The Fog of War - Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
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The story of america as seen through the eyes of former secretary of defense robert mcnamara. One of the most controversial & influential figures in world politics he takes us on an insiders journey through many of the seminal events of the 20th century. Studio: Sony Pictures Home Ent Release Date: 05/13/2008 Starring: Robert Mcnamara Run time: 107 minutes Rating: Pg13

The Fog of War, the movie that finally won Errol Morris the best documentary Oscar, is a spellbinder. Morris interviews Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and finds a uniquely unsettling viewpoint on much of 20th-century American history. Employing a ton of archival material, including LBJ's fascinating taped conversations from the Oval Office, Morris probes the reasons behind the U.S. commitment to the Vietnam War--and finds a depressingly inconsistent policy. McNamara himself emerges as--well, not exactly apologetic, but clearly haunted by the what-ifs of Vietnam. He also mulls the bombing of Japan in World War II and the Cuban Missile Crisis, raising more questions than he answers. The Fog of War has the usual inexorable Morris momentum, aided by an uneasy Philip Glass score. This movie provides a glimpse inside government. It also encourages skepticism about same. --Robert Horton

Customer Reviews:

  • I'm not finished thinking about this
    Wowie, this documentary packs a punch. I wasn't sure I wanted to exchange two hours of my life to listen to a retired guy talk about his life. I'm glad I did! His insights are so honest, OK, searing, that I just need to ruminate on them for a year or two. I've sent this DVD as a gift to a couple of friends so we can talk about it together. Be sure and see this documentary--I really don't think you'll be disappointed....more info
  • A 'Cold' Warrior
    "The Fog of War" is part Cold War documentary, part autobiography of US Secretary of Defence Robert S. McNamara (1961-1968). The latter aspect of the film gives McNamara the opportunity to vindicate his controversial role in America's involvement in Vietnam. He discusses the personalities and positions of US Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, General Curtis Le May, Fidel Castro, Nikita Khrushchev, etc. Film-maker Errol Morris, however, does not let him off so lightly on certain points, particularly the thorny issue of America's involvement in Vietnam.

    More importantly, it is a film outlining 11 positions every leader, politician or government should consider before he (it) enters a war. It never draws direct parallels to America's subsequent or current affairs. It follows events strictly relating to McNamara's service in the military during WWII and tenure as Secretary of Defence. Nevertheless, it is obvious these 11 positions are guidelines intended for policy-makers in power, regardless of political party or persuasion.

    To a certain extent, "The Fog of War" evokes sympathy for a now repentant McNamara despite the calculative role he once played in Vietnam. One realises the actions he and others took were not simple black and white decisions; they were complex and had ramifications just as controversial as the ones ultimately made. Former President Johnson actually comes off looking like the villain and the one who should be berated for America's war in Vietnam.

    If you lived during this period, "The Fog of War" will touch you personally. It did me. I was particularly stunned to hear the audio tape where President Johnson (1963-1968) criticises the Kennedy-McNamara position to extricate the US from further involvement in Vietnam.

    For students of history and political science, this film is a must see. Politicians, American or otherwise, should watch and LEARN from the lessons drawn during this period. They are still terribly relevant....more info
  • A Green Visor War Criminal Speaks
    The brilliance of this documentary is Morris's decision to just let McNamara talk, with minimal prompting. He talks about the Vietnam War, the killing of innocent civilians and the death and maiming of our American soldiers as though he were a mathematician or an accountant attempting to solve a complex algebraic formula. He exhibits a chilling detachment of decision from consequence.

    The only time he weeps is when he recalls JFK's assassination. He never seems to see a connection between that tragic loss of life and all of the lives he destroyed as Secretary of Defense. No tears for the Vietnamese dead, nor even for US dead and wounded soldiers; no emotion at all. The Vietnamese dead, civilian and military, are merely widgets that have to be destroyed as efficiently as possible. To McNamara, US dead and wounded are merely casualties of war, and would surely be minimized by his cocksure solutions to his algebraic calculations.

    It is chilling to watch him reminisce. His resignation from the Johnson administration was not due to feelings of guilt, of which he seems quite incapable, but because his calculations were incorrect. His rationalizations are many and self-serving, but it all still comes down to the math for him.

    The only reason he has never been tried as a war criminal is because the US did not have to surrender. Brought before a Nuremberg-style tribunal, one gets the feeling that he would be baffled at even being charged with war crimes. One can envision his incapability of understanding the criminal immorality of his decisions. How can the amoral understand the immoral?

    So if he did not end up before a war crimes tribunal, what happened to him? LBJ appointed him to the presidency of the World Bank, to help third world countries like Vietnam try to improve their economies. What a sad and macabre irony was the luxurious fate of a green visor war criminal juxtaposed against the fate of the massive number of "body counts" ("people", in plain English) that he caused.

    Of all the Vietnam War policymakers, David Halberstam, author of the "Best and the Brightest", had a special contempt for McNamara. I remember seeing Halberstam on a talk show (Dick Cavett's?) years ago. He proposed the most fitting punishment for McNamara; that he be sentenced to clean the bed pans of wounded Vietnam vets at Walter Reed Hospital for the rest of his life. Many would second a motion to that effect.

    Eleven lessons? Not really. The one true lesson of this documentary is to pray that another McNamara, employed by a foreign power at war with the U.S., is not in a position to coldly "calculate" the mathematical odds of killing you, without reference to his or her own humanity.

    ...more info
  • One of the best films ever made...
    haunting...

    McNamara murders hundreds of thousands during his career, and then finds a way to forgive himself anyway.

