Because Our Fathers Lied

A Memoir of Truth and Family, from Vietnam to Today


By Craig McNamara

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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 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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If any question why we died

Tell them, because our fathers lied

Rudyard Kipling

Just tell me the truth. Seems simple enough. Yet for all of my life, I struggled to arrive at the truth with my father. He never told me that he knew the Vietnam War wasn't winnable. But he did know, and he never admitted it to me. More than a decade after his death, I still wonder why he was no more honest with me than he was with the American public.

When I was a kid, my parents were infallible, like two gods. My life revolved around my mother and father: the peace of our family, the security of my school, friends, and home. We lived in Washington, DC, among the rest of America's sometime deities, those who in 1964 still remained from Camelot.

I remember the familiar arched hallway of our three-story house. We had huge double doors at the entrance. Our hallway mirror reflected my mom's stairway planter, as lush as an indoor greenhouse. Coming home from school each day, I'd search for a snack in the faded yellow kitchen. I never had to wait long for my mother's embrace. My dog Michael, a golden retriever, was always present. In the evenings and on the weekends, my parents and I would walk beneath the elms and flowering dogwoods of Rock Creek Park. These were brisk walks. Nothing slowed my dad down, neither the scent of the azaleas nor the ephemeral sense that we were at peace.

On Sunday mornings, two or three newspapers arrived at our front door. I would retrieve them and bring them into the kitchen. Dad would unfold the newspapers on the dining room table and read them from cover to cover, with a furrowed brow and clenched jaw and with his blue china coffee cup poised in his left hand. I could hear Mom scrambling eggs with her wire whisk, roasting bacon, and toasting Dad's favorite whole wheat Thomas' English Muffins. My role was to sit quietly at the table.

I don't think it was mere silence that my father required at breakfast. Rather, it was a moment of peace in what must have been days of striving, a hurried and demanding life. Invariably on those quiet Sunday mornings, the kitchen phone would ring. My dad would answer, and after clearing his throat with a short cough, the first words out of his mouth would be "Yes, Mr. President."


"Well, Marg was planning on making cheeseburgers for Craigie and me, and maybe some tennis in the afternoon."

Another pause. I couldn't hear what President Johnson was saying on the other end of the line, but I could hear his voice in my head. That familiar drawl was not yet threatening. A smile formed on my lips.

"Oh, yes, Mr. President. We'll be there."

Shortly after the call, we all got into the blue Ford Galaxy with DC license plates (#3) and drove through the empty avenues of Washington to the White House. There wasn't much traffic in those days, and the drive wasn't long. This trip happened several times, but I never got used to it.

The guard at the entry gate leading into the Rose Garden raised the iron post as we arrived. We drove up to the White House, where the President was waiting to greet us. With his sweet Texan demeanor, Lyndon Johnson leaned over to my mom, gave her a big kiss, and said, "Margy, it's so nice to have you and Bob come by. Bring that boy of yours up to our family dining room, as I know he must be starving."

In the dining room, President Johnson sat at one end of a deeply polished mahogany table, with Lady Bird at the other end. The ceilings were high, the walls painted with murals of colonial scenes. The room was both grand and intimate—warm but also echoing and exposed. Dad was seated to the President's left, Mom to his right. To this day, I can't remember where I sat. Perhaps these experiences were too overwhelming for me to form memories. I do remember that the President was always gracious and generous.

After lunch, the President suggested that we take a dip in the indoor pool. What he really meant was that I was to take a dip while he and my father discussed the escalating war. I changed into my suit and jumped in. I kept my head above the surface, treading water in the deep end and thinking all the time about how a young American man ought to look, what face he should make. Above me, the ceiling was all blue skies and puffy clouds—painted on, peace distilled beneath the roof. From the far end of the pool, I could see the President and his loyal secretary of defense hunched over a coffee table stacked high with briefing papers. Now and then a few words reached me, the tone of a man's voice above the lapping water, but I didn't know what they were saying.

