The Fog Of War, therefore, was actually familiar subject matter to me. But I didn't know much about Robert S. McNamara apart from knowing he was Secretary of Defense to both JFK and LBJ and that he designed the Ford Falcon. So it was fascinating to delve into a previously unexplored area of the Vietnam War era.
McNamara is, even in his 80's, a brilliant man. He's also a charismatic speaker and captivating to listen to. His "Eleven Lessons" are good ones:
1. Empathize with your enemy.
2. Rationality will not save us.
3. There's something beyond one's self.
4. Maximize efficiency.
5. Proportionality should be a guideline of war.
6. Get the data.
7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
10. Never say never.
11. You can't change human nature.
Things like "Empathize with your enemy," "Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning," and "Rationality will not save us" are lessons that can be applied to everyday life conflicts as well as nuclear-powered ones. And McNamara's had a fascinating life: he was actually born in San Francisco (I was delighted to learn; not many high-profile political figures hail from Northern California) and went to Berkeley, and he was the person, at Jackie's request, who selected the location for JFK's grave in Arlington National Cemetary.
Fog of War is a documentary and can get a bit...pedantic. I did feel rather like I was back in university. I was glad to hear him discuss that we misunderstood Vietnam, a point I always like to point out. We thought we were helping them escape Communism, but they were fighting for their independence - from China, from France, from anyone - and they saw the US as just another colonial trying to enslave them; after 1,000 years, the Vietnamese people had had enough of that. Although McNamara still seems to think that the Vietnamese would have been better off had they trusted us...
I can see why this won Best Documentary. It really did deserve it. And anything that gets people to look at history is a great good thing indeed.
(Side note: This film was the 11th film I saw in March, bringing the 1st Quarter 2004 total up to 27. At this rate, I'll beat last year's record of 87...if I can keep this up, I'll have 108!)