    A must see, that is well shot and scored, unique, and worth watching multiple times....more info
  • Remember - He worked for Presidents, not the other way around
    It's easy to talk about the "guilt" of the man. But remember,he served presidents, not the other way around. We learn from Morris' film that what once was thought of as McNamara's arrogance, might have actually been a certain shyness with being thrust into the limelight. McNamara said in the film that he told Kennedy he would take the job of Secretary of Defense if he didn't have to join in "that damn Washington social life." It seems too easy to hate a man simply because he didn't appear as warm and generous as his boss (Kennedy).
    Now that we know more about Kennedy - who was the arrogant one? ...more info
  • One of my favorite docs!
    The number of rarities that needed to come together for this film to work as well as it does is as mind-boggling as the content. As citizens of a country, we always wish we could enter the mind of those in power or those working with those in power, but we know we never can, because we know that all those in power are secretive and hide their true opinions, most of the time for security reasons or to cover their guilt. So that McNamara opened up like this is the first incredible offering of the film. That he revealed not just the facts but his emotions towards them is the second. This is a man that either has not let his guilt blind him or at least is using this film opportunity to transcend his guilt. Combine this with the music and visual hypnotic craftsmanship of Philip Glass and Erol Morris, and this is a must see political film. Perhaps the best of the genre. ...more info
  • My favorite documentary
    A must see for anyone interested in 20th century military history, particularly WWII going forward...more info
  • A chilling glimpse behind the curtain of banality
    This was a surprisingly outstanding film, I was really captivated. Full of fascinating perspectives on the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, strategic bombing, Vietnam, etc, from the point of view of one of the chief orchestrators.

    Most eerie quote...

    On March 10, 1945, the US Air Force dropped incendiery bombs on Tokyo, starting a firestorm which killed 100,000 peopple, mainly civilians.

    McNamara:(Rhetorically) "Is it moral to kill 100,000 people; civilians, women and children, in one night?"

    Interviewer: "Did you know ahead of time that that was what was going to happen?"

    McNamara: "In a sence, I was a part of a mechanism that in effect, recommended it."

    He is an amazingly intelligent man, went to Berkley, youngest associate professor at Harvard, president of the Ford Motor Company, secretary of defense for 7 years.

    A brilliant, keen analytical, engineering type mind. Loves data and analysis, asks the right questions, yet presided over a titanic failure of leadership and vision. Why? He says it was a constant struggle of differeing opinions between him and LBJ. That their compromises included the worst of both perspectives. McNamara wanted to pull out of Vietnamn entirely by the end of 1965. LBJ refused to appease the communists, and kept upping the ante. They never had enough to win, but they always made sure they had plenty to lose. No strategy for winning the war, no exit plan. No way politically to admit defeat. Sound familiar?

    McNamara admitted they were fighting the cold war, while the Vietnamese were fighting a war of colonial liberation. It was a complex disconnect of cognitive frameworks. McNamara totally misunderstood the nature of the (1,000 year) relationship between Vietnam and China. McNamara wrote three books, one dealing specifically with talks later with DRV leaders, in which these misunderstandings came out. He said, "we all make mistakes, no military commander doesn't make mistakes and those mistakes get people killed, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands, or tens of thousands, but you have to learn from those mistakes and not make them again, but maybe you will make them 3 or four times, but not 5." He also said "there is no learning period with nuclear weapons, one mistake and you destroy nations."

    If you re a thinking person interesting in history, politics, expediency, warcraft or bureaucracy, you should find this film captivating....more info
  • Great Insight Into the Cold War
    Robert MacNamara was a major advisor and player in the Cold War. He advised Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs and the Vietnam War. He has great insight into what happened and why it happened. He admits mistakes were made and that he had to support things he did not feel comfortable with also. In dealing with Castro, he found a man who would have allowed the use of nuclear weapons even if Cuba had been destroyed. With the North Vietnamese, he found people who thought the Americans were colonizers and mystified by the idea that Americans thought the Vietnamese were pawns of the Chinese. One look at their history would have told them that was not so! MacNamara does not flinch from mistakes but he also doesn't believe that things could have gone any other way. He points out what Americans believed and how they thought at the time. He admits that hindsight helps him understand a lot now but he certainly didn't have it when events were happening. Errol Morris provides a fair and balanced documentary for MacNamara. It is also a work of art and has its own form of suspense. A very good work by a wonderful director. ...more info
  • The Foggy priorities of Robert Strange McNamara
    "Fog of War" is a little documentary that basically gives controversial former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara a platform to talk about his life and defend his actions for posterity. Although an unseen interlocutor poses a question every now and then, it can hardly be described as an interview, or even a conversation. A few damning clips are inserted by the producers, but for the most part, they give McNamara enough rope to hang himself and he does.

    I watched this movie without really knowing much about McNamara except that he was the Defense Secretary during the Vietnam War. I came out of it hating him. McNamara was one of our Ivy League "Big Brains" who have been such a scourge upon this nation. He undoubtedly was intelligent, and to this day is still immensely proud of his intellectual standing and achievements, even going so far as to crow about how he was the smartest kid in his grade school class. He went on to be a statistical analyst in WWII and rose to become president of Ford Motors, where he had modernized the company and dramatically increased profits. That's where the trouble starts.

    For some reason, JFK asked him to become his Defense Secretary. McNamara rightly protested that he was completely unqualified for the position but eventually succumbed to vanity and accepted, continuing to serve under LBJ after the assassination. The problem with McNamara is that while he knew the Vietnam War was unwinnable, and even told the President so, he lied to the American people and continued to implement policies he knew were simply resulting in the needless deaths of our soldiers. Whether it was a misplaced sense of loyalty to the President before the nation, or if it was because of a sordid addiction to power, McNamara betrayed the public trust and well deserves to be despised as one of the most amoral empty suits ever to hold such power in America. When asked if he felt some responsibility for the Vietnam debacle, he replied in the negative without the slightest hesitation and blamed LBJ. McNamara's career showed us that having a Big Brain doesn't mean that you also are also endowed with courage, honesty, or principles. ...more info
  • Great Lessons
    A great behind-the-scenes look at decisions that shaped history - and nearly killed all of us.
    Cross-reference this with the more recent Kennedy biographies for a wider, sobering context.
    This is the sort of thing that the Bush Administration should have watched before deciding to invade Iraq.
    ...more info
  • Robert McNamara-Fog of War
    An excellent analysis and presentation of McNamara and his view of the Vietnam war and war in general. ...more info
  • An intellectual yet haunting look at why rational men still fight needless wars
    So much has been written about the man (McNamara) and the topic (war) in these Amazon reviews that I can really add little else to help you decide whether this movie is for you. So, I'll just add one relatively simple observation that some of you may find helpful: I didn't see this movie in theaters and didn't exactly rush to see it on DVD, thinking that it was one of those movies I "should" see, but not "right now". In other words, I thought it would be good for me, but a little boring, hard to absorb, that sort of thing. But, boy, was I wrong. "The Fog of War" is riveting and flies by. McNamama's observations about wars in general and the ones he was personally involved in are endlessly fascinating, as is the man himself. The movie is definitely not an ordeal or a dry civics lesson or anything else along those lines, so don't let those fears scare you off. Cause the movie ain't boring and it ain't dull.

