2000s The Fog of War – Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)

Published on July 17th, 2007 | by Chris

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The Fog of War – Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)


Reviewed by:
Rating:
3
On July 17, 2007
Last modified:October 8, 2012

Summary:

Interesting solely in the sense of a documentary, I'm giving this a seven. I can't really say that I enjoyed it, but really how much can you. It felt more like two hours sitting through your average Modern American History 101 lecture, really.

The Fog of War – Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)In 2000, former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara sat down for an hour-long interview with Errol Morris for the PBS series, "First Person."  Over eight hours of interview material later, this semi-autobiographical documentary was born.

McNamara is best known for being SecDef during the Kennedy years and the Cuban missile crisis, and later for his role during the first part of the Vietnam War.

Fog of War - Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara indeed runs through eleven "lessons" that he learned during his life, dealing with the nature of war and the nature of humanity.

He outlines his early years and his experiences with the end of World War I, on through his education and eventual involvement as a statistician for the Army Air Corps during World War II.  From there he talks about his career with Ford (the auto company), Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and there are a few tidbits about appearances he made after that period.

There were two aspects of this film that were most interesting to me.  Firstly, the role he and his office played during the final days of WWII, and how some of the tenets of statistics came to shape how the war was fought, and how ultimately that lead to the "efficiency" mindset that permeates nearly every aspect of military and business life today.

Secondly, regardless of your opinions on the current state of affairs in Iraq, the parallels that are shown (unintentionally, I might add, since this was filmed before 2003) to Vietnam are distinct and immutable.  There are several statements on McNamara's behalf, and of Johnson, Kennedy et al, that could have been echoed today by anyone in the current administration.  It's as if you could say, "That sounds familiar!"

And also, regardless of your opinion of McNamara (there are many many widely varying ones) he comes across many times as less sincere, at least thats how I percieved it.  At other times you can genuinely feel his sincerity.  I guess that's where a lot of his criticism comes from.  Really I can't say for sure, that's just an opinion.

Still, overall you're left with a picture of someone coming from the upper echelons of government society, aka your average politician, and that's probably unfortunate.  Mostly this stems from his penchant for passing blame for basically everything to do with Vietnam off onto the shoulders of Johnson.  Again, who really knows for sure.

Interesting solely in the sense of a documentary, I'm giving this a seven.  I can't really say that I enjoyed it, but really how much can you.  It felt more like two hours sitting through your average Modern American History 101 lecture, really.

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Description

The Fog of War, the movie that finally won Errol Morris the best documentary Oscar, is a spellbinder. Morris interviews Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and finds a uniquely unsettling viewpoint on much of 20th-century American history...

DVD Information

Binding: DVD
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audience Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
Brand: MCNAMARA,ROBERT
Manufacturer: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Original Release Date:
Actors:
  • Robert McNamara

Features

  • Condition: New
  • Format: DVD
  • Anamorphic; Closed-captioned; Color; Dolby; DVD; Subtitled; Widescreen; NTSC

Reviews

Customer reviews
Average Customer Review

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and Unexpected Confessional from an Iconic Establishment Figure, January 18, 2012
By 
CJA (Minneapolis, MN) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Fog of War (DVD)
This documentary is especially compelling for anyone who lived through the 1960s. McNamara, after all, was the quintessential establishment man and one who had supreme self confidence. The best modern-day comparable I can think of is Rumsfeld, though McNamara was a lot smarter and more subtle. Can you imagine Rumsfeld telling all and being confessional in any respect? The same holds true with McNamara -- which is why seeing him acknowledge mistakes and life lessons is so jarring. Morris' camera technique, which prompts McNamara to look right into the lens, is a stroke of genius. The pain in McNamara's eyes is what makes the movie entrancing, and makes one want to watch it again.

McNamara acknowledges the evil of the fire bombing of Tokyo in which he participated as Curtis LeMay's aide, but defends the measure as necessary for doing the ultimate good of ending the war. He deplores war, but is realistic enough to acknowledge its inevitability and gropes for rules to... Read more
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Try to Learn...and pass it on", May 24, 2011
By 
Connie (She who hikes with dogs) (Cochise County, Arizona) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: The Fog of War (DVD)
Even though this documentary doesn't reveal anything shocking or controversial about the man, it is still a decent look at the man who was blamed for the Vietnam War. But is this a just and fair assessment of the man who for seven years was the Secretary of Defense?

Robert S McNamara sat down in 2003 to talk about his life lessons during such a crucual time in American history. And even though viewers were hoping to hear regret come out of his mouth reference the Vietnam War, he made this documentary not so much as repentance, but as a warning to the new generation not to get too hopeful with the war in Iraq which by then had already started. He was 85 years old at the time this was made, and a staunch opponent to the Iraq War only because he knew early on in this war that this war would bog down the administration and become a very unpopular war.

The first 45 minutes are basically McNamara talking about his earlier life and his early time with JFK and the... Read more
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons to be learned!, October 8, 2015
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Because I fought in that war, it was interesting to see McNamara's perspective once he stepped back from it all. It was always obvious to us (the troops that were there), that the US didn't really want to win that war. Johnson didn't have a clue what he was doing. Another obvious fact we seem to continue to ignore is that we can't be getting involved in other countries civil wars. Especially religious wars. They can't be won. We have seen that in Iraq and Afganistan recently. All we do is get our tropps killed and maimed, and kill thousands of inocent civilians. The video was very well done, and I will continue to see it again. There are lessons to be learned from this, but the people in government that need to learn these lessons, don't pay attention.
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The Fog of War – Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003) Chris

Summary: Interesting solely in the sense of a documentary, I'm giving this a seven. I can't really say that I enjoyed it, but really how much can you. It felt more like two hours sitting through your average Modern American History 101 lecture, really.

3.5


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About the Author

I've been watching war movies for probably 25 years now. Since December 2006 I've been sharing my habit and passion for these movies here on this site.



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