The Fog Of War

A new documentary directed by Errol Morris, the Fog of War, is an interview with Robert McNamara, one of the most controversial secretaries of defense in United States history. Morris was able to couple the interview with still photos, video clips, and sound clips of conversations between McNamara and others in order to give the audience a powerful sense of the situations and the times.

McNamara, a man whom has been referred to by many as rational to the point of insanity, has been a major figure in shaping recent US history. A Secretary of Defense under both JFK and LBJ, the first out of family president of Ford Motor Company during the time of the whiz kids, and finally, president of the World Bank. During his stint as Secretary of Defense McNamara has been the head military advisor to the president during the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam War.

To many McNamara’s name is synonymous with the Vietnam War and thus over 1/3 of the film is dedicated to this conflict. McNamara eventually resigned/was fired from his position of secretary of defense in LBJ cabinet due to their differing opinions concerning what should be done in Vietnam. At the time the US had only an advisory capacity in Vietnam.

McNamara believed that the United States should pull out and he expressed this view to LBJ. Ignoring McNamara’s advice LBJ committed an additional force of ground troops to Vietnam. (Interesting, Collin Powell has just resigned his seat as Secretary of Defense in Bush’s Cabinet). He was also a major advisor to General Curtis LeMay during the 1945 firebombing campaign of Japan during which nearly 1 million Japanese civilians were killed.

Surrounding himself with numbers and data, McNamara analyzes his life and his accomplishments/shortcomings with 11 “lessons” which he portrays to the audience. Whether or not we agree with his politics or his use of rationality to the extreme, his life is one from which wisdom can and must be gleaned. The depth of McNamara’s analysis is acutely visible throughout the film with lines such as “The human race needs to think more about killing, about conflict. Is that really what we want in this 21’st century?”

This depth of analysis of major world events and the judgment behind them make this film well worth viewing.