Fog of War

FOG OF WAR….This afternoon I saw Fog of War, Errol Morris’ documentary about Robert McNamara, and it was terrific. Fascinating stuff, especially if you’re fascinated by the character of Robert McNamara.

Which I am. I was born a bit too late to actually remember him myself, which means he’s merely a historical figure to me and doesn’t prompt the kind of instinctive revulsion that he does in many people who lived through the Vietnam era. In fact, he’s so obviously tortured by what happened in Vietnam and his role in it that I have a hard time even thinking poorly of him. After all, how many other major figures from that era have renounced their part in it, no matter how late?

Another part of my fascination, I suppose, is that I can so easily see myself in the same role as McNamara: basically liberal, but at the same time rational, analytical, emotionally distant, and loyal to my boss. Would I have done the same things he did if I had been in his position? I’d like to believe not, of course, but I can’t help but think that I might have, and this gives me some natural sympathy for his position. We are all more forgiving of our own weaknesses than of others’.

The film does a good job of bringing out a fundamental tension in his character, too: he knows he was wrong, and at an intellectual level he even knows that his very method of decisionmaking was wrong, yet it’s pretty obvious that emotionally he’s still tied to the same hyper-rational way of viewing the world as ever. He says otherwise (“rationality won’t save us”), but I don’t think he really believes it.

In many ways, a very tragic human being. And a highly recommended movie.

(And with a very nice score by Philip Glass.)