Monday, July 06, 2009

The Fog Of War

Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson who was a major architect of the Vietnam War, died today at age 93.

Anyone following the war in Iraq, especially those at BushCo who started it, should be required to watch Errol Morris' fine 2003 documentary THE FOG OF WAR: ELEVEN LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF ROBERT MCNAMARA.

It's basically one long interview with McNamara, an arch-foe of the passionate anti-Vietnam protesters of the period, a man accused of arrogance, a lack of human feeling, and a mathematical, rather than emotional, approach to sending men overseas to die. Obviously, there's no way to watch FOG and not feel compelled to substitute the words "Rumsfeld", "Bush," and "Iraq" for "McNamara", "Johnson," and "Vietnam".

The similarities between the two administrations and their approaches to war are frighteningly similar. As McNamara even points out, the lack of effective data, an inability to admit or accept failure, and an arrogant dismissal of the opinions and advice of U.S. allies were fatal flaws in the Johnson administration's approach to 'Nam. And, of course, the sight of a Texan President with a decidedly inferior intelligence to those businessmen (McNamara was the president of the Ford Motor Company before joining Kennedy's staff) in his inner circle is one we saw on the evening news every night during the Bush administration.

While McNamara doesn't go so far as to apologize for his actions during the late 1960s, he clearly sees his tenure as Defense Secretary in a different light, a more sorrowful one. Perhaps he feels an apology would feel hollow so many years later; after all, what's done is done. I came out of FOG admiring him a lot more than I did going into the film. I'd like to admire our contemporary leaders the same way. I just hope it doesn't take forty years for Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. to admit they screwed up.

1 comment:

matt said...

I tend to like McNamara for a few different reasons. Foremost, he had enough class to admit, albeit a long time later, that he was wrong. Can you imagine Rumsfeld, Bush or Cheney getting in front of a documentary film crew and saying "yeah, we should have done that differently"? I can't.

McNamara can be forgiven because he was on the transition between defense against a foreign standing army and defense against a foreign ideology. I think there's some dignity in going up against a new problem and failing. He fought the way he knew how. That's precisely why the Bush administration cannot be forgiven: they had the mistakes of their predecessors to learn from and chose to ignore them.

McNamara thankfully prevailed against the joint chiefs, specifically nutbags like LeMay, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and we're all still here partially because he had the sack to stand up and be heard.