McFarlane: Embarrassment may have caused Boorda's suicide

May 17, 1996
Web posted at: 10:20 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent John Holliman


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At the pinnacle of his career as Ronald Reagan's national security advisor, Robert "Bud" McFarlane swallowed at least 30 Valium pills. He survived that 1987 suicide attempt. But at the time, taking his life was a matter of honor for McFarlane. Now, he thinks it may have been the same for Admiral Mike Boorda.

McFarlane, who accepted responsibility for misdeeds during the Iran-contra affair, said he felt he had caused great embarrassment to his country and to his government. "(I) was filled with a sense of responsibility and the need to atone for that," he said.

McFarlane, a friend of Boorda, says those very reasons may have compelled the admiral to kill himself because he believed he had shamed the Navy and his family.

Escaping from a troubled childhood, Boorda ran away from home 40 years ago to join the Navy. It became his life and family.

"I think I really did become all I could be. Now I need to pay them back ... And I'm going to do it by taking the best care I can of the wonderful men and women of your Navy," Boorda once said.


There is speculation that Boorda feared he had dishonored the Navy by wearing undeserved medals -- something Newsweek magazine was looking into.

"If somebody invests their entire life in something, and they feel humiliated, sure, that might be a contributing fact. I think it's very unlikely that's the only thing, but again nobody knows. It's just too complicated," said Dr. Kay Jamison, a Johns Hopkins University psychiatrist.


Nearly three years ago, White House counsel Vince Foster committed suicide, saying in a note that in Washington "ruining people is considered sport."

"To blame Washington, the media, the press ... for the suicide of an individual is unreasonable. It's just too complicated for that," said Jamison.

McFarlane said Boorda and other senior Pentagon officials could never go public with emotional problems because that could end a career -- a sentiment echoed privately by the military's top brass.

Indeed, the suicides of Boorda and Foster have focused attention on Washington life and the belief that many highly qualified people may stay out of government service to avoid the punishment of media scrutiny and partisan politics.

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