Weird glasses and slicked-back long hair. That is how I remember Robert McNamara, Presidents Kennedy’s and Johnson’s Secretary of Defense – the Architect of the Vietnam War. He looked to me, an eighth grader, like a throwback to the Roaring Twenties. All he needed was a bowtie and a black bowler perched rakishly atop his head.

It wasn’t until sometime in the 1990s that I realized he was not only one of “The Best and the Brightest,” he was President of Ford Motor Company during the late 1950s, the first president outside the Ford family, one of the famous “Whiz Kids.” I discovered this first by reading McNamara’s memoir “In Retrospect,” and then by seeing the Oscar-winning documentary “Fog of War,” an in-depth interview with McNamara, as he assessed his failures in Vietnam.

This was how I learned that Robert McNamara introduced seat belts to America. 

At Ford, he was preoccupied with keeping motorists safe. In the film, McNamara details the thought processes that brought about the seat belt: Too many people were dying in car accidents. How could those deaths be prevented? He relates that the team decided that the packaging was deficient, so if the driver/passenger packaging could be improved, the number of deaths could be reduced. Ergo: the seat belt was developed. But we didn’t like them. We protested loudly against wearing them not only because they wrinkled our dresses, but because, well, darn it, they took away our rights. Now, wearing seat belts is simply the law.

I have been thinking about this particular part of our history lately because of the brouhaha regarding wearing face masks to help prevent the spread of a deadly virus. The most virulent arguments against wearing the masks have to do with “restriction of personal rights.” Well, to me, that doesn’t really wash.

We have authorized the restriction of our personal rights almost daily over the past few years.  Every time people use Facebook or other social media platforms (which is, of course, where I read these protestations), they are giving up personal information and privacy. 

Have you ever taken part in one of those Facebook questionnaires? All your answers go directly to businesses and organizations that use them to target you for specific products, services, and, yes, likelihood of political leanings.

Have you ever taken off your shoes at an airport to board a plane? Been taken out of line for a pat-down for no reason?  Both those are invasions of your civil liberties. And yet I suspect you comply because you think your doing so – and everyone else’s doing so – will somehow make us all safer. Thank the Patriot Act for these infringements.

Have you ever surrendered a purse or a backpack to authorities for inspection? Have you ever been stopped at a DWI checkpoint – even though you have done nothing wrong and the authorities have no probable cause to stop you? This is an infringement of your civil rights. And yet, you comply, because the courts have determined that these things will make us safer.

This is how I see the issue regarding wearing face masks in the middle of a pandemic. Maybe you have a right to walk around without a mask. Maybe you think that no one should be able to tell you to wear a mask. Maybe you think that masks will not protect anyone – a child, a grandparent, a diabetic, a cancer survivor – from contracting a virus that could be deadly. And maybe you are right. 

But what if you are wrong?

I wear a mask to keep my “droplets” off you, knowing that if I am wrong, no harm, no foul. If I am wrong, my mistake is thinking I’m doing something that might help someone else and I’m wearing something on my face.

If you don’t wear a mask and you are wrong, well, the consequences could be more serious.

To me, it’s what He said a couple of thousand years ago: Do unto others. 

I’m hoping that you will do unto me as I do unto you.

Wear a mask just in case. Stay well. Be nice to each other. Trite as it sounds, we are all in this together.


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