I can imagine it was fraught. The President had called his closest adviser on a Sunday morning to support him in what must have been a lonely and torturous time in the White House. The war was ramping up. What were they planning? What disastrous paths were they debating as their wives chatted comfortably nearby?

Floating in the White House pool, I had a sense that I was included in something important. I always hoped for a family day on the weekends, always wanted to go on a walk with my mom and dad, maybe play tennis, but a trip to the White House was incredibly exciting. These were strange and magical experiences for a thirteen-year-old kid. With my two older sisters already off to college and adult life, it was just me and my parents. Visiting the White House, I felt special.

The day after our lunch and swim, I sent the President and Mrs. Johnson a handwritten thank-you note. Just a few days later, I received a letter back from President Johnson. For a man about to drag a nation into war, he was quite prompt in his replies. The final line of his letter read, "You were cheerful to be around."

That pretty well sums up how I thought I could and should support my father in those days. I swam near him, never went too far from his waters, and put on the right face. All thoughts of the war hovered somewhere between my head and the ceiling. I was unaware of what was coming.

After our White House lunch, President Johnson responded to my thank-you note. My father traveled to Vietnam two months later.

Part 1


Window into Blindness,
the Abyss

One evening, when I was fifteen years old, I called my father from boarding school. The long hallway separating my dorm from the dining hall had a wooden phone booth. I closed myself inside and looked through the glass as I waited to speak with Dad. On the oak-paneled walls of the hallway, elaborately carved wooden plaques depicted winged owls, pelicans, rowboats, and Latin mottoes. These plaques were mementoes of past graduating classes, representing young men who came before me. They stared down, reminders of what I was supposed to be. Farther down the corridor, under the massive ceiling with its old wooden rafters, four hundred students scarfed down dinner, unaware that their time was coming. We were all destined to carve a plaque, yet the outcomes of our lives after school seemed so uncertain.

St. Paul's School is tucked into the woods outside Concord, New Hampshire. The all-male institution was a pretty isolated place back then. Separated from the nearby town by the acreage of its bucolic campus, set comfortably apart from the churning seas of '60s culture, Millville (as we called it) was an island paradise—with everything we needed to eat and do and think readily at hand. It was also an incubator for rare and strange diseases of the heart and mind. You didn't get in touch with your parents unless you needed to be rescued.

Dad answered the phone with his usual chipper tone. "Looking forward to skiing with you over vacation, Craigie."

We talked for a minute, mostly about my upcoming games. I played football, hockey, and lacrosse—the model athlete. But on this night, for once, sports were far from my mind. It was the winter of 1966, and my friend Rick King, president of the New Left Club, was organizing a teach-in against the war. At length, I made my request.

"Dad, if you have any information or leaflets that support your position on the war, will you send them to me?"

Even as the words came out, I expected that he would file away my question and do nothing. For a moment, he was quiet.

"Sure, Craigie. I'll have my secretary get on it."

I remember his voice fading off. I'm not sure how we ended the conversation. I only remember an increasing distance between us, like watching a boat sail away from shore, even though I was looking at a quiet hallway through smudged glass. There was silence on the line.

When I remember that evening, I picture Dad holding the phone to his ear, and I wonder what he was thinking during that silence. Was he envisioning his most recent trip to Saigon, punctuated by talk of body counts and napalm bombings? Was he wondering how to explain it all to his only son? Or was he holding his breath, waiting for the moment to pass?

After I hung up, I wandered into the dining hall, got a plate, and sat down among boys whose fathers worked on Wall Street, owned publishing houses, or served in government and businesses across America. Although I was another kid with a powerful father, I felt distant from my peers in that moment. Over the next few days, I checked my school mailbox and asked the postmaster whether a large package of printed material had arrived for me.

