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For Robert S. McNamara, it all must have a familiar ring. The protests he evoked when he ran the Pentagon and oversaw the Vietnam War have found an echo in the reaction to his new book confessing error about the divisive conflict.

"Thirty years late, McNamara says, `We were wrong, terribly wrong,' " read the headline over a column by Robert Scheer in the Los Angeles Times commenting on McNamara's memoir of his service as secretary of defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.A cartoon by Paul Conrad in the same newspaper showed McNamara standing before the engraved names of 58,000 war dead at the Vietnam War Memorial and saying, "Sorry about that."

But the sharpest attack came from the the New York Times.

"Mr. McNamara must not escape the lasting moral condemnation of his countrymen," the Times said in an editorial, adding: "He wants us to grant that his delicate sense of protocol excused him from any obligation to join the national debate over whether American troops should continue to die at the rate of hundreds per week in a war he knew to be futile."

McNamara was the subject of vilification when he was in office. Protestors called it "McNamara's War." Tens of thousands marched in Washington. Some young people burned their draft cards. Some fled to Canada to avoid the draft.

Even McNamara's son, a Stanford University student, joined the protests. McNamara once fled a student mob at Harvard through underground utility tunnels.

In his book, "In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam," published Monday, McNamara said he accepted escalation even when he had come to doubt its worth.

He said he and others did not understand the Vietnamese people, culture or politics. He said they underestimated the power of nationalism and overestimated the importance of Vietnam in the world struggle against communism.

By 1967, McNamara disclosed in his book, his misgivings were deep enough for him to write a memo to Johnson saying, "The picture of the world's greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one."

John Mueller, a University of Rochester political scientist who specializes in studying wars and presidents, said that even The New York Times - and almost everyone but "extremists" - supported the war in the Kennedy and early Johnson years.

"What bothers me about it is the fact that he seems to have reached the conclusion no later than the end of 1965 and probably earlier that the war was unwinnable, and yet he did not confront this head on in his recommendations to Johnson," said George Herring, a prominent Vietnam War historian at the University of Kentucky.

Fewer than 7,000 Americans had died in the war when McNamara concluded in 1966 or 1967 that it was a mistake. Ultimately, the American losses were eight times that many.