The Fog of War



The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara is a documentary film directed by Errol Morris and released in December, 2003. The film includes an original score by Philip Glass. It won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature for 2003.

The film consists of interviews with former United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, detailing his life and the difficult decisions that he made during his career. The term "fog of war" refers to the cloud of uncertainty that descends over a battlefield once fighting begins.

The film depicts the life of Robert McNamara, United States Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, through the use of archival footage, White House recordings, and most prominently, an interview with McNamara at the age of 85. The subject matter spans McNamara's work as one of the "Whiz Kids" during World War II and as an executive at the Ford Motor Company to his involvement in the Vietnam War as Secretary of Defense under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

In a 2004 appearance at UC Berkeley, Morris said that he was inspired to make the film after reading McNamara's 2001 book (with James G. Blight), Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century.

Morris interviewed McNamara for over twenty hours, editing down the footage into a two-hour film. The concept of structuring the film as 11 lessons comes from McNamara's 1996 book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. Morris creates the film's 11 lessons from various statements that McNamara uses throughout the interview. The lessons lend structure to The Fog of War, but they are not explicitly McNamara's. (At the aforementioned UC Berkeley event, McNamara contended that he did not agree with Morris's interpretations in all respects.) After the completion of the film, McNamara responded to Morris by complementing the film's eleven lessons with ten more lessons of his own; these are included in the film's DVD release.

When, at the Berkeley event, McNamara was asked to apply the lessons from his 1996 book to the US invasion of Iraq, he refused, arguing that former Secretaries of Defense should not comment on the policy of the current Secretary. McNamara suggested that other people were welcome to apply his lessons to Iraq if they wanted to, but that he would not explicitly do it, and noted that his lessons were more general than any particular military conflict.

The film's eleven lessons

1. Empathize with your enemy.
2. Rationality will not save us.
3. There's something beyond one's self.
4. Maximize efficiency.
5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
6. Get the data.
7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
10. Never say never.
11. You can't change human nature.

McNamara's additional ten lessons

These were written as a companion to the film and are included in the Special Features of the DVD.

1. The human race will not eliminate war in this century but we can reduce war, the level of killing, by adhering to the principles of a just war, in particular of proportionality.
2. The indefinite combinations of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations.
3. We are the most powerful nation in the world — economically, politically, and militarily — and we are likely to remain so for decades ahead. But we are not omniscient. If we cannot persuade other nations with similar interests and similar values of the merits of the proposed use of that power, we should not proceed unilaterally except in the unlikely requirement to defend the continental US, Alaska and Hawaii.
4. Moral principles are often ambiguous guides to foreign policy and defense policy, but surely we can agree that we should establish as a major goal of U.S. foreign policy and, indeed, of foreign policy across the globe : the avoidance in this century of the carnage — 160 million dead — caused by conflict in the 20th century.
5. We, the richest nation in the world, have failed in our responsibility to our own poor and to the disadvantaged across the world to help them advance their welfare in the most fundamental terms of nutrition, literacy, health, and employment.
6. Corporate executives must recognize there is no contradiction between a soft heart and a hard head. Of course, they have responsibilities to their employees, their customers and to society as a whole.
7. President Kennedy believed a primary responsibility of a president — indeed "the" primary responsibility of a president — is to keep the nation out of war, if at all possible.
8. War is a blunt instrument by which to settle disputes between or within nations, and economic sanctions are rarely effective. Therefore, we should build a system of jurisprudence based on the International Court — that the U.S. has refused to support — which would hold individuals responsible for crimes against humanity.
9. If we are to deal effectively with terrorists across the globe, we must develop a sense of empathy — I don't mean "sympathy" but rather "understanding" to counter their attacks on us and the Western World.
10. 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.

11 Lessons from Vietnam

The origin of the film's lesson concept is the eleven lessons in McNamara's 1996 book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam:

1. We misjudged then — and we have since — the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries … and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions.
2. We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own experience … We totally misjudged the political forces within the country.
3. We underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate a people to fight and die for their beliefs and values.
4. Our judgments of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders.
5. We failed then — and have since — to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology military equipment, forces and doctrine…
6. We failed as well to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture.
7. We failed to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion and debate of the pros and cons of a large-scale military involvement … before we initiated the action.
8. After the action got under way and unanticipated events forced us off our planned course … we did not fully explain what was happening and why we were doing what we did.
9. We did not recognize that neither our people nor our leaders are omniscient. Our judgment of what is in another people's or country's best interest should be put to the test of open discussion in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our image or as we choose.
10. We did not hold to the principle that U.S. military action … should be carried out only in conjunction with multinational forces supported fully (and not merely cosmetically) by the international community.
11. We failed to recognize that in international affairs, as in other aspects of life, there may be problems for which there are no immediate solutions … At times, we may have to live with an imperfect, untidy world.

Underlying many of these errors lay our failure to organize the top echelons of the executive branch to deal effectively with the extraordinarily complex range of political and military issues.

Sony Pictures Classics allowed proceeds from limited screenings of The Fog of War to benefit Clear Path International's work with victims of war in Vietnam.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home