I don't have very vivid memories about the teach-in itself. I remember that it was in a science classroom, filled to capacity. I was seated to the right of the speaker, Jonathan Mirsky, who was a scholar from Dartmouth. He showed us some maps of Southeast Asia. He indicated places on the maps with a long pointer, much like my father did in black-and-white newsreel images. I wasn't focused on what we were learning. For me, the meeting was more about feelings of dread, as Mirsky taught us why the war was both morally wrong and unwinnable.

It was a little dark in the room that night. I do remember that.

Rick King was one of my best friends. Representing the student perspective, he engaged in conversation with Mirsky. I still thought of Rick as my fellow defensive back, not a political activist. Taking turns returning kick-offs and punts, occasionally intercepting a pass and scoring a touchdown, he and I supported each other. On the field we were tough, speaking as we thought men should, grunting and groveling in the dirt and turf. I wasn't aware that Rick had this extra concern for humanity.

Calling Dad before the teach-in had been an attempt to learn from a primary source. I wasn't asking him to justify the war, but I wanted his perspective. Tell me the truth, Dad—why are we there? Yet the thing I remember most from our conversation is talking about football. As with many things in my life touching my father, what I don't remember, the absence, looms largest. It's a shadow in my mind, and my eyes are trained on the flat earth, not on the standing figure that casts it. I gave him a chance to be a part of that event, to present his own story and his own version of history, his work, but the leaflets never arrived.


Before I entered St. Paul's School, in tenth grade, I enjoyed four and a half years at Sidwell Friends School in Washington. My sister Kathleen drove me every day in our family's blue Ford Galaxy. Up Massachusetts Avenue, right at the light onto 34th Street, left onto Quebec, then into the parking lot. Sometimes we took Upton Street and passed what we were told was a home for mentally ill patients.

As a Quaker school, Sidwell valued peace and silence. The school hosted weekly Quaker meetings and lessons in compassion. Although my parents attended Presbyterian church services, to this day the Quaker faith is the only organized religion that has ever made sense to me.

At the end of eighth grade, one of my good friends at Sidwell disappeared. He came from a long lineage of St. Paul's graduates—what they call legacy kids—and he was destined to follow suit. The next summer, when he returned to Washington, he made some very convincing arguments for me to join him at boarding school. That shining campus on a hill in New England reportedly offered great sports, black ice on the ponds in the winter to skate for miles, amazing friends, and dances on weekends where you could make out with the most beautiful girls—many freedoms away from home, tradition, and family.

It was not my parents who pushed me toward St. Paul's. Looking back on that summer, I question my decision to apply and attend. Was I really motivated by my friend's stories, that prep school mythology? The year was 1964, and it was a few months after the Tonkin Gulf incident. I had zero awareness of that event, but I wonder if I had an extra sense, a foreboding that the Vietnam War was going to emotionally consume my family. Boarding school might have appeared as a way to escape. Whatever the temptation was, I was tempted. I gave in.

Upon arriving at St. Paul's, I was placed in Conover, the dorm with the motto "Where the Elite Meet." Rick King's room was just down the hall from mine. My Old Boy—an assigned big brother—was Garry Trudeau, the cartoonist who would go on to create Doonesbury.

The school had the sort of initiation rituals you would expect. Part of the process was receiving your nickname. I was quickly nicknamed "Missile McNamara" for my prowess as a football player. The name didn't feel like a negative comment about my father; it seemed like a compliment, with just a hint of irony. Certainly Dad's stature as head of the Defense Department conferred a degree of prestige by association. In the culture of that place, this could be the case even for those who were against the war.

I had a recollection that one of Garry's early cartoons in the school newspaper depicted me as a ballistic missile charging up the field. Garry doubts this. In conversation with me, remembering our school days, he insists that he would never have drawn such a cartoon, having been acutely aware of the ways in which nicknames were used to label and belittle  underclassmen. Either I'm imagining a past that didn't exist, or another artist drew the cartoon.

