The Fog Of War

The Fog Of War


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Robert McNamara is the voice of reason and yet "rationality will not save us."

For those who believe that we are sleep walking towards the abyss should watch, listen and be afraid. For those who believe that the most powerful leader in the Western world has taken the hoods off the hawks will have difficulty sleeping. "Human fallibility and nuclear weapons will destroy nations."

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McNamara had Donald Rumsfeld's job under presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He was not a politician and was somewhat reluctantly headhunted from the Ford motor company. During his watch, "on three separate occasions, we came this close with the Soviet Union." He's talking about annihilation and "this close" means a breath away.

Errol Morris's award-winning film centres around a series of interviews with the 85-year-old former Secretary of Defence and World Bank boss, which is subtitled 11 Lessons From The Life Of... This is not a lecture, neither is it a dressed up talking head, rabbiting on about ethics and Doomsday scenarios. McNamara's rules of conduct for the Commander in Chief includes Proportionality Should Be A Guideline and Empathise With Your Enemy. His conclusion on the Cuban missile crisis? "We lucked out."

Although his experience at the white heat of government concerned the horror that was Vietnam, there are enough parallels to what is happening now, especially when it comes to misunderstanding, or intentionally misleading the public over, the enemy's motivation.

"How much evil must we do before we can do good?" he ponders. As a young man during the war in the Pacific, he remembers when 100,000 civilians were burnt to death in one night in Tokyo after an American air raid. Does this compare with 20,000 innocents killed in Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of... freedom?

McNamara's humanity is unaffected by prejudice. He speaks with affection of Kennedy and admiration for Johnson, although they disagreed fundamentally on the outcome of the war. "Johnson couldn't persuade me and I couldn't persuade him," he says. "I don't know whether I quit, or was fired."

Morris has constructed a powerful, absorbing and imaginatively made documentary about a man who used to be thought of as a safe pair of hands, but never the life and soul - Mr Grey Goes To Washington. He emerges from The Fog Of War an erudite, emotional and sincere thinker, whose opinions have startling relevance in the 21st century, even if they scare you rigid.

Reviewed on: 02 Apr 2004
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The Fog Of War packshot
Documentary about the nature and dangers of modern warfare.
Amazon link

Director: Errol Morris

Starring: Robert S McNamara

Year: 2003

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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