A film by Errol Morris

The Fog of War won the Academy Award for Best Documentary (2003). The subject: Robert McNamara. McNamara, if you are not aware of who he is, was the Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. This puts him at the forefront of the Vietnam War as it was under his watch that we became involved in Vietnam. McNamara is a highly intelligent and articulate man who has a lot to say and his story is a necessary one to be told. At the time of this film he was 85 years old and has lost none of his passion or mental acuity (from what I could tell).

The big questions of this movie obviously revolve around Vietnam, the how and the why. But before we can get to Vietnam, we need to know how McNamara came to be in the position that he was in (Secretary of Defense) and what sort of man he was. McNamara speaks of his experiences in World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, becoming the President of the Ford Company (the first man not a descendent of Henry Ford to do so), and his time in the Kennedy administration. McNamara gives a lot of information that we have not seen before, not in these words and with this slant. He is a very logical man and his logic makes sense, but is also baffling at the same time. McNamara believes strongly in proportionality (that a military response be proportional to the initial attack), but many things in both WWII and Vietnam were not proportional, and McNamara knows it and is at a loss to explain that.

What was most stunning about The Fog of War was not McNamara on Vietnam, which while it is obvious that he has major doubts and reservations about whether or not we were doing the right thing; but rather it was McNamara on the bombing of Japan and just how much damage we really did to Japan. There were comparisons to the percentage of Japanese cities destroyed to what that would mean in terms of American cities and the numbers were staggering.

At every moment, this film was fascinating and compelling and powerful. I did not want to look away or miss anything even while I was being stunned by some of the things I was hearing and learning. I expected The Fog of War to vilify McNamara in some way, but we saw a more human Robert McNamara than is usually portrayed. The man was not always right, but it was obvious that he was working to the best of his abilities to serve two presidents. If you only watch one documentary this year this is the one to watch. It is that good.