In the opening scenes of the documentary, The Fog of War, Robert McNamara states, “Any military commander who is honest admits that he has made mistakes, errors of judgment. ” Throughout the documentary, I got the sense that McNamara is asking for forgiveness from the American public and is telling them that he wishes things went differently. There are many times throughout the film that McNamara is a sympathetic figure, but they are mainly towards the deaths and tragedies of the American people and soldiers, and less on the tragedies of the Vietnamese.
As the Secretary of Defense, serving underneath the rule of the President, McNamara was not and should not have been critical of the role that he played; he was carrying out the orders in which he was given at the most efficient manner he could. The majority of the lessons of war that McNamara speaks of were not applied in Vietnam and, in hindsight, were key mistakes made by the United States in handling the situation in Vietnam.
In the end, it was clear that McNamara wanted the viewers to understand the difficulties and hardships faced during a wartime environment and that no war could be fought without massive tragedies. “I think the human race needs to think more about killing, about conflict. Is that what we want in this 21st Century? ” McNamara says this line early on in the documentary, which sets him up for being a sympathetic and remorseful figure of the Vietnam War. His feelings on war seem to be that the bad outweighs the good, and it is near impossible to take a blind eye to the losses.
He doesn’t want war to be the determinant of the future of nations; he wants the human race to think more of the repercussions of committing such violent acts before making them. One event he speaks of with sympathy is the Tokyo bombings in WWII, when he admits the droppings were not proportional to the objectives they were trying to achieve. They had already achieved total destruction of the population, killing over half, and then they decided to drop bombs over the cities, completely disregarding the aftermath of such an act.
McNamara sympathizes with the Japanese who had to xperience this disaster and he knows that it was not in the best interest for anyone to take such extreme measures. Another sign of sympathy from McNamara was when he spoke of the tragic suicide of Norman Morrison, which occurred directly below McNamara’s office outside the Pentagon. This act was a very difficult experience for McNamara and the American public to swallow. McNamara’s emotions while telling the story showed his deep sorrow for Morrison’s family and all his supporters, knowing well that McNamara himself was the reason for the civil unrest.
McNamara wishes that war did not have to be so grueling but he also knows that “in order to do good, you may have to engage in evil. ” The documentary is structured around the eleven lessons learned throughout WWII and the Vietnam War. Although they were obvious to McNamara after the fact, the lessons were not so clear in the midst of fog. Failing to apply the majority of the lessons learned set the United States up for a total disaster and one that would haunt the American people for years. One particular lesson that was not applied was: Empathize with your enemy.
Vietnamese and American cultures and motives could not be more different; and at the time could not have been more misunderstood, by both sides. In the Vietnamese eyes’, the Americans were trying to pick up where the French left off by colonizing the country and spreading their influences and beliefs on the Vietnamese people. In the Americans eyes’, the Vietnamese, particularly the North, were allying with the Chinese and were planning on spreading the beliefs of Communisms across the world.
Both countries had poor vision and ill-informed judgment. Had the United States empathized and understood who the Vietnamese people were, the goals they were trying to achieve and the extreme measures they were willing to take for their independence, then they would (or should) have realized this war was unnecessary and out of their reach. Another lesson learned that was not applied the seventh lesson: Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
This chapter started off with the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, in which the U. S. Navy had thought the North Vietnamese attacked them for a second time. This lesson to be learned that McNamara speaks of with this matter is that, “We see what we want to believe. ” The United States, or LBJ, wanted to believe that the Vietnamese attacked the Navy ships because then the decision was easy, bomb the North. However, if there was uncertainty of the attacks, then what is it that the United States should do?
Uncertainty brings unwanted problems into play, and LBJ wanted a clear and definite plan to attack, to show the American people that the United States was not going to sit back and let the enemy attack them without any repercussions. If the lesson was applied, then the United States would have searched into the attack even more and would have found out that there was no attack at all, just an error in sonar.
One lesson McNamara applied to his handling of the Vietnam War was, “Never answer the question that is asked of you, answer the question that you want to be asked. He applied this by being a typical politician; he didn’t want to give up too much information to the public, which in turn would cause much controversy and distrust. I choose to apply this lesson to the last question, “If McNamara is a good representation of the men who took us to war, what kinds of generalizations could you make about that group…” The more appropriate question in my mind is if McNamara is or is not a good representation of the men who took the U. S to war.
My answer is no. Lyndon B. Johnson and General Westmoreland stick out as the key players in the increased aggression and involvement of the war; whereas McNamara was more of a voice that went unheard by the President, a voice of reason, which carried the influences of John F. Kennedy. The group that brought us to war consisted of those who had no regard to understand the Vietnamese people and those who truly believed that winning the war was right around the corner. McNamara, like JFK, had no interest in increasing troops, and even sent LBJ a letter with recommendations of how to pull out and end the war.
LBJ dismissed these recommendations, similarly to how Westmoreland dismissed the idea of America losing its first war. The key generalizations of the men who brought us to war are that they believed the U. S. was invincible and indestructible, that Vietnam was a key player in the Cold War and if they fell to Communism, the rest of the world would as well. McNamara did not have these beliefs; he carried out his job the way he was told to by the President.
He knew that the war was not going in the United States favor nd that if it continued it would have only become worse, which it did. Although it took McNamara time to tell his story of the Vietnam War, he told his lessons with urgency. He wanted these lessons to be carried on through the struggles and hardships that American, and the world, was deemed to face in the future. He admits you can’t win a war to end all wars, but he knows that there are certain aspects and lessons to take from each situation that can alter the way humanity perceives killing, and the atrocities of war.
Courtney from Study Moose
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