    And, as I'm already here typing away, I'll add one final thought: What's particularly disturbing about the movie is that we clearly see that Mr. McNamara is a complex thinker, a man of some empathy, not by any means a one-note "Hawk" like some of the generals and other leaders he discusses in the film, but McNamara himself was still nevertheless a central figure in the shaping of the policy that lead to almost 60,000 soldiers losing their lives in Vietnam. The real lesson here seems to be, then, that thoughtful, essentially good men can't always turn the tide once they're caught up in something that develops a life of its own. And that's scary....more info
  • Historical Spin
    McNamara is clearly spinning history and running from his ghosts. I once read that he was known for simply making up any 'facts' he needed.

    His comment in the film that "None of our allies supported us (in Vietnam)" would come as a surprise to South Korea,Thailand,Australia,New Zealand and the Philippines - all of whom had troops in Vietnam.

    He claims to have opposed the consensus of military leaders to bomb Cuba during the missile crisis, but then goes along with them for their recommendations of the conduct of the Vietnam war - saying later that he should have spoken up. This is a man who wants to have it both ways - and always be on the right side in the judgment of history - or so he thinks.

    His reflections on the bombing of Japan are also somewhat curious. He neglects to mention that the Japanese civilians were warned by the US Air Force to evacuate 26 cities - but their leadership cynically dispersed the wartime industries into the residential areas and kept the civilians there. The Japanese government was to blame for what happened to their civilians - just as they were to blame for war crimes committed by Japanese troops. Taking events out of historical context - as McNamara frequently does - is the mark of someone who is trying to explain away actions at the time in order to conform to current political correctness.

    The documentary is technically excellent - but having other voices to contradict McNamara on his many self-serving statements would have added more context and additional depth to the work. But that is solely (and correctly) the editorial judgment of the filmmaker.

    All in all - an interesting soliloquy from McNamara, who was a participant in many of the events that have shaped our times....more info
  • The one documentary that you must see
    Errol Morris has done a service to history by getting McNamara to candidly talk about his life experiences and the lessons he has gleamed from them. By letting McNamara do most of the talking, Morris avoids introducing any bias or pronouncing judgment on his subject. The accompanying soundtrack is one of the best I have seen in a historical documentary with a particularly haunting quality and complements the cut scenes very well.

    At a particular point in his narrative, McNamara talks about the assassination of JFK and how he got around to selecting the final resting place of the President in Arlington National Cemetery. As he ruminates over those dark days of Nov 1963, you notice that he fogs up. Long disparaged as an impersonal number crunching automaton, this moment offers the viewer a rare direct look at the all too human side of McNamara.

    Other reviewers before me have done a great job in discussing the merits and demerits of this documentary. Suffice for me to say that the 11 lessons are universal and well applied to any situation whether in business or war. The one that has lingered with me the longest is the first one - "Empathize with your Enemy". After watching this documentary, we empathize with McNamara too and understand the mindset that drove all of his actions. McNamara has done well to share his lessons with reasonable frankness and objectivity. This ultimately is his penance. ...more info
  • Fog of War
    As a Vietnam era veteran and amateur historian this film provided an entirely new perspective on an important time in our national history. I would highly recommend it to all....more info
  • Fog of War
    This is the most entertaining, inexpensive and painless history lesson you'll ever get on the 20th Century. It's also Errol Morris's best documentary, in my opinion. True, the Thin Blue Line is terrific but I think this is his best. If you wish you were smarter you might want to wish again. This is the story of Robert McNamara: the brightest and the best of his or any age who found himself villified beyond what was reasonable or deserving. Still, he calmly made no excuses while talking candidly about doing what needed to be done. "We killed fifty-thousand men, women and children in one night over Tokyo," he said with a straight face. This is a great film and as close a look at one of the men who lived in the midst of the greatest focal points of the century you'll ever see....more info
  • Former secretary of defense Robert Mcnamara's illuminating version of his lessons learnt
    Former secretary of defense Robert Mcnamara provides a very frank and illuminating version of his lessons learnt which are about 11 in total.The whole film is an interview session interpersed with images of previous incidents of world history which happened during his tenure as Secretary of defense. Each lesson or principle learned is explained by Mcnamara aided by his retrospective insight and his personal memoirs which run along with the images of news reports, interviews and photographs. The very interesting parts are hearing the real telephone tapes between President Nixon and McNamara / President Johnson and MCnamara.

    Some of the things he talks about are

    (1) His taking up of the offer from JFK to be secretary of defense thus leaving the presidency of ford motors.

    (2) Cuban missile crisis and how close USA and Cuba was to nuclear war. There were 170 nuclear warheads in cuba supplied by Krushchev's Russia. McNamara's taped telephone converstaions with President John F Kennedy was very
    interesting.

    (3) The bombing of Tokyo and how 100's of cities were already bombed to a large extent before the decision by Johnson was taken to drop the N bombs. Were the N bomb's overkill ?

    (4) The continuation of american loss of life in Vietnam and the unpreparedness of the Ameican troops for the unconventional guerilla warfare there. How much of the decision for vietname rests on him and how much on President Johnson

    (5) The supposition that if JFK had lived he might have acted differently as compared to President Johnson with regards to the agressive stance on Vietnam.

    (6) The misunderstood torpedo attacks reported by the sonar men which lead to bombing strikes against Vietnam.

    (7) The use of agent green in Vietnam which intended as a chemical agent to removed the leaves from trees to removed enemy thicket cover was later found to also be a toxic and poisonous substance which caused loss of civilian life.

    (8) His conclusion that if they had lost the war, could he have been called a war criminal ?

