The Fog of War is a film about the life of Robert S. McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense under the Kennedy and Johnson administration. The film has a mixture of historical footage as well as interviews with McNamara by the director, Errol Morris. During the film, McNamara gives his perspective about his life in the war while Morris divides the film into eleven lessons that can be taken from McNamara’s discussions. The result becomes an inside look at one of the most important and controversial figures of the 20th century American government. The film also presents an open look at the human side of the decision makers that run the United States and how their personalities can affect policy.
My impression of the film, Fog of War, was that this movie directly correlated with the nationalism and imperialism which happened to be the last couple of chapters that we have been discussing in class. The film put into perspective the highlights, positives, negatives and background information about war unlike anything I have ever seen in films before. Robert McNamara is also recognized and highly talked about throughout much of the film. One of the things that McNamara did throughout the film that I found fascinating was that he presented an overview of his wartime experience. He takes us on a journey, step by step, of the lessons and scenarios that he went through during his time in the army and we can conclude due to his experience, he has learned a lot throughout his service. The one part of the film that I especially like the most was near the beginning of the movie. McNamara discussed a lot of scenarios that had to do with aviation and using calculations to minimize the death toll from air raids. I was fascinated with the air force as a young adult and the thought of minimizing and maximizing the height of airplanes in order to accurately eliminate a threat without causing harm to innocent civilians was interesting.
One of the possible problems in The Fog of War is the lack of solid answers from McNamara regarding his feelings about the war in Vietnam. I believe that it would have been beneficial to the audience to hear why it took him almost twenty-six years to come out and talk in depth about the war, its causes, and his role in it. These topics are ones that many people would have liked to have addressed. Despite his omissions, the film was an interestingly wonderful piece. The director, Errol Morris, was able to take the issues discussed in the film, particularly those issues surrounding Vietnam, and interpret them without imposing any of his personal biases on the subject. Throughout the interview, historical footage and visual evidence are used to help the story tell itself. Due to the lack of bias, the films give a refreshing perspective on subjects like the Cold War, and especially Vietnam. These topics tend to have a polarizing effect on the people that are portraying them. Instead of condemning or pardoning McNamara and the administrations he served under, Morris allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions about the events portrayed in the film.
Another problem that I had with the film was that despite the footage that discusses some events that occurred in Vietnam, it doesn’t give a complete in-depth look at the war. If we look at the war in Vietnam from the perspective of the film, we can see that Vietnam is only part of the story that is McNamara. This can cause problems for those individuals that are strictly looking for information about the war itself. Instead of an intense look at Vietnam, what the film best demonstrates to the viewer is the delicateness of our leaders both mentally and physically. The film makes it clear that our leaders are never the ideal human beings that we so often hope they are.
The bottom line is this however. The Fog of War presents to its audience a poignant look into the life and thought process of perhaps the most famous U.S. Secretary of Defense thus far. The film is an awesome documentary that presents a view that historians and political scientists alike would agree is comparable to McNamara’s book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. By giving us a rare glimpse into the mind of a major policymaker, the piece allows us to better understand how individuals and their personalities can greatly affect the different paths that U.S. foreign policy can take.