Directed by Errol Morris, starring Robert S McNamara.
The first thing that Robert S McNamara can remember are the celebrations at the end of World War I on Armistice Day, 1918. It's a curiously appropriate opening to a life that was spent mired in the experience of war. McNamara fought with the US Air Force during World War II and became America's youngest Secretary of Defence in 1960, serving under John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson during the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Best remembered for his association with the disaster that was Vietnam, it comes as a surprise that 'The Fog of War' somewhat softens our perception of the man described by his critics as "...a con man, an IBM machine with legs, an arrogant dictator".
A timely production, 'The Fog of War' won documentary maker Errol Morris this year's Best Feature Documentary Oscar. Although it's a conventional enough biopic, the 85-year-old McNamara, a former professor and business executive before Kennedy appointed him Secretary of Defence, is a riveting - and unexpectedly charming - interviewee.
Morris examines three major events in which McNamara was involved - the firebombing of Japan during WWII, the Cuban Missile Crisis and, of course, Vietnam. In each he succeeds in offering a new perspective but these points are never fully expanded or examined. To his credit, McNamara is willing to accept blame for what happened under his command but not without defending the logic behind his decisions. He is, at all times, very much in the driver's seat and the most revealing insight into the man is when he tells Morris: "Never answer the question you are asked. Always answer the question you wish you had been asked."
Morris cuts between McNamara's straight-to-camera words with archival footage, a line of dominoes (playful but overused) and some startling audio recordings of Kennedy's War Room and phone conversations between McNamara and Johnson. Subtitled '11 Lessons From the Life of Robert S McNamara' the film is structured, somewhat artificially, around maxims taken from McNamara's own thoughts and ideas, including a few that GW Bush should take on board, especially 'Get The Data'. He condemns, albeit indirectly, the actions of the present US government when he says, "We are the strongest nation in the world today and I do not believe we should ever apply that economic, political or military power unilaterally. If we'd followed that rule in Vietnam, we wouldn't have been there. None of our allies supported us. If we can't persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we'd better re-examine our reasoning." Edifying and illuminating.