The Fog of War

In 2003, a documentary titled The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara was introduced.  Here’s a link to a 2 minute trailer on it.

The reason this movie comes to the forefront of my mind these days has to do with the banter going back and forth between the U.S. and North Korea and Iran.

In the movie itself, McNamara was interviewed where he talked about the discussions of the Kennedy administration cabinet, strategizing around the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The most revealing aspect of the interview was the fact that much of the strategy conversations had to do with ‘guessing’ at what Russia and Cuba were thinking.  What their motives were.  They didn’t know for sure so they had to guess.

McNamara’s point was, had they guessed wrong, they could have a nuclear event on their hands that was a result of a big misunderstanding.  It was entirely possible for this to happen.  He strongly emphasized the need for diplomacy so that any events centered around war were fully understood and not the result of second guessing wrong.

This is perhaps the scariest aspect of the Trump Administration for me.  The probability that he will initiate military action based on his impulses without a full understanding seems extraordinarily high.  This is why level-headedness matters in the oval office.

It looks to me like the movie is available from Netflix but on DVD only.  There may well be other streaming sources.  If you get a chance to see it, I found it very enlightening.

Below is a summary of the 11 lessons from McNamara.

  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 people to fight and die for their beliefs and values.
  4. Our misjudgments 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. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
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