August 16, 2017


















"THE FOG OF WAR’S" ELEVEN LESSONS

Lesson #1. Empathize with your enemy. This segment deals primarily with the Cuban missile crisis, and features shots of a calendar paperweight JFK gave McNamara with the crucial days highlighted. Also, a truly gorgeous cable from Kruschev that made me miss the era of statesmen.

Lesson #2. Rationality will not save us. McNamara says he learned only in 1992 about the presence and number of missiles in Cuba back in 1962. "Cold War? Hell, it was a hot war!" Also, unnervingly cherubic McNamara baby pictures.

Lesson #3. There's something beyond oneself. That "S." in Robert S. McNamara? It stands for Strange. Really. He goes to Stanford, marries, and heads up Army Air Force Statistical Control at Harvard Business School. He also remembers the prices of everything. Everything!

Lesson #4. Maximize efficiency. Or, if you drop your specially designed to fly at 29,000 feet to avoid pilot casualties B-29s down to 5,000 feet, you can firebomb the shit out of Japan. Some of your guys might get shot, though. Morris very effectively throws up Japanese city names, what percentage [90%, say] was destroyed, and then the name of an equivalent-size American city or town.

Lesson #5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Firebombing the shit out of Japan? OK. Adding two A-bombs to the mix? Excessive. McNamara actually says that if we had lost, he and Curtis LeMay would have been prosecuted as war criminals. Oh yeah, and we learn about his brief leadership of Ford Motor Company.

Lesson #6. Get the data. Or, who buys cheap VWs, and how do we get their business? Also, the story of Ford's collection of car accident data, which included dropping human skulls down stairwells at the Cornell Aeronautical Lab to test impacts. Also, McNamara chose the spot in Arlington National Cemetery in which JFK is buried.

Lesson #7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong. Hearts and minds and rolling thunder in Viet Nam. LBJ and the Gulf of Tonkin opening the way for our Afghani and Iraqi imbroglios today.

Lesson #8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning. As I said, he comes out against unilateralism, but never against a president, sitting or otherwise. Also, he can't remember authorizing Agent Orange. That's right, I said he can't remember.

Lesson #9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil. Morris uses especially tight close ups as McNamara talks about the Quaker immolating himself to protest the war in 1965. "It was a tense period for my family."

Lesson #10. Never say never. Or never answer the question you've been asked. Answer the question you wish had been asked of you. McNamara laments that historians are never interested in counterfactuals--what might have been.

Lesson #11. You can't change human nature. In the fog of war, judgment and understanding were not accurate. He quotes T.S. Eliot: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of our exploring shall be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."