Saturday, May 13, 2006

Robert Strange McNamara

Robert Strange McNamara (born June 9, 1916) is an American business executive and a former United States Secretary of Defense. McNamara served as Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968. He resigned that position to become President of the World Bank (19681981).

Robert McNamara in 1964
Robert McNamara in 1964
The Fog of War

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
Directed byErrol Morris
Produced byErrol Morris
StarringRobert McNamara
Distributed bySony Pictures
ReleasedDecember 19, 2003 (USA)
Running time95 min.
IMDb profile

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, is a documentary film directed by Errol Morris and released in December 2003. The film includes an original score by Philip Glass and won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The term "fog of war", made popular by Carl von Clausewitz in his book On War in 1832, refers to the cloud of uncertainty that descends over a battlefield once fighting begins.


The film depicts the life of Robert Strange McNamara, United States Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, through the use of archival footage, White House recordings, and most prominently, an interview of McNamara at the age of 85. The subject matter spans from McNamara's work as one of the "Whiz Kids" during World War II and at Ford to his involvement in the Vietnam War as the Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

In a 2004 appearance at UC Berkeley, Morris said that he was inspired to create the movie after reading McNamara's 2001 book (with James G. Blight), Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century. The entire webcast can be found at UC Berkeley News.

The concept of formulating the film into "11 lessons" comes from McNamara's 1996 book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. Morris creates the film's 11 lessons from various statements that McNamara uses throughout the interview (Morris interviewed McNamara for over 20 hours). The lessons lend structure to The Fog of War, but they are not explicitly McNamara's (at the aforementioned UC Berkeley event, McNamara contended that he did not agree with Morris's interpretations in all respects). After the completion of the film, McNamara responded to Morris by complementing the film's eleven lessons with ten more lessons of his own, which are included on the film's DVD.

When, at the Berkeley event, McNamara was pushed to apply his original lessons (from his 1996 book) to the US invasion of Iraq, he refused, arguing that former Secretaries of Defense should not comment on the policy of the current Secretary of Defense. McNamara suggested that other people were welcome to apply his lessons to Iraq if they wanted to, but that he would not explicitly do it, and noted that his lessons were more general than any particular military conflict (he had indeed written them some time before the Iraq war).

The film's eleven lessons

  1. Empathize with your enemy.
  2. Rationality will not save us.
  3. There's something beyond one's self.
  4. Maximize efficiency.
  5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
  6. Get the data.
  7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
  8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
  9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
  10. Never say never.
  11. You can't change human nature.

McNamara's additional ten lessons

These were written as a companion to the film and were included in the Special Features of the DVD.

  1. The human race will not eliminate war in this century but we can reduce war, the level of killing, by adhering to the principles of a just war, in particular of proportionality.
  2. The indefinite combinations of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations.
  3. We are the most powerful nation in the world - economically, politically, and militarily - and we are likely to remain so for decades ahead. But we are not omniscient. If we cannot persuade other nations with similar interests and similar values of the merits of the proposed use of that power, we should not proceed unilaterally except in the unlikely requirement to defend the continental US, Alaska and Hawaii.
  4. Moral principles are often ambiguous guides to foreign policy and defense policy, but surely we can agree that we should establish as a major goal of U.S. foreign policy and, indeed, of foreign policy across the globe : the avoidance in this century of the carnage--160 million dead--caused by conflict in the 20th century.
  5. We, the richest nation in the world, have failed in our responsibility to our own poor and to the disadvantaged across the world to help them advance their welfare in the most fundamental terms of nutrition, literacy, health, and employment.
  6. Corporate executives must recognize there is no contradiction between a soft heart and a hard head. Of course, they have responsibilities to their employees, their customers and to society as a whole.
  7. President Kennedy believed a primary responsibility of a president--indeed "the" primary responsibility of a president--is to keep the nation out of war, if at all possible.
  8. War is a blunt instrument by which to settle disputes between or within nations, and economic sanctions are rarely effective. Therefore, we should build a system of jurisprudence based on the International Court--that the U.S. has refused to support--which would hold individuals responsible for crimes against humanity.
  9. If we are to deal effectively with terrorists across the globe, we must develop a sense of empathy--I don't mean "sympathy" but rather "understanding" to counter their attacks on us and the Western World.
  10. One of the greatest dangers we face today is the risk of mass destruction as a result of the breakdown of the Non-Proliferation Regime. We--the U.S. are contributing to that breakdown.

11 Lessons from Vietnam

The origin of the film's lesson concept, these eleven came from McNamara's book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam:

  1. We misjudged then — and we have since — the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries … and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions.
  2. We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own experience … We totally misjudged the political forces within the country.
  3. We underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate a people to fight and die for their beliefs and values.
  4. Our judgments of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders.
  5. We failed then — and have since — to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology military equipment, forces and doctrine…
  6. We failed as well to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture.
  7. We failed to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion and debate of the pros and cons of a large-scale military involvement … before we initiated the action.
  8. After the action got under way and unanticipated events forced us off our planned course … we did not fully explain what was happening and why we were doing what we did.
  9. We did not recognize that neither our people nor our leaders are omniscient. Our judgment of what is in another people's or country's best interest should be put to the test of open discussion in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our image or as we choose.
  10. We did not hold to the principle that U.S. military action … should be carried out only in conjunction with multinational forces supported fully (and not merely cosmetically) by the international community.
  11. We failed to recognize that in international affairs, as in other aspects of life, there may be problems for which there are no immediate solutions … At times, we may have to live with an imperfect, untidy world.

Underlying many of these errors lay our failure to organize the top echelons of the executive branch to deal effectively with the extraordinarily complex range of political and military issues.


Source: Globe and Mail, Jan. 24, 2004

See also

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

Sanford S. Elberg Lectures / Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Robert S. McNamara

See the 1996 interview with McNamara in text and video (RealPlayer) format.

Born in San Francisco on June 9, 1916, Mr. McNamara graduated from the University of California in 1937. In 1939 he received an MBA degree from Harvard, and in 1940 he returned to Harvard to become an instructor and later Assistant Professor of Business Administration. In 1943 he was commissioned a captain in the air force and served in the UK, India, China, and the Pacific. He was awarded the Legion of Merit and promoted to lieutenant colonel before going on inactive duty in April 1946.

Upon his discharge from the air force, McNamara joined the Ford Motor Company. He was elected as a director of the company in 1957, and president of the company in 1960. At the request of President-elect John F. Kennedy, McNamara agreed to serve as Secretary of Defense of the United States, a position he held from 1961 until 1968. He became president of the World Bank Group of Institutions in April of 1968, retiring in 1981.

Since his retirement, McNamara has served on a number of boards of directors for both corporations and non-profit associations. He writes and speaks on many topics including population and development, world hunger, the environment, East-West relations, nuclear arms, and his vision of our nation in the 21st century.

McNamara is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad, and has received many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (with Distinction), the Albert Einstein Peace Price, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom from Want Medal, and the Dag Hammarskjold Honorary Medal. He is author of The Essence of Security; One Hundred Countries, Two Billion Poeple; Out of the Cold; and In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.

Continuing the discussions at lunch during the conference proceedings are: (L to R) ex-KGB officer Nikolai S. Leonov, National Security Archive staff member Svetlana Savranskaya, former U.S. Ambassador Raymond L. Garthoff, one-time Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy M. Kornienko, and former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara.


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