McNamara Reveals Himself in New Documentary

Roundup: Talking About History

Writer and filmmaker Geoffrey Dunn, reviewing the Fog of War in Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper (Jan. 2004):

The Fog of War opens with a classic McNamarism. As the octogenarian is getting seated for another interview session, he checks in with Morris about sound levels, then declares:"Now I remember exactly the sentence I left off on, I remember how it started. You can fix it up some way. I don't want to go back and introduce the sentence, because I know exactly what I wanted to say."

It is the McNamara of old. Didactic, always in control, asserting his intelligence and the perfect command of memory. The changes are subtle. He is clearly in the autumn of his years, slightly frailer, grayed, his hair thinned, a touch vulnerable, certainly more reflective, but he is nonetheless vital, engaged, articulate and, perhaps now, even wise. At least wiser. What's more, he's charming, almost likable.

During the course of the film, McNamara, something of an American Zelig, recounts various episodes of his life dating back to the end of World War I up until the present, a period that covers the second world war, his years at the Ford Motor Company and the postwar revitalization of the auto industry, the Cuban Missile Crisis and, most centrally, the Vietnam War.

He breaks down when he recalls the assassination of President Kennedy. At another point, he acknowledges that he and General Curtis LeMay, under whom he served during the World War II firebombings of Tokyo, which left 100,000 Japanese civilians dead in a single night, could be viewed as"war criminals."

He breaks down again when he recalls the impacts of the Vietnam War on his family--his wife and three children were opposed to the war--and he goes so far as to acknowledge that the traumas associated with his tenure as secretary may have"ultimately" even killed his wife. It is a painful and poignant moment, but McNamara feels compelled, even when stricken with grief, to footnote that moment with the disclosure that they"were some of the best years of our life" and that"all members from my family benefited" from his days in Washington.

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