Former Secretary of State (under President Kennedy and Johnson) Robert McNamara, the whiz kid who helped the military optimize bombings of Germany and Japan in World War II and who later ran the Ford Motor Company and World Bank, died yesterday at the age of 93. He will forever be linked to the controversy, devastation and tragedy that was the Vietnam War.
In 2003, filmmaker Errol Morris won the Oscar for Best Documentary for “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara,” a piece based on McNamara’s 1995 book “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.” The documentary is nothing short of riveting and far, far better than Morris’ 2008 documentary “Standard Operating Procedure,” about the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse.
“The Fog of War” presents 11 lessons from Mr. McNamara, all of which, whether he wants us to or not, can be applied to our current state of affairs. In fact, on the DVD version of the film McNamara offers another 10 additional lessons, such as “One of the greatest dangers we face today is the risk that terrorists will obtain access to weapons of mass destruction as a result of the breakdown of the Non-Proliferation Regime. We in the U.S. are contributing to that breakdown.”
One of my favorite quotes from the film is the following:
What makes us omniscient? Have we a record of omniscience? We are the strongest nation in the world today. I do not believe that we should ever apply that economic, political, and military power unilaterally. If we had followed that rule in Vietnam, we wouldn’t have been there. None of our allies supported us. Not Japan, not Germany, not Britain or France. If we can’t persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we’d better reexamine our reasoning.
Below is the trailer for the documentary. If you haven’t seen this, rent it now.