Errol Morris‘s documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003), is a fancy and portentous flop (ugh—all those arty closeups and jump cuts!), and those “eleven lessons” in the title are simply pedestrian, banal. McNamara, LBJ’s defense secretary, claims to have learned them from his World War II days, Vietnam days, etc. The first one is Empathize with your enemy—a therapeutic, flower-child phrase. Does it mean the Kurds—and the French—should empathize with ISIS? Does it mean ISIS should empathize with . . . Westerners? Fat chance of that happening!
Another lesson is Belief and seeing are both often wrong. How elementary can you get! And how clumsy that phrase is! Then there’s Get the data and Rationality will not save us. Er, okay, but rationality certainly has a way of helping a lot; and, anyway, what’s the alternative?
As for the Vietnam conflict, it was a Vietnamese civil war within the context of the Cold War. So McNamara apparently thinks. I dislike our military involvement in that conflict almost as much as McNamara, but this is an inaccurate description of it. Worse, particularly since it involves a former defense secretary, that Cold War context is more important than he seems to realize.