Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Presenting the Medal of Freedom to Robert S. McNamara

February 28, 1968

Secretary and Mrs. McNamara and family, Members of the Cabinet, Members of Congress, Mr. Chief Justice, distinguished guests:

Thomas Jefferson said: "When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property."

The man we honor here today has lived that philosophy for more than 7 long years.

The General Services Administration does not list him among our official assets, but he is one of America's most valuable public properties.

Bob McNamara may not have accomplished the impossible. But he has achieved the unlikely: managing and directing the huge complexity that is the Defense Establishment of the United States of America.

Those of us who served in Government during the Second World War came out of that conflict very proud of our Armed Forces--but all of us were deeply concerned for our future.

President Truman, that great leader of our country, at that time said:

"One of the strongest convictions which I brought to the Office of the Presidency was that the antiquated defense setup of the United States had to be reorganized quickly as a step toward insuring our future safety and preserving world peace. From the beginning of my administration I began to push hard for unification of the Military Establishment into a single department ...."

As a Congressman I spent hours and days listening to the testimony for and against unification. Most of the arguments came down to one common denominator: It just can't be done. It is impossible.

No one heard that refrain more often than the man who is about to become our new Secretary of Defense. Clark Clifford was here in the White House trying to help President Truman. He has told me this:

"I know so clearly what President Truman had in mind all during that time. And all through the years he kept hoping that we could and we would someday reach that point. Under Bob McNamara we finally did ."

So, Bob McNamara has really served faithfully three Presidents: as a member of the Cabinet under President Kennedy and myself, and--after 20 years--as the man who made our Defense Department what Harry Truman wanted it to be.

Now, another distinguished American assumes the leadership of the establishment that he helped to create--and that Bob McNamara helped to perfect.

The task, I think, and I think Bob McNamara thinks, could not have passed to abler and wiser hands.

In Bob McNamara, the World Bank is gaining an executive of vision and a thinker who is also preeminently--with apologies to Mrs. Johnson--a doer.

Daily we read the reports that the developing nations are hopelessly far behind. The gap between the "haves and the have-nots" is said to be so wide and so growing that it is a great threat to world peace and that it will never be narrowed.

I do not generally make predictions on such matters and certainly my record does not compare with certain noted columnists, but I am going to make a prediction here in the East Room this morning.

I predict that 20 years from now another President will stand here someday and say: "A revolution of achievement in the developing nations began with the appointment of Robert S. McNamara to the World Bank in 1968."

For many long and quite demanding years Bob McNamara has guided our Defense Establishment. He has helped to give America the strongest, most efficient military power in history.

Now he is going to try, try to build the kind of world that alone can justify that strength.

We are asking him to attack the root causes of violence and turmoil--poverty, disease, ignorance, and hopelessness.

Those are the ancient enemies of the human race, which have never been defeated before. But our generation has the strength and the power and the resources, I hope, to eliminate them from the face of the earth.

What now is needed is intelligence--and organization and the will.

In this intensely loyal, brilliant, and good man, America is giving to the world and-if I may be personal--I am giving the world the very best that we have to win the most important war of all.

America is grateful for what he has done-and I speak for all of America this morning-and more important, for what he is about to do.

Mr. Secretary, on behalf of your fellow Americans, all of them, your country salutes you.

I will now read the citation of the highest medal that the President can award to a civil servant.

[Text of citation read by the President]


For seven years, you have administered our complex Defense establishment--unifying our strength so that we might respond effectively wherever the security of our free world was challenged.

A brilliant analyst and modern administrator, you have brought a new dimension to defense planning and decision-making.

You have grasped the urgent social crisis of our time--the awakening of hope among the world's poor.

You have understood that while freedom depends on strength, strength itself depends on the determination of free people.

Your seven long years of unshakeable loyalty to the Republic, to the President, and to all who served beside and under you in the services, is an example for the public servant and an inspiration for your countrymen.

May your selfless service--spent in defending freedom--bring even greater rewards in the larger work you now undertake to promote freedom throughout the world.

The White House
February 28, 1968

Note: The President spoke at 1:20 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he also referred to Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the United States.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Presenting the Medal of Freedom to Robert S. McNamara Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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