Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 25 additional scenes; TV spots;
Theatrical trailer; Robert S. McNamara's 10 Lessons.
ROBERT S McNamara was the US Secretary of Defence during some
of the most significant moments in modern history, including the
Cuban Missile Crisis and the early days of Vietnam. When he talks,
you tend to listen.
Hence, anyone with an eye on current world events, or even those
that dont, should flock to see The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons
From the Life of Robert S. McNamara, the compelling new documentary
from Errol Morris.
As politically relevant as it is historically intriguing, the
film delves into the corridors of power during some of the key
decisions of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, as well
as taking a look back at the factors which led America to drop
the atomic bomb on Japan, and the crippling Depression of the
Through it all, McNamara serves as both guide and narrator, using
the benefit of hindsight to examine and re-evaluate much of what
Whether the ensuing interview is devised as a way of wiping the
slate clean for McNamara, or merely serves as a cautionary tale
to future leaders, is something for viewers to decide, but there
is no denying the mans power to capture your attention.
His insight into foreign policy may even help to explain why
the world is in the state it is today, while certainly serving
to hint at why America has become so hated.
It is perhaps, ironic, therefore, that the earliest memory McNamara
confesses to having is as a two-year-old, witnessing the jubilation
in San Francisco at the end of World War One, the conflict that
was dubbed the war to end all wars.
For, years later, he was to be involved extensively in World
War Two, as a war planner, subsequently becoming part of the mechanism
that planned and executed the extensive firebombing of Japan.
McNamara is almost unapologetic when he tells us that, in a single
night, in 1945, 67 Japanese cities were bombed, and an estimated
100,000 lives lost, as part of a devastating US massacre that
occurred just before the atomic bombs were dropped.
Why then, he asks, was there a need to follow-up with the nuclear
deployment? Sadly, it is a question he chooses not to answer,
although his remark that, had America lost the war, both he and
Air Force General Curtis LeMay may have been tried as war criminals,
might be more telling.
After all, what makes it immoral if you lose, and not immoral
if you win?
It is questions such as these that remain as pertinent, then,
as they are today, particularly in light of Americas much-maligned
current foreign policy.
McNamara, who was 85 when interviewed (and 87 now), isnt
asked to comment on such things, but his words will strike many
chords with those with a feel for current events.
Likewise, his question concerning how much evil must be done
to achieve good things is another rhetorical humdinger - the type
of which, by its very nature, offers no easy answers.
As McNamara reveals, as part of his lesson, you must never say
never, and seldom answer the question that is asked of you, but
the one you wanted to hear. With this in mind, it perhaps explains
why Morris, the documentary-maker, seldom succeeds in pinning
his subject down.
McNamara is as sharp and straight-talking now, as he was then,
only prone to sentimentalism and regret when touching upon the
effect his career had on his family, or the assassination of John
He remains fiercely loyal and respectful towards the people he
worked for, as well as conscious of his own fallibility.
You genuinely believe him when he states that it was only blind
luck that prevented the world from escalating into nuclear war
at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis (due to an ability to
empathise with ones enemy), while the same lack of empathy
may have contributed to the misguided decision to progress with
the Vietnam War, which, for McNamara, represented his one great
His biggest critics (and he had plenty) accused him of costing
the lives of thousands of US soldiers, even though we hear him
explaining, to Kennedy, the need to set a timetable for removing
advisors form Vietnam in the days prior to his death.
And while he publicly endorsed Johnsons wish to continue
the war, his ongoing reservations eventually spelled the end of
his political career.
One only has to look into McNamaras eyes to realise that
this is a man still haunted by past decisions, no matter how defiant,
or insightful, the words he is spouting.
Yet therein lies the true power of Morris documentary,
which follows in the wake of his equally well-received conversations
with subjects including Randall Adams, a man whose wrongful conviction
for murder was reversed , and Stephen Hawking - every military
commander is prone to mistakes, it is learning from them that
can make all the difference.
Along the way, McNamara also provides a wealth of anecdotes to
keep viewers hooked, ranging from his pioneering role in the motoring
industry's adoption of safety devices such as seat belts, during
his time as a Ford executive, to his subsequent meeting with Castro,
in 1992, when the full extent of the Cuban Missile Crisis was
revealed to him.
And while the lessons are consistently entertaining, the biggest
test may yet be for future politicians to heed them.