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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Recommended: The Fog of War

I have just watched Errol Morris’s documentary The Fog of War, a film revolving around lessons learned by Robert McNamara in his years of various forms of public service. It goes through World War II, the Cuban missile crisis, and the Vietnam war, with McNamara relating stories and thoughts about his life and the choices he made.

McNamara is intelligent, quick-witted, interesting, and even charismatic. The sense is that any conversation with him would be a learning experience.

Compelling stuff presented beautifully and filled with the kind of self-examination and historical context (although not always a complete context) where conclusions about things like the proportionality of war are left nebulous. One of the most truly thought-provoking documentaries that I’ve ever seen. Of particular interest are his memories of President Kennedy’s assassination, a conversation about Vietnam between McNamara and President Johnson, and his ruminations about the firebombing and atomic bombing of cities in Japan.

While much of it is, by necessity, filtered through McNamara’s own perspective, the film rarely seems preachy or cowardly in facing historical events.

I recommend this film for anyone who hasn’t yet overdosed on politics in our (let’s be honest) overly-politicized age. That might limit the audience somewhat, but the rest of us political junkies can find a lot of good here.

Clarifying Note: I should probably add this: there were more than a few times where I disagreed with the conclusions of the film and times where I disagreed with McNamara’s analysis of events. That doesn’t mean that the movie has no value, though, even to a person who dissents. War and foreign policy are never simple things, and having a broad view of historical events it what allows us to come to our own (hopefully) informed conclusions.

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