Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)

Director: Errol Morris

A film about the former US secretary of Defense and the various difficult lessons he learned about the nature and conduct of modern war.

The title 'Fog of War' refers to the military concept depicting the difficulty of making decisions in the midst of a conflict, many of which can be interpreted as stupid with hindsight. The documentary film which was initially conceived as a TV interview is based on around twenty hours worth of interview material Errol Morris had with McNamara. It was filmed using a device Morris use which he calls as 'Interrotron' which permits the subject to look directly at the camera and see Morris on a small monitor. The involvement of Morris in the final cut is minimal and we are left to make judgements based on what we hear from McNamara. McNamara is largely held as the man who was responsible for the extent of US' involvement in the Vietnam war and the documentary provides  us a counter-factual insights into various events during that cold war period. World War Two (Japanese Bombing) and the Cuban missile crisis is also covered in the film. 

The following are the lessons that Errol Morris thinks we should learn from what McNamara is saying:
  • Empathize with your enemy
  • Rationality will not save us
  • There's something beyond one's self
  • Maximize efficiency
  • Proportionality should be a guideline in war
  • Get the data
  • Belief and seeing are often both wrong
  • Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning
  • In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
  • Never say never
  • You can't change human nature

It can be used to judge the current wars in Ukraine and Israel-Palestine conflict. Morris had asked McNamara to judge the Iraq war based on those lessons but he declined to do so and said the viewers can come to their own judgement. 

The documentary film gives us an insight into the mind of an undoubtedly an exceptionally bright man who had a difficult job as Secretary of Defense in the Cold War period.

Rating: 4.5/5