THE ghosts of 'McNamara's War' lay heavy yesterday as the clearly shaken former US defence secretary met Vietnamese wartime foe General Vo Nguyen Giap to pledge a new era of peace and co-operation. General Giap, 83, emerged relaxed and smiling from a historic private hour with Robert McNamara, 79, who through the 1960s led Washington's campaign of escalation against Hanoi. 'McNamara asked me whether peace could have come to Vietnam earlier. I told him all the time that this is what we wished for,' General Giap said emerging from Hanoi's Military Guesthouse. The meeting in a stateroom filled with models of fighter jets and busts of Ho Chi Minh was the first time such senior former enemies of the era had met since General Giap's communist guerillas took Saigon in 1975. Mr McNamara, his famous slicked hair long receded, appeared worn and troubled as he scurried away from the meeting. He refused to say if he had apologised for efforts he has himself described as 'terribly wrong'. General Giap, wearing in a simple military uniform, sought to de-bunk Washington's initial justification for the conflict - that Southeast Asian states would fall like dominoes unless communism was checked. 'Domino is something like an illusion . . . and human beings sometimes produce things that are very illusory. 'Some people, even the righteous ones, believe in such illusions,' General Giap said. He moved the conversation on, adding that it was 'not appropriate for us to discuss these questions'. Mr McNamara said the pair had to work to help other nations to avoid similar conflicts in the future. General Giap said he hoped Mr McNamara would 'remain a friend of Vietnam, regardless of position'. General Giap said he welcomed efforts from Mr McNamara's Council of Foreign Relations to hold a joint US-Vietnam conference next year. Mr McNamara is on a private visit to Hanoi to drum up Vietnamese support for a conference he hopes will address how the two sides could have found ways to end the conflict earlier. His apparently warm reception in Hanoi comes six months after the publication of memoirs in which he slams Washington's wartime policies. In Retrospect - the Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam repeatedly questions the diplomatic conduct of hostilities but does apparently little to address suffering and steers clear of moral judgments. He sought answers to questions raised in his book about the incidents in Tonkin Gulf in 1964. Reports of consecutive North Vietnamese attacks on US patrol boats were used to gain congressional favour for president Lyndon Johnson to send in ground troops - effectively starting the war. 'To this day I don't know what happened in the Tonkin Gulf,' Mr McNamara said. 'I think we may have made two serious misjudgments . . . did the so-called second attack on August 4, 1964, did it occur?' General Giap leaned forward and replied: 'On the fourth of August, there was absolutely nothing.' Before meeting his former foes, Mr McNamara went for a jog around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, reportedly greeting passers-by with a hearty 'hello', but no one appeared to recognise him as the man who once planned bombing offensives against them.