Deja Viewing

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"If
you went to the CIA today and said u2018How is the situation today…?'
I think they would say its worse. You see it in the desertion
rate, you see it in the morale…you see it in the difficulty to
recruit people…you see it in the gradual loss of population control.
Many of us in private would say that things are not good, they've
gotten worse. Now while we say this in private and not in public…there
are facts available that find their way into the press."

This
summation of the war was delivered by the Secretary of Defense to
the President from Texas. It did not involve Donald Rumsfeld or
George Bush. The conversation took place on June 9, 1964 between
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Like
so many other aspects of The
Fog of War
, this passage is chilling in its familiarity.
A video autobiography of the life of Robert McNamara, The Fog
of War derives its name from a segment in which McNamara uses
the expression to explain the disorienting effect of war on rational
thought, as a way of explaining a certain type of madness that overcomes
human rationality.

The
film is a compelling view of the life span of Robert McNamara. It
examines his childhood, his family, his years at universities as
both student and professor, his U.S. Army Air Corp service in WW
II, his meteoric rise to the Presidency of the Ford Motor Company
and his fateful selection by President John F. Kennedy to serve
as Secretary of Defense.

The
film begins with the Cuban Missile Crisis and McNamara's revelation
that in the end "We lucked out!" He expresses a
firm conviction against nuclear proliferation and the policy of
permitting any one man to launch a nuclear holocaust. He concludes
with this admonition: Empathize with your enemy. "We must
try to put ourselves inside their skin, and look at us through their
eyes just to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions
and their actions."

Most
of the time is spent focusing upon the Vietnam War and McNamara's
role in it. The parallels between that experience and our present
debacle in Iraq are inescapable to even the most skeptical viewer.

Throughout
the film, one is struck by the dichotomy of McNamara's reactions
to death. At times he a statistician discussing numbers killed as
if dealing with a high school math problem. At other times he appears
shaken and repentant. He discusses methodically his role in the
deliberate firebombing of Japanese cities which burned to death
tens of thousands of Japanese civilians in WW II. Candidly, he admits
that if the United States had lost the war he and others would have
been tried as war criminals and concedes that they were. Yet, he
is visibly shaken in recalling the death of President Kennedy, and
makes the bizarre description of Arlington National Cemetery as
"hauntingly beautiful." He describes how, as President
of Ford Motor Company, he was determined to reduce motor vehicle
deaths and injuries, yet he relays Vietnam era casualties and the
incineration suicide of Quaker protester Norman Morrison outside
of McNamara's Pentagon office without any apparent impact.

Despite
viewer expectation, McNamara refuses to open up completely about
his Vietnam era knowledge, stating that he will be damned if he
does, but prefers to be damned if he doesn't. He is reflective of
the need to stop war, but defends his own contributions to it as
Cold War necessities.

The
film is shot in a unique and riveting style which features taped
telephone conversations between both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson
and McNamara, historic publications and news footage. McNamara is
the only subject interviewed, but becomes the hub of a wheel of
historical figures featured.

McNamara
makes the following argument regarding the projection of American
power abroad:

"What
makes us omniscient? Have we a record of omniscience? We are the
strongest nation in the world today. I don't think we should ever
apply that economic, political or military power unilaterally.
If we had followed that rule in Vietnam we wouldn't have been
there. None of our allies supported us…. If we can't persuade
nations of comparable values of the merits of our cause we'd better
re-examine our thinking."

Something
else which strikes the viewer is the unmistakable resemblance between
the young McNamara and the current Secretary of Defense, Donald
Rumsfeld. The slicked back hair, the button down collar shirts and
thin ties, the rimless spectacles, the deliberate public disinformation
and the air of disdain for those deemed less intelligent. Then there
is this piece of advice from McNamara which Rumsfeld has so efficiently
absorbed: "Never answer the question that is asked of you.
Answer the question you wish had been asked of you."

With
the Iraq war raging, Under Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz
left his post to assume the Presidency of The World Bank. With the
Vietnam conflict at its peak in 1968, Secretary of Defense, Robert
McNamara retired to become the President of the World Bank.

CAUTION:
This film contains scenes which may cause the viewer to experience
dj vu.

July
18,
2005

John
M. Peters [send him mail]
is a practicing attorney in Michigan.

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