    In summary he calls for proportionality in war ,strict nuclear detterance and to understand the enemy from his cultural and historical standpoint to avoid misunderstanding leading to avoidable military escalations.

    regards, Vikram...more info
  • Great documentary JFK and LBJ's SECDEF McNamara WWII Vietnam War
    This BBC / PBS -like political biographical documentary film shows how US Presidential cabinets are formed and the impact of decisions on foreign affairs at the highest level. Director Errol Morris portrays 85-yr old Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defense for 7 years during partial JFK and LBJ terms (61-68, fired just after the Tet Offensive). Dialog and supporting screenplay maintains a sensitive, dramatic, and interesting talking head portrait for 1 1/2 hrs on DVD. The brilliantly crafted retrospective McNamara's involvement in the WWII (41-45), Korean and Cold (47-91) and Vietnam War (59-75) 35-yrs ago against the communist arch-nemeses PRChina and USSR within the context of the SE Asian Domino theory.

    The Errol Morris film won the 2004 Oscar for best documentary. Box office gross was $5M. Having also read the book with same title by Blight and Lang, this Reviewer strongly recommends the DVD over the book, as the book contains less than half of McNamara's theses.

    To date, over 14 Sec'ty of Defense have shaped world conflicts within 9 administrations; JBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, GW Bush and Obama; covering troops in Somalia (92-95), Yugoslavia (93-96), Afganistan (01-pres), and Iraq (03-pres), among scores of other conflict involving less than a thousand troops or 25 aircraft. The CIA has covert actions that are on-going in the PLO, Iran and Venezuela. (Ref: Wiki List_of_United_States_military_history_events and also CIA_sponsored_regime_change)

    Clearly the hot seat has been on successive SECDEFs Melvin Laird and Jim Schlesinger during the defeat of the Vietnam War; Dick Cheney and Bill Perry during Somalia and Yugoslavia; and Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates during Afghanistan and Iraq.

    As the US / Obama is currently trying to recover from a major global recession, viewing this retrospective would give insights on the dilemma that faces the current cabinet and policy towards Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea. After witnessing Obama's first 100 days, his tour in E Euro and Latin America and Sec'ty of State Clinton in Mexico, the Middle and Far East shows that this is a major policy shift from the 8-yr former G.W. Bush administration, including SECDEF Donald Rumsfeld and SECSTATE Condoleezza Rice.

    So far SECDEF Robert Gates is going along with the draw down of Iraq with a simultaneous increase in Afghanistan. Advanced technology with use of remotely controlled drone surveillance and combat aircraft will reduce the number of troops in harms way.

    -----

    What was especially poignant in the film is the admission that Army Air Corp General LeMay and SECDEF McNamara could have been charged as War Criminals if the US had lost the war. Both sanctioned fire-bombing of more than 60 of Japan's entire cities taking military targets and factories, as well as civilian commercial and residential districts in-toto, totaling over a quarter million civilians deaths. The two atomic bomb deaths include an additional quarter million civilians.

    ------

    Below are McNamara's on truths and lessons. If you have a fast internet connection, you can view the following video clips of movie using the YouTube URL address.

    #1 Empathize with Your Enemy (Scene 4, 0:06, wOoOcIFhaoA) Nuclear missiles in Cuba

    #2 Rationality Will Not Save Us (Scene 6, 0:16)

    #3 There's something beyond one's self (Scene 9 0:25) b1916, end of WWI, flu epidemic, went to college during Depression, Cal BA, Economics; Harvard, Grad Sch Biz. Joined Prof Harvard.

    #4 Maximize efficiency (Scene 11, 0:30)

    Attended OCS at Harvard. In USArmy Air Corps for 3yrs. Prepared WWII R&D in Pacific. Abort Mission report, pilot fear. WWII B-29 bombing over Japan, with 58th bomb wing from India, Burma. LeMay moves airfield to Mariana Islands, Guam, Saipan, Tinian. Target Destruction efficiency. Fire bombing of Tokyo 100K civilians, looses one Wingman.

    #5 Proportionality shouldn't be a guideline in War (Scene 13, 0:39, PzUStZaTGAQ).

    Incendiary bombs of Tokyo, Yokohama, Toyama, Nagoya, and 60 other cities. The nuclear bomb under LeMay command and Truman. McNamara contracted polio on VJ Day.

    #6 Get the Data (Scene 16, 0:48)

    Ford no college grads (Life Magazine) created Ford Mktg Research Dept, devel budget cars against Volkwagen and GM /Cadillac. Start crash protecting cars with Cornell Aeronautical Labs, packaging, intro seatbelts.

    Robert F Kennedy, (contract, no DC Society scene commitment, Sec'ty Defense $25K/yr), personal sacrifice leaving Ford.

    Return from S Vietnam review 1963 with 16K Advisors, military coup Diem and Kennedy assassination. Ironically Kennedy was escorted by DC's National Cemetery Groundkeeper couple weeks before; McNamara picked same spot (tears). Newly elevated Pres L.B. Johnson, with lack of VN understanding, continued under the SE Asia Domino theory by China in 1964.

    #7 Belief and Seeing are Both Often Wrong (Scene 18, 1:05, pbJLwk-bJaA, W5j0r4QyZeo)

    NVN Gun boats vs Destroyer Maddox DD731 suspect torpedo attacks near Haiphong in Aug 1964. Analysis of sonar recordings eventually show wrong conclusion; this was just a pretext to engage. Retaliation from NVN aggression results in 64 bombing missions against NVN. We see what we want to believe. Tonkin Gulf Resolution, Congress approval to engage Sept 64. Johnson authorizes "Rolling Thunder" bombing B-57s. Marine deployment 10Jun1965, 45K men, 10 battalions.

    #8 Be Prepared to Re-examine Your Reasoning (Scene 21, 1:20, PnfI-lW_asw)

    In a 1995 retrospective, McNamara asked NVN Generals what were goals for 1968 Tet Offensive; independence from CN, FR, and Amer colonialists. VN was in a Civil War to unify the country under Ho Chi Minh.

    #9 In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil (Scene 23, 1:25, LxntnXjfG4I) Moral good is a tough decision.