Garry was one of those evolved young souls who doubted the school's traditions, finding an outlet through his artistic talents, thus surviving the whole experience. There were also scores of boys who drove hard and unquestioningly to succeed within the traditions. Everything was a competition. Our grades were displayed on the walls of the corridor leading to the dining hall. Anticipation built after exams, until some watchful boy would announce, "They just posted." I remember rushing into the hall with four hundred of my classmates, shoulder to shoulder and locked in the crowd, coming to the lists. The course titles—Latin 1, Algebra, Physics 2—were printed at the top of each page. The first time I read that list from top to bottom, I felt what became a recurring dread. I knew where I was going to be, and I just hoped that I wouldn't be there. There it was. Ninety-eight names of Fourth Formers, sophomores, all above mine. I was the son of a bitch with the worst grade. I remember being aware of other boys looking over my shoulder, surely reading my name at the bottom.

The downsides of boarding school soon outnumbered the things I liked. Yes, there were intriguing dances. But St. Paul's was an all-boys school, and I missed being around girls every day. The skating was great, but only because the campus was located in the remote woods of New Hampshire, with long winters that felt lonely and depressing. And while being away from my parents had felt liberating at first, now I was finding out that the school's adults—the rector and masters—were much more oppressive than Mom and Dad. I'd been attracted to the great privileges of that environment. After the first year, I fully understood that they came with a price.

The most difficult part was the academic rigor. I couldn't keep up. It was pretty damn discouraging to get poor grades while being the son of someone who was considered a Whiz Kid and one of the sharpest minds of his generation. After I failed most of my exams in the tenth grade, the rector, Matthew Warren, suggested to my parents that I be sent to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for psychotherapy every Wednesday afternoon during winter semester. The masters had a theory that I suffered from test-taking anxiety, and they thought a shrink could cure it. Years later I would be diagnosed with dyslexia. At that time, everyone figured that the source of my struggles must be emotional.

Thus began a period of snowy drives from Concord to Boston. It was a five-hour round trip, and it always interfered with my hockey practice, one of the few outlets I enjoyed during the winter. There was no way to get out of it. Although the rector never spoke the threat out loud, it was clear to me that I had to either go to therapy or be expelled from school.

Such a perverse contract was made more exciting when my dear friend Graham Wisner was shipped off to therapy with me. Graham was the last of four children born to Frank Wisner and Mary Ellis "Polly" Knowles. Polly was one of Washington's best-known socialites, a very close friend of my parents and Kay Graham, owner and publisher of the Washington Post. Frank served as one of the CIA's top-secret political operatives in Europe during the 1950s and early '60s.

During our sophomore year at St. Paul's, Frank committed suicide on the Wisner family farm in Maryland. As Graham experienced the finality, trauma, and sadness of completely losing his dad, I was beginning to experience the slow, forever-burning grief that enshrouded Robert McNamara's ongoing life.

We were just boys, fifteen years old, and we didn't know how to talk to each other about this sort of thing. In general, such intimate struggles were not openly discussed at St. Paul's. The idea there was to turn yourself into an increasingly bright and shiny object. So we went to therapy together. Every Wednesday afternoon, a Ford station wagon drove up to the schoolhouse to take us to Boston, and Graham hung out of his third-story window and shouted to anyone within earshot, "Time to go see the shrink, Craigie."

Once in Boston, we would take turns meeting with the psychiatrist. Graham quickly deduced that the shrink's secretary was also his wife. In an effort to put an end to the whole humiliating experience, he started to tell her amazing tall tales and outright lies while I was taking my turn on the psychiatrist's couch. Graham and I suspected that once we left, the secretary shared everything with her husband. Since the doctor sent a regular report back to the school, which in turn shared it with our parents, it didn't take long for Graham's tales to make their way back to Polly. Evidently one of the stories questioned her parenting skills. She was one of Washington's great society hostesses, known for bringing power couples together for intimate salon dinners, and I'm sure she became concerned about her reputation. The school reconsidered our weekly Boston appointments and eventually ended them.

"Bingo," Graham told me when we got the news. "No more therapy. A life lesson. After all, I was a spy's son."

