by Leah Sottile
I hope Donald Rumsfeld has a Blockbuster account. Because he should pick up a copy of The Fog of War, bring it back to the Oval Office, pop some Orville Redenbacher for himself and W., then sit back and learn a thing or two from history.
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamara is essentially a 102-minute stream-of-consciousness interview between McNamara and director Errol Morris. McNamara colloquially shifts from talking about his time as president of the Ford Motor Company to courting his wife, and then frankly attacks the topic of the Vietnam War. In fact, it's that war that has branded McNamara with a scarlet letter by so many Americans -- but he hardly apologizes for it in this face-to-face documentary.
He may not be apologizing for the war -- but it's on that exact point that Rumsfeld, Bush and other warmongers can learn something from the former Defense Secretary. McNamara clearly learned something from the conflict in Vietnam, as well as his involvement with the Cuban Missile Crisis -- and it's a lesson of humanity, empathy and re-examination the justifications for violent conflicts. Morris pinpoints those three lessons, as well as eight others, in order to show McNamara's merciful qualities in a discussion of key parts of American history.
Aside from shocking content and a compelling conversation-like tone with McNamara, what earned Morris the Best Documentary Oscar is the way this historical piece is filmed. Using an invention he calls the Interrotron, Morris has McNamara responding to questions and talking directly into a camera that's only a foot or so away. The former Defense Secretary stares compassionately into the lens as his drooping eyes tear up when he mentions the assassination of Kennedy. Morris layers McNamara's words over footage of B-29s being mass-produced in factories, and images of those very same planes exploding in the sky.
When McNamara discusses his eighth lesson -- "Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning" -- he volunteers that perhaps the U.S. should have reconsidered going into Vietnam for the sole reason that our allies were not supporting the cause. Lack of international support, he says, is reason enough for any Defense Secretary to think twice about a conflict.
Publication date: 09/23/04