The Fog of War

Robert McNamara & ‘The Fog of War'


Viewers aren’t likely to have forgotten Errol Morris’s ominous and dreamlike 1988 documentary, The Thin Blue Line, which took up the case of a Texas drifter wrongly convicted of killing a cop in a nighttime roadside shooting. Morris reconstructed different versions of the killing, fashioning a Rashomon-like inquiry into innocence and guilt. Set to a hauntingly anxious Philip Glass score, the film was both stylized and serious-a hyperreal nightmare that assembled a point-by-point indictment of a corrupt Texas legal system. Morris’s newest effort, The Fog of War, provides a similarly engrossing study in culpability. The film surveys the life and times of Robert S. McNamara, secretary of defense under Kennedy and Johnson. McNamara oversaw the conduct of the Vietnam War until his abrupt firing in 1967, and his life since has followed what looks like a path of contrition-advocating for third-world development as longtime president of the World Bank, and, in the mid-1990s, issuing a memoir, In Retrospect, that seemed to apologize for the disaster of Vietnam. “We were wrong, terribly wrong,” McNamara wrote. “We owe it to future generations to explain why.” Morris read the book and persuaded its author to talk on camera. The result is a series of interviews combined with footage of the calamitous historical moment in which McNamara rose to power. Morris is interested in brilliant minds, their capacity for inspired...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper is Commonweal's contributing editor.