Years later, as I was researching this episode of my St. Paul's experience, I discovered a confidential letter addressed to my parents from Dr. Leon Rosenberg, a Johns Hopkins child psychologist. He met with me on December 12, 1966, during Christmas vacation in my second year. His assessment was as follows:

I would conclude from my examination that the youngster's test-taking anxiety and difficulty in mathematics do not constitute problems requiring psychotherapeutic intervention. I am certain that his high test anxiety is related to the demands of his school.…Therefore, if school authorities continue to stress the need for psychotherapy, I would recommend that the boy's parents remove him from the school.

I wonder if my father knew the depths of my academic failure, and I wonder what he thought about it. Maybe it embarrassed him. Then again, in 1966 he was probably thinking about managing the escalating war. If we had communicated openly back then, we might have shared our mutual feeling of being under enormous pressure. But we didn't talk about it, and no one in my life at that time seemed to give much thought to the possibility that the environment—the system—was the real problem.

Dr. Rosenberg's wish almost came true. I got close to being kicked out of St. Paul's several times. The administrators tried very hard to keep me on the right track. I was often summoned to Rector Warren's office. I remember trudging through snow to the schoolhouse and climbing the steps to the second floor, slipping in my wet boots on the way up. His secretary greeted me outside the office. She always said something like "One minute, dear, while I get him." The tenderness of her voice put me at ease. She was one of the few women we schoolboys got to interact with, along with the masters' wives.

The rector's office was a peaceful study, not unlike the one adjacent to my parents' bedroom, where my mother used to help me with my homework and where my father did his taxes. The windows of that office faced out onto the snowy courtyard below, and Rector Warren kept a comfortable and warm space. Sitting in the chair across from him, I felt at rest. It was a pause from the competitions.

"Craig, I just had a phone call with your mother."

The calls to my parents were frequent. The letters the rector sent—some of which I have today—were often tender. I felt that the rector was a loving presence, and I could go to him for counsel. But that was his outer persona. The expectations he passed on were as clear as the edge of broken glass. Later, sometime after one of these meetings, the message came down from his office that I needed to repeat the tenth grade or leave.

It seems odd to me now that I chose to remain at the school. The place felt so repressive, so lonely, and so difficult. A few things helped. I managed to minimize the pain of my academic failings through camaraderie and friendships. The boys in the class I flunked out of didn't bully me; they remained my brothers. Academically, I learned how to cheat and take short cuts. I am certain that I plagiarized most of a paper on the topic "How Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler Compare as Instigators of Propaganda." As I recall, I lifted the content straight out of Playboy. I either didn't get caught, or they let me get away with it. This probably felt like a win at the time.

Other times, my mistakes caught up with me. One example was French class. All boys at the school had to take Latin in order to graduate. However, it soon became clear that I wasn't going to pass Latin. The rector allowed me to take French instead. I was happy about this, because French seemed romantic. The movie A Man and a Woman had just been released, and I was hopelessly in love with the actress Anouk Aimée. I even liked to listen to the movie's soundtrack on my record player. Certainly I was motivated. Unfortunately, French was not much easier than Latin. As the semester ground on and my grades tanked, I needed a short cut. Final exams were a week away. I could feel that tangy anxiety in my mouth, like when you touch the end of a double-A battery with your tongue. It was at that moment that the perfect solution occurred to me: just write the answers to the test questions on the cuff of my blue oxford.

I remember the schoolroom where we took the final exam. It had velvety forest-green curtains. I remember the windows, the bookshelves, and the hardness of the immovable seat on my backside. I can see myself there, wearing a long-sleeved shirt, tightly buttoned, perspiring heavily. Before long the ink began to run onto my hand. There went the test answers, down the river. I slowly unbuttoned my cuff to relieve the sweat.

I can't exactly recall what happened next. Did I answer the questions incorrectly? Did Monsieur Jacques notice the smudges of ink on my cuff? Whatever it was, I received an F on the exam and spent the following June and July taking French in summer school.

