Apparently to Robert McNamara's mortification, Errol Morris, whose film "The Fog of War" I discussed recently, passes over his subject's 13-year stint running the World Bank, whither he was dispatched by LBJ, Medal of Freedom in hand. McNamara brandishes his Bank years as his moral redemption, and all too often his claim is accepted by those who have no knowledge of the actual ghastly record. In fact, the McNamara of the World Bank evolved naturally, organically, from the McNamara of Vietnam. The best terse account of the McNamara years is in Bruce Rich's excellent history of the Bank, "Mortgaging the Earth," published in 1994.

         When McNamara took over the Bank, "development" loans (which were already outstripped by repayments) stood at $953 million, and when he left, at $12.4 billion, which, discounting inflation, amounted to slightly more than a six-fold increase ... Just as he multiplied the troops in Vietnam, he ballooned the Bank's staff from 1,574 to 5,201 ... The Bank's shadow lengthened steadily over the Third World. Forests in the Amazon, in Cameroon, in Malaysia and in Thailand fell under the axe of "modernization." Peasants were forced from their lands. Dictators like Pinochet and Ceausescu were nourished with loans.

         At McNamara's direction, the Bank would prepare five-year "master country lending plans," set forth in "country programming papers. "In some cases, Rich writes, "even ministers of a nation's cabinet could not obtain access to these documents, which, in smaller, poor countries, were viewed as international decrees on their economic fate."

        These same "decrees" were drawn up by technocrats (in Vietnam, they were the "advisers" ) often on the basis of a few short weeks in the target country. Corruption seethed. Most aid vanished into the hands of local elites who very often used the money to steal the resources -- pasture, forest, water -- of the very poor whom the Bank was professedly seeking to help.

        In Vietnam, Agent Orange and napalm. Across the Third World, the Bank underwrote "Green Revolution" technologies that the poorest peasants couldn't afford and that drenched land in pesticides and fertilizer. Vast infrastructural projects such as dams and kindred irrigation projects once again drove the poor in countries like Brazil and India from their land.

        It was the malign parable of "modernization" written across the face of the Third World, with one catastrophe after another catastrophe prompted by the destruction of traditional subsistence rural economies. The appropriation of smaller farms and common areas, Rich aptly comments, "resembled in some respects the enclosure of open lands in Britain prior to the Industrial Revolution -- only this time on a global scale, intensified by Green Revolution agricultural technology." As an agent of methodical planetary destruction, McNamara should be ranked in the top tier of earth-wreckers of all time.

        The managerial ideal for McNamara was managerial dictatorship. World Bank loans surged to Pinochet's Chile after Allende's overthrow, to Uruguay, to Argentina, to Brazil after the military coup, to the Philippines, to Suharto after the '65 coup in Indonesia. And to the Romania of Ceausescu. McNamara poured money -- $2.36 billion between 1974 and 1982 -- into the tyrant's hands. In 1980, Romania was the Bank's eighth biggest borrower. As McNamara crowed delightedly about his "faith in the financial morality of socialist countries," Ceausescu razed whole villages, turned hundreds of square miles of prime farm land into open-pit mines, polluted the air with coal and lignite, turned Romania into one vast prison, applauded by the Bank in an amazing 1979 economic study as being a fine advertisement for the "Importance of Centralized Economic Control."

        Another section of that same 1979 report, titled "Development of Human Resources," featured these chilling words: "To improve the standards of living of the population as a beneficiary of the development process, the government has pursued policies to make better use of the population as a factor of production … An essential feature of the overall manpower policy has been … to stimulate an increase in birth rates." Ceausescu forbade abortions and cut off distribution of contraceptives. The result: Tens of thousands of abandoned children were dumped in orphanages, another sacrificial hecatomb in McNamara's lethal hubris.

        In the weeks after Errol Morris' film was launched, McNamarta scurried to Washington to participate in forums on the menace of nuclear destruction with the same self assurance that he went to Vietnam and Cuba to review the record. He and Morris are to partake in a dog and pony show at the Zellerbach auditorium at U.C. Berkeley. "Condemned out of his own mouth" indeed! If Morris had done a decent job, McNamara would not dare to appear in any public place. It's as though Eichmann started going on the lecture circuits with a couple of Holocaust survivors.

        Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.