Craig? He didn’t make the decisions, and in fact always opposed them, but does the fact that he loved Robert McNamara, looks like him, has his name, benefited from his fame and money, does this give Craig a share of responsibility? Craig seems to answer that question by moving through the world in a way that is different from his f Lots of people have difficult relationships with their fathers, but Craig McNamara’s father was also responsible for innumerable human deaths. What does that mean for Craig? He didn’t make the decisions, and in fact always opposed them, but does the fact that he loved Robert McNamara, looks like him, has his name, benefited from his fame and money, does this give Craig a share of responsibility? Craig seems to answer that question by moving through the world in a way that is different from his father’s. Is it atonement? Or just healthy detachment and self definition? Craig’s struggle with the meaning of his fathers legacy for him is a personal version of one we all need to have as a society, as we consider our responsibility for the harms inflicted by past generations that still reverberate today.

  9. 5 out of 5

    CASPER HILEMAN

    Mr. McNamara tells of his indictment of his father's generation in the Vietnam War and anti-communism in general. McNamara for most of his life is seemingly estranged from his parents, especially his father. McNamara : while telling of his opposition to the actions of his father and the mainstream political ideas of the day more importantly tells a very human tale of alienation and struggle to become independent from the shadow of a successful parent. Mr. McNamara tells of his indictment of his father's generation in the Vietnam War and anti-communism in general. McNamara for most of his life is seemingly estranged from his parents, especially his father. McNamara : while telling of his opposition to the actions of his father and the mainstream political ideas of the day more importantly tells a very human tale of alienation and struggle to become independent from the shadow of a successful parent.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Quite a heartfelt story of a man finding his father was less than perfect, but I think far short of deeply introspective. I did enjoy his story of going into agriculture, something he went into on his own volition, but I am less than clear whether he help from his father. A fairly good story but perhaps he banked a bit on his father's name in marketing his book. Quite a heartfelt story of a man finding his father was less than perfect, but I think far short of deeply introspective. I did enjoy his story of going into agriculture, something he went into on his own volition, but I am less than clear whether he help from his father. A fairly good story but perhaps he banked a bit on his father's name in marketing his book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen Hohmeyer

    This book was both interesting and odd. It was a bit more literary and esoteric than I like my nonfiction these days, and certainly less about Vietnam and the war itself and more about fathers and legacy and how we reckon with both. The flow itself felt a bit choppy; I was never quite sure where in time we were going to end up from chapter to chapter.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ann Straight

    The author assumed the reader knows the political decisions around the Vietnam War and how Robert McNamara knew that he was wrong about Vietnam. Craig, the son, mostly loved his father but also felt distant from him and tried to form his own life. It is a son's memoir and not truly a political clarification of the father. Interesting but limited. The author assumed the reader knows the political decisions around the Vietnam War and how Robert McNamara knew that he was wrong about Vietnam. Craig, the son, mostly loved his father but also felt distant from him and tried to form his own life. It is a son's memoir and not truly a political clarification of the father. Interesting but limited.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    Written by the son of Robert McNamara who was the secretary of defense during Vietnam and spent years lying to the public about the war. This was billed as kind of a family behind the scenes but the thing is, Robert McNamara wasn’t any more honest with his family than he was with the public. So it was mostly a memoir of his son’s life traveling around and being upset that his dad was a jerk.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Cherry

    I know I complain about this a lot but when he discussed his "feelings" he often repeated himself. On the other hand, as the book progressed it became more compelling, especially when he discusses Dean Rusk's son. I'm glad I read it. I know I complain about this a lot but when he discussed his "feelings" he often repeated himself. On the other hand, as the book progressed it became more compelling, especially when he discusses Dean Rusk's son. I'm glad I read it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Shirley

    Interesting read. This is more than a personal memoir. This book will appeal to anyone who remembers the long, painful years the U.S. was in Viet Nam, and the stain it left on our nation.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Elijah Lais

    Whiny, at best. Hearing someone like him toss around the term “childhood trauma” was a bit much…

  17. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Chase

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Sweet, you're right!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Because our fucking fathers lied!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Shit-balls!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sweet, you're right!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Because our fucking fathers lied!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Shit-balls!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. 4 out of 5

    David

  19. 4 out of 5

    J

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jay

  21. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  22. 5 out of 5

    C J K

  23. 5 out of 5

    Beth

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christine Reardon

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bao Quan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mary Beth

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jodie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joe Kramer

  30. 5 out of 5

    Harry Garvey

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