    #10 Never say never (Scene 25, 1:30). Never answer the question that was asked of you. Answer the question that you would have wished had been asked of you. Start Operation Birmingham Nov 67, Lexington, etc; with 500K troops, 25K KIA

    #11 You can't change human nature. (Scene 27, 1:39) One makes errors in judgment. ...more info
  • Great
    Errol Morris came to fame in the late 1980s with his anti-police corruption documentary The Thin Blue Line, and has spent the last couple decades gracing cinephiles with controversial, yet distinguished, films. Last year's Oscar-winning documentary The Fog Of War: Eleven Lessons From The Life Of Robert S. McNamara is his best yet, and one of the best films- documentary or not- ever made. It works as a history of the American Military of the last 50 years, and a personal portrait of ex-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, architect of the Vietnam War, not to mention a philosophical foray into the nature of man and evil.
    Yet, delineated as those 3 points are, the film is not dogmatic. McNamara is not portrayed as sympathetic, although sometimes he elicits sympathy- his love and loss felt at the murder of JFK, nor dogmatic, although his actions in the film and out belie that, and led to his being fired by LBJ. Morris takes an effective tack by parsing the film as 11 lessons from McNamara- a very Oriental approach to a life. This is also reflected in the fact that the film rarely answers questions, in the general or specific, rather intent on making its viewers think. Great art usually provokes queries, not smoothes with answers.
    Thus the film's essence and its title, which refers to the chaotic complexity, therefore unpredictability, inherent in war.
    This film has got to be the shortest 105 minutes in film history for, if the deleted scenes (culled from over 20 hours of interviews) are any clue this film should more properly have been a PBS miniseries. There are probably only a literal dozen or so films that will have relevance and cogence in 1000 years. This is one of them. Watch it. Understand it. Absorb it. If you don't you are likely to be as regretful as its prime subject.
    ...more info
  • Entertaining, Thought-Provoking, Nearly Objective
    Whenever people start talking about politics, it's next to impossible to stay objective--which is why I deeply appreciate this excellent documentary by Errol Morris.

    Touching on issues of morality in warfare and the responsibilities of the human race in a nuclear age, "Fog of War" is the closest to an objective analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and the fire-bombings of Japan that I have ever seen. The reason is Morris' format--a one-on-one interview with Robert S. McNamara, interspersed with news and military footage. This format allows the audience to discuss McNamara's views and experiences and the surrounding issues without first needing to sift through the bias of the director (which is always my complaint with Michael Moore documentaries). In short, we as the audience get to make up our own minds, which is the hallmark of a good documentary.

    I have taught this film in my college composition classes several times, and the students seem surprised by how it manages to be thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. The film quality is superb, and the haunting score by Philip Glass also sets the stage for some tough questions: 1) Is McNamara a war criminal? 2) What would we have done in his place? 3) And more importantly, what can we learn from McNamara's invaluable lessons and experiences?...more info
  • Brutal & Honest Reflections
    This reveals a great deal about Vietnam and the 1960's.
    Should be prized by students of Kennedy, Johnson, and our military history in the nuclear age....more info
  • McNamara's Not-Quite Confession... and for good reason
    My first glimpse of Errol Morris' work (The Thin Blue Line) was for an undergraduate history seminar examining the role (and subsequent fallacy) of human memory in historical discourse. While "The Thin Blue Line" examined a singular Texas murder, Morris' "Fog of War" has a larger footprint since it probes an extremely sharp and cognizant 80+ year old McNamara and his position in United States war policy over a thirty year span. World War II and Vietnam obviously provide a lot of ground to cover in a documentary, but the "larger footprint" of Morris' film rests with the controversial nature of McNamara in the public's mind versus the historical record. In short, McNamara bears some responsibility (and perhaps lingering guilt) for his recommendations in the WWII bombing and the Vietnam policy. The Vietnam War was not his action alone, however; he was part of a national security apparatus submitting recommendations to the only man who could act: The President of the United States. Accordingly, McNamara bears partial responsibility but he is well aware of a popular desire for his complete contrition. Yet, he now bears the sole burden for these group actions because he was the face of the Vietnam policy for two presidents and he is one of the few presidential advisors still alive from the Kennedy/Johnson Era (as well as the WWII bombing decisions). McNamara is certainly aware of his position as well as the fact that certain portions of the American public want a criminal confession from the man.


    With that "public pitfall" in mind, McNamara's explanations and answers to Morris' questions can appear scheming and duplicitous, but those answers simply place decisions and policy in their proper historical framework. At one point in the film, Morris' essentially asks McNamara who was responsible for Vietnam decisions and McNamara quickly replies, "The President". The audience (or at least, I) wanted McNamara to answer, "It was my decision" and - as such - may view the President Response as a cop-out. However, McNamara is absolutely correct; the decision for action rested with the Commander-in-Chief and his name was never Robert Strange McNamara. From the audience's perspective, it is nothing short of compelling to watch a man justify unpopular actions while dodging an undue burden of responsibility and respecting (i.e., not damning) the two presidents he served and loved.


    Personally, I relished the personal insights Morris captured (or that McNamara permitted himself to show?). These poignant glimpses ranged from McNamara's tearful story of surveying Arlington National Cemetery for Kennedy's eventual burial plot to the fleeting family health references confronting the McNamara Family during the Secretary of Defense years. My favorite insight into McNamara's soul comes during the retelling of the young Quaker who set himself on fire below McNamara's office mere moments after handing his baby daughter to a pleading bystander. While the story is well known, McNamara pays respect to the widow's subsequent explanation and appears to have kept tabs on the daughter. I am still not sure what to make of that insight and dozens of others, but those personal glimpses are the underlying force of the film.


    In terms of filmmaking, some reviews have blasted Morris' technique of being off camera and unmiked, his use of the Glass soundtrack, or his reliance on public domain stock footage of planes, bombing, or protests. In many respects, they are right: either you love Morris' methods or they will grate on you. The editing cuts can be choppy, but it is unclear how much of that is for dramatic effect or if the original interviews went back and forth over the same material. If you enjoy a bombastic Michael Moore-type figure guiding the audience through a series of contrived events peppered with sarcastic and puerile rhetoric, then "The Fog of War" may not be the documentary for you and worth a local rental. On the other hand, if you enjoyed Morris' earlier "The Thin Blue Line" or Barbara Kopple's "Harlan County, USA" and "American Dream", then you will want to buy this DVD for the theatrical release, deleted scenes, and McNamara's own rules.
    ...more info
  • You feel like you're speaking with McNamara directly
    This movie is absolutely incredible. You feel like you're in the room, directly communicating with McNamara. Its really amazing to observe him relate his experiences; even in his 80s, his incredible intelligence, arrogance and colored memory of past events shines through brilliantly. I especially enjoyed the way the movie wove through history chronologically. ...more info
  • Left out SOMETHING HUGE
    What is so dishonest, disingenuous and in every way 'the wave of the big brother American Marxist future' is ONE SIMPLE FACT left out of this otherwise notable documentary:
    3,000,000 Laotians, Cambodians and Vietnamese (through Pol Pot, etc) died at the hands of Communist regimes after we pulled out.

