Today, I watched Fog of War, the Oscar-award winning documentary from Errol Morris featuring former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who served under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. For a bio of McNamara, see his Wikipedia article.
I thought Fog of War was perhaps the most astounding documentary I’ve ever seen. Many people who were against the Vietnam War didn’t like the documentary for what it wasn’t. I enjoyed it for what it was — a look at how decisions are made and the limits of human beings in making them.
The film was particularly powerful for me personally because McNamara’s basic approach to life is similar to my own. McNamara is an empiricist whose approach to problem solving is to collect and break down the data to come to a rational decision. The lesson of McNamara’s life is that doing your best to gather the facts and act rationally can’t prevent you from making the most horrible kinds of mistakes.
You can’t watch this movie today and think about the war in Iraq and how we got there. As I watched this movie, I felt like I was watching a primer on dealing with responsibility that was aimed at George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and their cohorts. If I had to choose a documentary for people to watch in this day and age, I’d point them at this one over Fahrenheit 9/11 every time. I think it has a lot more to teach us about war, its causes, and its consequences.