Flickadaweek: The Fog Of War
The Fog of War is an exceptional documentary focusing on former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the man largely responsible for the escalation of the Vietnam War from conflict to quagmire. McNamara is now 86 years old, and remarkably bright, witty, and sharp–not just for an old dude, but for anybody. Much of the piece involves McNamara looking straight at the camera–and, of course, the viewer–and giving his perspectives and justifications for the way that Vietnam–and before it, the firebombing of Tokyo in WWII, which he engineered–worked out the way they did. He stops just short of apologizing for the tremendous loss of life and national prestige–“That’s a case where I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t. I’d rather be damned if I don’t.”
This is powerful stuff, and it’s easy to equate McNamara’s Vietnam with Bush et al’s Iraq–easy, and absolutely dead-on correct. In both cases, you have brilliant men so warped by ideology and faith in their cause that they cannot possibly conceive of failure–and yet, failure is ever-present, victory never guaranteed. I don’t want to go down the predictable Iraq-as-Vietnam path; we’ve got something like thirteen more years to go before we get to a comparable level of commitment. But I will say that, assuming Iraq doesn’t end in complete, dancing-on-rose-petals victory, I’d be interested to see if, in 2030 or so, Bush or Rice or one of the other button-down neocons publicly acknowledges the misstatements, misinterpretations, and willful distortions that led to this war. (I can’t imagine Cheney or Rumsfeld ever coming clean; if one of those two backed over the family dog, they’d blame its death on Saddam.)
So, back to McNamara. He’s a compelling figure–according to his account, he’s the one who first got seatbelts put into cars while at Ford–and his perspective on how blind luck and human frailty shaped the major events of the last five decades is sobering indeed. Even the Best and the Brightest can get lost in the fog–and this documentary should give pause to anyone, red- or blue-state, who places absolute faith in their leaders.