    Somehow the sanctimonious second-guessers from the Left ALWAYS LEAVE THAT OUT!...more info
  • The Self-Deceit of Man is Evil's Greatest Ally
    As I stared into the black, beady eyes of an old and withered Robert Strange McNamara (yes, that's his real middle name) during the viewing of "The Fog of War", it occurred to me that perhaps no man, living or dead, has forcibly lied to himself as convincingly and consistently, (esp. with such grave reprocussions concerning the fate of mankind) as has this horrible beast.
    O, undoubtedly there have been fouler birds (but certainly not many) which have spread their wings to block out the sun, but could any of them have been more convinced that they were endeavoring to do right before God and man?
    One cannot help but note the bitter irony, as we listen to Bob rattle on remorselessly about his role in the fire-bombing of Tokyo at the end of WWII, which killed over 100,000 civilians, then get all choked up and teary-eyed about how he was the one to pick out the plot location for the final resting place of his goodbuddy Jack, during that fateful November of '63.
    Obviously a walking dichotomy, a Type-A case study for the division of mind and spirit, ol' Bob counterdicts and implicates himself with reckless abandon over the course of this film.
    A choice quote straight from his thin, bloodless lips, "Whenever I am asked a question I don't want to answer, I reply with the answer to the question I wish I was asked. This is a rule which has served me well." Woo-eee! Obviously the model for all our current political hacks.
    His calloused appraisals of the unnecessary casualties suffered from his many executive blunders, and of those around him, as being a worthwhile price to pay to achieve their noble aims, is fine insight into the mind of the tyrannical warmongers which have controlled the fate of mankind since our supposed "civilization".
    While listening to some of the snickering tales he recounts of the wretched General LeMay, in which McNamara makes botched attempts at infusing elements of wit and humor into the scenarios, I once again realized how out of touch with humanity our "leaders" trully are. They obviously view themselves as some sort of superior life form, which is perhaps, simply just the type of egotistical scum such positions of power inevitably attract.
    Without coming straight out and saying "It was me! I am the horrible mutant to blame for these attrocities!" McNamartyr implies his guilt concerning the unforgivable fire-bombings of some 27 major Japanese cities BEFORE the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These are details I feel gipped at never having been exposed to in American History 101. Having obliterated so much of that country's infrastructure and wiped out half of its' population, one can't help but wonder, "Were the A-bombs necessary for Japan's surrender?!" The answer of course is "Hells no!" It was simply another test of our nuclear capability, which a few crusties at the Pentagon, and their handlers, deemed necessary.
    Next Bob dances like a woodland fairy around the Bay of Pigs and the Bay of Tonkin debacles, before settling for a slight bit of self-implication, while pinning ultimate resposibility on the Commanders in Chief. (Which is fair enough, but does little to cleanse his own blood-stained hands.)
    I would suggest any who view this movie to go to the special features and check out all the additional footage. It really adds to the film and further exposes McNamartyr as being far from reformed, still as wily and dangerous a monster in old age as he was in youth. (One can only surmise that it was his enormous ego and craving for one last bask in the limelight which coaxed him from the shadows to devulge such a lurid tale.) The extra footage also shows how he is still covering for the "secret" world government which has us all in bondage; his tight lipped responses to a few key questions definitely prove him to be a loyalist, capable of taking their secrets to his grave. (Research the board members of the World Bank and the Council of Foreign Relations if you care to know who is really in charge. Are we to think that Bob's appointment to head the World Bank after his dismissal as Secretary of Defense, is pure coincidence? Sheesh. How stupid do we look?)
    All in all, a very enlightening and thought-provoking documentary, which allows you to draw your own conclusions, while giving you enough info to discern it correctly. If you pay careful attention and can read between the lines at times, Bob does a fine job of exposing some of the behind-the-scenes developements and plot twists which show how the system operates and how we got to where we are at in current world affairs.
    This film loses a star from me on account of the glaring omission concerning any discussion with ol' Bob on the subject of the vile and traiterous sinking of the USS Liberty by the Israeli military off the Sinai Peninsula June 8, 1967 during the "Six Day War" between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. This attack killed 34 U.S. servicemen and wounded at least 173.
    Multiple inquiries by both sides into the incident concluded that it had been simply a mistake of identity.
    If you can call several hours of continuous strafing by fighter planes and a full-on assault by torpedo boats, an "accident".
    Some still cling to this belief in hopes that our government is being run by hapless fools, oblivious to the reprocussions of their actions. (It sure appears that way if you yourself are oblivious to their master plan.)
    But all the signs show them to be most cunning devils, devious to the enth degree, quite content to bathe in whatever amount of blood necessary to achieve their goal of world domination and enslavement.
    So, I snatch back one star (If I could, but I guess they won't let you revise the star-rating) for both that omission and Mr. Morris' over-all failure to hold ol' B Mac's toes to the flame in regards to his most obvious attrocities.
    Still, I would highly recommend this as a must-see film.
    P.S. On a side note; didn't Rumsfeld, with all his forked-tongue deceit, seem like ol' Bob's political re-incarnation? Even down to the way he was dismissed after serving his purpose. Another part of the repetitious cycle one can find during careful scrutiny of un-propagandized accounts of history....more info
  • With free bonus lessons in documentary production.
    I was a child during the Johnson administration and I have only vague memories of watching the news back in the mid 60's and seeing something called "Vietnam" on the news every single night. I decided to view this documentary in order to gain some more insights on that era from possbily the best "insider" there is. I had no preconceptions, positive or negative, concerning Secretary McNamara.

    Organizing the documentary around "Eleven Lessons" helped keep my interest by providing a context for what was basically an extended autobiographical recount of various events in McNamara's life. I found myself wondering if I could make such a documentary about the lessons I've learned during my relatively boring and obscure life.

    Although I found the historical insights interesting, I also found the "packaging" of the content becoming more and more irritating as the movie progressed.

