Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Fog of War

11 Lessons From The Life Of Robert S. McNamara

 A 2003 American documentary film about the life and times of former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara as well as illustrating his observations of the nature of modern warfare. The film was directed by Errol Morris and the original score is by Philip Glass. The title is related to the military phrase "Fog of War", describing the difficulty of making decisions in the midst of conflict.

The film won the 2003 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature. It was non-competitively screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

Using archival footage, United States Cabinet conversation recordings, and an interview of the then eighty-five-year-old Robert McNamara, The Fog of War depicts his life, from his birth during the First World War remembering the time American troops returned from Europe, to working as a World War II Whiz Kid military officer, to being the Ford Motor Company's president, to serving as Secretary of Defense for presidents Kennedy and Johnson (including his involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War).

In a 2004 appearance at U.C. Berkeley, Errol Morris said his inspiration for the documentary derived from McNamara's book (with James G. Blight), Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century (2001).[3] Morris interviewed McNamara for some twenty hours; the two-hour documentary comprises eleven lessons from In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (1995). He posits, discourses upon, and propounds the lessons in the interview that is The Fog of War. Moreover, at the U.C. Berkeley event, McNamara disagreed with Morris's interpretations in The Fog of War, yet, on completion, McNamara supplemented the original eleven lessons with an additional ten lessons; they are in The Fog of War DVD.

When asked to apply the eleven lessons from In Retrospect to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, McNamara refused, arguing that ex-secretaries of defense must not comment upon the incumbent defense secretary's policies. He suggested other people could apply the eleven lessons to the war in Iraq, but that he would not, noting that the lessons are about war in general, not a specific war.

The overall plot of the film focuses on the interviews of former Secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, who has been interviewed for about 20 hours by the director of the documentary, Errol Morris, through a special device called "Interrotron" which allows the interviewee to look directly in the camera which is believed to bring more life into the abstract idea of the interview. Robert McNamara talks about different aspects of international security and how and by what means it can be influenced due to certain circumstances. The documentary not only explores the events of the American history that occurred in the past several years, but it also focuses on the life of McNamara and how he arose from the humble American family to the significant politician who has achieved enormous power and who later became one of the most influential people in the world of politics. Robert McNamara has worked with presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, general Curtis LeMay, and had a direct access to many governmental documents; Therefore, his opinion and his personal experiences and lessons that he has learned while serving as a Secretary of Defense can provide the audience with a very enlightening philosophy and an overall outlook on American politics. The documentary covers such important events as World War II,Vietnam WarCuban Missile Crisis, and many others that McNamara witnessed himself. McNamara is believed to be the "architect" of the Vietnam war; a war that cost an enormous number of lives against a foe whose resolve he seriously underestimated. McNamara's interview, along with archival footage, offers a close look at international security and the international relations of the US, and an insight into why certain conflicts occur and lessons that can be learned from these conflicts.

McNamara: LeMay was focused on only one thing: target destruction. Most Air Force Generals can tell you how many planes they had, how many tons of bombs they dropped, or whatever the hell it was. But, he was the only person that I knew in the senior command of the Air Force who focused solely on the loss of his crews per unit of target destruction. I was on the island of Guam in his command in March 1945 that single night, we burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo: men, women, and children. Well, I was part of a mechanism that in a sense recommended it. I analyzed bombing operations, and how to make them more efficient. i.e. Not more efficient in the sense of killing more, but more efficient in weakening the adversary. I remember reading that General Sherman in the Civil War ...the mayor of Atlanta pleaded with him to save the city. And Sherman essentially said to the mayor just before he torched it and burned it down: "War is cruel. War is cruelty." That was the way LeMay felt.
McNamara: It's almost impossible for our people today to put themselves back into that period. In my 7 years as Secretary, we came within a hair's breadth of war with the Soviet Union on three different occasions. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for 7 years as Secretary of Defense, I lived the Cold War ...Hell, it was a hot war!
McNamara: I was serving at the request of the President [Johnson], who had been elected by the American people. And it was my responsibility to try to help him to carry out the office as he believed was in the interest of our people. We have certain ideals, certain responsibilities. What is morally appropriate in a wartime environment? How much evil must we do in order to do good? Recognize that at times you will have to engage in evil, but minimize it. People did not understand at that time there were recommendations and pressures that would carry the risk of war with China and carry the risk of nuclear war. And he [Johnson] was determined to prevent it. I'm arguing that he had a reason in his mind for doing what he did.
EM: How was your thinking changing during this [Vietnam War] period?
McNamara: I don't think my thinking was changing. We were in the Cold War and this was a Cold war activity.
EM: When you talk about the responsibility for something like the Vietnam War, whose responsibility is it?
McNamara: It's the president's responsibility.
EM: After you left the Johnson administration, why didn't you speak out against the Vietnam War?
McNamara: I'm not going to say any more than I have. These are the kinds of questions that get me in trouble. You don't know what I know about how inflammatory my words can appear. A lot of people misunderstand the war, misunderstand me. A lot of people think I'm a son of a bitch.
EM: And at this point, how many Americans had been killed in Vietnam?
McNamara: About 25,000. Less than half of the number ultimately killed: 58,000.
EM: Do you feel in any way responsible for the War? Do you feel guilty?
McNamara: I don't want to go any further with this discussion. It just opens up more controversy. I don't want to add anything to Vietnam. It is so complex that anything I say will require additions and qualifications.
EM: Is it the feeling that you're damned if you do, and if you don't, no matter what?
McNamara: Yeah, that's right. And I'd rather be damned if I don't.
(Infor via: Wikipedia)

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