Why did the school allow me so many chances? I really don't know. It could have been that the rector was patient. Certainly there was an attraction for the school in having the son of a cabinet member in its ranks. I credit my mother and father for not seeing themselves as celebrities and for keeping from my sisters and me any messages of entitlement. That doesn't mean we didn't get certain advantages.


Rock Gillespie and Bud Blake were my football and lacrosse coaches. They both came from working-class families, but sports had propelled them into the world of elite prep schools. With their crew cuts and no-bullshit attitudes, they were ideal mentors. I took their orders. I polished my football cleats just like Coach Rock instructed. I battled the black gnats that swarmed our late-summer practices. I cheered our team in victory and agonized with them in defeat.

Once, Mom and Dad came up to New Hampshire to watch a football game. They stood behind Coach Rock on our side of the field—the grown-ups as one entity, overseeing our pursuits. I remember Dad leaving the sideline several times to take phone calls. If this bothered me, I dealt with it by crushing a receiver from the other team. We managed to win the game, and afterward a few of my teammates came to dinner with us in town. I remember sitting next to Dad at the restaurant.


  • “Moving and courageous… a complicated man comes into intimate view, as does the ‘mixture of love and rage’ at the heart of their relationship… Through his own personal story of disappointment and disillusionment, McNamara captures an intergenerational conflict and a journey of moral identity.”—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
  • “McNamara’s staggeringly heartfelt debut memoir is the tale of a son’s lifelong yearning for his father to look him squarely in the eye and tell him the unvarnished truth, regardless of the scale of his missteps or regrets. In that sense it’s a universally relatable story since countless parents shield their children from hard facts and struggle to be present.”—Jessica Zach, San Francisco Chronicle
  • “A captivating text for anyone grappling with the pain of possessing a parent who did horrible things… If Camelot really was a kind of court of midcentury kings, a high watermark for liberal capitalism distant from our moment of fracture, how fortunate we are to have such a thoughtful account of that world from someone who was born into it.”—Noah Kulwin, New Republic
  • “That Craig McNamara has survived, and thrived, and given us this staggering book, is something of a miracle.”—Joe Klein, Washington Post
  • “In a graceful, easy prose, Craig McNamara probes his shame as a son of privilege and why he gravitated toward the antiwar movement in the late 1960s."—Hamilton Cain, Oprah Daily
  • “Searing… [McNamara] has made a noble effort to shed as much as possible of the pain his father bequeathed him, and the rest of our nation.”—Charles Kaiser, The Guardian
  • "This is a courageous, devastating memoir, written from the inside out. While U.S. policy was conducted from an icy 30,000-ft. perch, for Craig McNamara, the Vietnam War was an intimate family drama full of complex moral dilemmas, betrayal, and family self-awareness and actualization." —Ken Burns, filmmaker
  • Because Our Fathers Lied gives readers a vivid, front-row view of the divisiveness in one very prominent family, and through that family, a view of the national divisiveness that contin­ued long after the Vietnam War… a loving but brutally honest account of McNamara’s difficult relationship with his father.”
     —Roger Bishop, BookPage (starred review)
  • "Behind great world tragedies are great personal tragedies. Craig McNamara has written a gripping, aching, memoir of what it was like to be the only son of a decent man with the blood of thousands on his hands."