    First, the choppy editing made me wonder if I was really seeing what McNamara said at all. Sometimes there were several edits during a single sentence that came out of McNamara's mouth. He was at times jerking around like "Max Headroom" (for those who remember who he was). Was this really necessary? What was edited out? I suppose editing could be used to make someone say anything you wanted him/her to say. Just cut up the film into thousands of single-word visual bytes and you could edit together a clip showing a person saying anything.

    Second, the soundtrack got rather tedious: two chords alternating doo-dee-doo-dee-doo-dee that never seemed to let up. Some apparently found this "mesmerizing". I suppose so if you easily hypnotized, but I found it grating on my nerves after a while.

    Third, the use of file footage that I've seen many times before, including out of context stuff like footage of purely defensive anti-aircraft missiles while the narrative speaks of invading cuba.

    Fourth, the mysterious off-camera voice in the background that occasionally interacts with McNamara. Couldn't they at least have used a second microphone?

    So, although I don't regret investing the time in watching this DVD, I could never watch it again, so it is pointless for me to acquire it for my collection. I'm glad I just rented it.
    ...more info
  • Haunting reflections from Robert S. McNamara
    This is a poignant and even haunting DVD. This movie, by Erroll Morris, is based on his interviewing Robert McNamara, late in his life. Interviews are interspersed with archived material to provide punctuation. The end result is quite powerful.

    The juxtaposition of the interview with historical scenes adds a considerable power to this DVD. McNamara was about 85 at the time he was interviewed. His responses to questions are measured, but there is always a sense that he is trying to grapple with his own role in historical events such as the Vietnam War. He certainly does not apologize for his actions, but there is a sense in this movie that his reflections are part of his own internal struggles over historical events.

    The well discussed "lessons" raised during this movie have some value in themselves. However, they are useful in gaining a greater sense of McNamara's views and the internal debates he appears to be experiencing.

    His feelings about John Kennedy's death are quite real. His eyes throughout this movie are compelling to watch.

    This DVD moves quickly. The cumulative result is powerful. Whether or not one ends up feeling positively or negatively about McNamara, one does end up gaining some real insights into him and into the times in which he played such an important role.
    ...more info
  • Penetrating Look At A Controversial Figure In US Politics
    Few people have ever been as controversial in government life as Robert McNamara was in his seven years as the Defense Secretary of this nation between 1961 and 1968, when a dirty little war in Vietnam escalated into a conflagration that tore America apart. It is this controversial individual that documentary filmmaker Errol Morris gets a lot out of in his often poignant 2002 documentary THE FOG OF WAR, and the end result gave me a very good appreciation for the man, even if the decisions he made with respect to Vietnam, partly with John F. Kennedy but mostly with Lyndon Johnson, resulted in the loss of 58,000 US service men and women, and countless millions of Asians.

    During his time as SecDef, McNamara was often criticized as cocky and arrogant--a regular "Wiz Kid" from Harvard who seemingly had no business being in the position Kennedy had appointed him too. Certainly, the slicked-back hair would give one that impression. But as we see in THE FOG OF WAR, McNamara rose to the level of brilliance in his ability to help Kennedy defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and keep it from exploding into Armageddon, all the while fending off the macho warmongering of Curtis LeMay and other rabid anti-Commie types in the government at that time. Even now, as he is pushing 90, he remains adamant and proud of his time in government life, but he is also willing to admit the seriousness of the mistakes he made, particularly with our gross misreading of the Vietnam war as being a part of the Cold War, when in truth it was an internal matter of the Vietnamese wanting independence from outside forces, including ours.

    And for a man who was often accused of being overly analytical and unemotional, McNamara chokes up when he thinks of Kennedy and the man's untimely assassination in Dallas in 1963, and declares unequivocally that Kennedy would never have allowed the Vietnamese conflict to escalate into a war that would kill millions, let alone tear the greatest nation in the world asunder. This is a man who has gained a lot of wisdom about the ways of politics and war, but it has been through an enormous amount of pain, not to mention an enormous amount of lives lost. Although Morris (who directed the highly acclaimed THE THIN BLUE LINE) does occasionally find McNamara as evasive now as he may have been during his time in office, he nevertheless gives us a great deal of insight as to regards with McNamara's life and times, and how world events came to shape his thinking.

    Given the passage of time, and thanks to Morris' sobering film, I believe it's safe to say that McNamara, though he is regarded even today by many pundits as the worst SecDef this nation has ever had, merits a great deal of sympathy and respect in hindsight, for his time in office was one in which the great pressures of the Cold War would probably have swallowed up just about anyone who held his position. His wisdom is one earned through considerable pain, and it is the kind of wisdom that was totally lacking with Donald Rumsfeld, whose hubris made McNamara at his most incendiary look like a halfway-decent guy....more info
  • More Relevant By The Minute
    I lived through the vietnam era. IF you did you can't ever forget. This guy was right in the middle of the crucial decisions that brought the debacle down on us. Here he sifts through the sands of his memory and tries to synthesize how it went wrong, why it went wrong and what we can learn to KEEP FROM REPEATING IT.

    For me, here was the most unforgettable moment. Decades later he returns to vietnam and winds up sitting at a formal dinner next to his north vietnamese counterpart from those days. Macnamara tells him we--the americans--were not a colonial power seeking to impose our will but were fighting to stop the spread of communism, seeing north vietnam as a tentacle of communist china. The north vietnamese official gaped at him and then began pounding the table and said, "Mr. Macnamara, you must have never read a history book! We've been FIGHTING the chinese for a thousand years! We aren't their puppet! We were fighting for our national freedom! We would have fought to the last man!" Macnamara says they almost came to blows.

    Here's the point. Macnamara says, as compared to say the soviets, we didn't understand the north vietnamese. We didn't really know enought about them. We had no idea what was in their minds. And that was why we wound up fighting the wrong war against the wrong country and for the wrong reasons! That's why we lost!

    Does any of this sound familiar??????

    This is a fantastically good piece of work that ought to be required viewing for every american of voting age. It's that good and that informative. Of course, it won't be widely viewed by the american public. We'll go our goofy way coveting our big-screen tvs and gas guzzling cars and spending our time on important things--like sporting events....more info
  • A Clear Insight into the Fog of War
    Director Errol Morris starts his DVD by questioning Robert McNamara, the only person in view. McNamara begins to reminisce over his decades of experience. This is where the eleven lessons begin. Considering the political and military course of action the United States has taken in the past eight years, some of these lessons should be bronzed, and prominently displayed. Here are the ones that stuck most in my memory:

    Empathize with your enemy.

    Critics mistake empathy for sympathy or appeasement--a word most often misused. It means neither. Understanding your enemy is one of the most important things in defeating your enemy, or not engaging him in the first place. The example given by McNamara was the one person during the Cuban missile crisis who knew Premier Nikita Khruschev. He was the only one who counselled JFK against getting tougher with the Soviets. He knew that the US had to throw a political bone to Khruschev so that he would look tough against the Americans, at least to the hard core communists in the Politburo. It worked and nuclear war was averted.

    Rationality will not save us.

    There is a mistaken assumptions that if you gather rational people in one place to think rationally, they will always make the best decision or come up with the best course of action. According to McNamara, even rational people can make egregious errors in judgment.

    Proportionality should be a guideline in war.

    A lack of proportional response will not only get innocents killed, it will also kill our own. Nothing should be overkill. (As the ancient Greeks said, nothing in excess; everything in moderation.)

    Belief and Seeing are both often wrong.

    The wisdom in this one had perhaps the most profound effect on me. This should be self-explanatory. From what we believe and even see, we can still draw incorrect conclusions e.g. while we were searching for weapons of mass destruction, Washington signalled our forces that there were caves in a mountain where Iraqi missiles might be hidden. They turned out to be places to store water for cattle.

    Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning,

    especially if believing and seeing are both often wrong. It took sixteen centuries for someone to actually challenge Galen's idea of bloodletting.

    In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.

    This is a Machiavellian reference to war. But Mr. McNamara raised the following question: How much evil must we do in order to do good? This made me revisit my belief that the US was justified in dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Was this too much evil? Would we really have had to invade Japan if we didn't drop the bomb? Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning if you have no doubt that this would have been necessary.

    You can't change human nature.

    Reason has limits according to the former Secretary of Defense. Back in the days, one of my hippie friends reasoned that no one would die if everyone just got rid of their guns. This was an oversimplification of human nature, but still recognizable in many ways today. We cannot force people to like things our way, or what value what we hold dear. It is not their nature.

    Near the end, Mr. McNamara quotes T.S. Eliot: "We shall not cease from exploring and at the end of our exploration we will return to where we started and know the place for the first time." This sums up the "Fog of War."

    This was a worthwhile viewing (rather than buying) for the above lessons I hope I will remember for the rest of my life. The only disappointment was Secretary McNamara's vagueness or refusal to discuss some of the more controversial decisions and issues of his life. He was very thoughtful of John F. Kennedy, and still wept in relating the event. He was also thoughtful of his wife who died several years ago. I got the impression that he is a lonely man who has made peace with himself and his demons.

    This will give you some clear insights.




    Forty-five days and a wake-up until the fog leaves Foggy Bottom....more info
  • The Fog of War
    This DVD was supposed to arrive in 3-5 days, but it took over 3 weeks. So I couldn't give it as a Christmas gift. I will never buy from Amazon again....more info
  • Fog of War is -Clearly- Remarkable
    Few figures in our shared history hold such a tragic place as Robert S. McNamara who served during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Even fewer ever manage to find redemption. Here, in this very well-made documentary, Mr. McNamara does exactly that---finds redemption as he carefully analyzes the situation as it then existed between the U.S. and Vietnam, takes an honest look in the mirror (at his personal role in the foreign policy committments of the period), and shares his thoughts with us, the American public. And that is what's striking: there are so few people in politics who would ever examine the course taken and PUBLICALLY address mistakes that had been made: this is what we did, this is why we did it, these are the results of the actions we took, and---hindsight always being clearer than what we experience "in the moment"---this is what we can learn from the past. It is in this last respect, in learning from the past, where the subject of this caring documentary shines as extraordinarily valuable!

    The raw honesty of the situation should commend Mr. McNamara to anyone willing to listen. Not because he asks us for forgiveness---because he wants us to learn from it, to gain understanding. Mr. McNamara realizes that the past has something to offer us. And we should give well-deserved applause to the director, Errol Morris, for a job very well done. His contribution to our understanding of a terribly difficult period in American history is invaluable. ...more info
  • A disconcerting film
    Admittedly I do not know enough about RSM or history to give an insightful review or to convey some clever details I may have discerned in the film. However, I can say that this movie has had a profound affect on me and the way I do see that period of history as well as other periods of history and let me explain why. A dark aura pervades most sections of this film, even when it seems a victory for McNamara's side he still seems to convey a sense of guilt and moral turpitude for his actions and all parties involved, most notably the fire bombings of Japan and the Vietnam War. Even when RSM describes the Cuban missile crisis and the path the U.S. trod to end the crisis peaceably, he still seems hung up on the tenuousness regarding how close millions of lives were brought to an end.
    I have watched this film several times now, for I pick up new perspectives every viewing, and I am never comfortable with the outcomes of any situation RSM was a part of, not due to his personal involvement per se, but the fact the thought processes and decisions of a select few individuals can render such harm to so many.
    I am not suggesting absolutism here, especially in a political climate such as the U.S. where the leadership structure plus philosophies are always shifting, but one group does not have to be in power for long to generate massive overhauls of advancing action that can tie up nations and cost literally millions of lives and trillions of dollars. It is this realization of how chaotic, of how easily, this world can turn out of control because a few people at the top believe what they are doing is right. We see this fact today with current conflicts, and one simply has to read history books, especially regarding wars, to understand wars and conflicts don't happen by accident. They are usually preceded by a thought process that inevitably leads to the final action, but there are many variables along the way that snowball downhill and once the avalanche builds up it is impossible to stop since it's simply too complex, hence "The Fog of War".
    There are specific lessons to be learned from RSM, but the biggest lesson is one that doesn't need to be told.
    ...more info
  • One documentary you have to see!
    Very dramatic in depth documentary, a must see. One man who gave it his all for the good of his country. I didnt know who Robert S. McNamara really was until I saw this great film. After watching this film you will appreciate and understand this talented great man that served in the US government....more info