    Evan Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World
  • “If a father’s lethal lie could be redeemed by a son who speaks the heartfelt truth, this book would do it. A poignant, crushing account that closes a circle not only for Craig McNamara, but for his generation."—James Carroll, New York Times bestselling author of House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power
  • "More than a decade after his death, Robert Strange McNamara remains one of the most compelling public figures in United States history. As Kennedy and Johnson's powerful secretary of defense, McNamara helped plunge the country into the disaster of the Vietnam War -- and in one way or another struggled during the rest of his long life to explain and redeem himself. Craig McNamara's memoir, Because Our Fathers Lied,  is a painfully honest and uncompromising quest to come to grips with his relationship with his father -- and to disentangle the complex ties between love and political truth."                                             —Mark Danner, author of Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War
  •  "Craig McNamara has written an important book that should be read by every American if we are ever to truly heal from that war."—Ron Kovic, Vietnam Veteran and author of Born on the Fourth of July
  • “Craig McNamara has written a courageous and moving memoir about his fractured relationship with his father, Robert McNamara, a microcosm of the heartbreaking divisions that sundered the nation during the Vietnam War. It is an unsparingly honest account about father and son, a powerful story of love, loss and resilience that sheds new light on one of the most convulsive periods in American history.” —Philip Taubman, former New York Times Washington bureau chief and Moscow bureau chief
  • “Robert McNamara's lies about Vietnam not only ruptured a nation, they tore at the heart of his young, sensitive son, animating his journey from dark legacy to a life of purpose.  Because Our Fathers Lied is a deeply moving tale about a singular relationship as unresolved as the war itself.”—Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury
  • “Craig McNamara has written an intimate personal story about the afterlife of America’s disastrous Vietnam experience. His attempts to understand his own father, one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century, have created a new chapter in that history. His voice is as morally focused as any that resisted the war.” —Daniel Ellsberg
  • "Like the farmer willing to labor another season, searching for one more harvest, Craig McNamara invites us into a rare conversation about history that defines us as he explores loss while caring about the meaning of family - a son's struggle with a father and the shadow of Viet Nam."—David Mas Masumoto, organic farmer and author of Wisdom of the Last Farmer: Harvesting Legacies from the Land
  • “Anyone who lived through the sixties remembers the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara, and the intensity of feelings about the role he played in the prosecution of that war. Indeed, rightly or wrongly, it became known as McNamara's War…This is a story — an unknown story — about their [Robert and Craig’s] relationship and how the hurt of the conflict in Vietnam, a national sorrow, spilled over into a personal relationship…A story about a generational conflict as well as an international conflict, and an important book in our understanding of that now-distant era.” —Errol Morris, director of The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
  • "This memoir is both fascinating and heartbreaking. Craig McNamara has taken the monumental figure of his father, Robert McNamara, and brings him to life in a profoundly intimate way. This is not just a beautifully written book about the past history of our country, it tells an urgent story about the present. Through the experiences of his becoming an activist and travelling the world, we deeply understand Craig's passionate commitment to equity and sustainability.” —Alice Waters, author of Coming to My Senses
  • “Craig McNamara, in this heartfelt memoir, shares the story of his coming of age, haunted by the horrors of the Vietnam War and his father's role in it.  Hobnobbing at the White House, war protesting in Berkeley, motorcycling to Chile and even living on Easter Island, then becoming a walnut farmer in Northern California—McNamara recounts an absorbing tale of father and son, bound together but deeply separated by different lives and understandings of truth and loyalty. The telling is clear and candid.”—Jerry Brown
  • “Craig McNamara has given us a profound, wrenching, brave, and essential memoir – a must read for anyone who wants to understand the tragedy of the Vietnam War and why its echoes are still being felt in America today. He carries the painful burden of being the son of Robert McNamara -- architect of a war he knew at the time was unwinnable -- with tremendous grace. Craig’s humanity, generosity of spirit, and compassion come through on every page of this intimate, devastating and revelatory journey into a dark time of promises broken, illusions shattered, lives lost.” —Lynn Novick, co-director and producer of The Vietnam War
  • “Craig McNamara’s memoir is an emotional revelation from a tragic time in history with many parallels to the present. Despite the painfully felt influence of his father, Craig has preserved in these pages a hopeful and loving vision of life. This is a moving, remarkable book.” —Rose Styron

On Sale
May 10, 2022
Page Count
288 pages

Craig McNamara

About the Author

Craig McNamara is an American businessman and farmer serving as the president and owner of Sierra Orchards, a walnut farm. McNamara is also the founder and president of the Center for Land-Based Learning. He was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is the only son of U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. McNamara lives in California with his wife and three children.

Learn more about this author