Robert McNamara accomplished many things in his long life, from revitalizing Ford Motor Co. with a new line of safe compact cars to decades of work to alleviate global poverty and reduce the risk of nuclear war. But he dies today as the “architect of the Vietnam War,” and it seemed the whole rest of his life was a good faith attempt to make up for that awful karma.

The Fog of War, excerpted here, is the 2004 documentary based on McNamara’s 1995 memoir, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. Both contain McNamara’s 11 lessons, a sort of Right Path in Retrospect from the mind of a chastised American industrialist turned warmonger turned peacemaker.

Robert McNamara on doubts and Vietnam [NPR]

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  1. we pretty much all wish he hadn’t done that war thing. too bad we some of us didn’t much learn much from it.

    r.i.p., best and brightest.

  2. I can’t wait for Rumsfeld’s movie: The Duh of War

    1. Dehumanize your enemy
    2. Rationality will not save us
    3. There’s nothing beyond one’s self
    4. Maximize efficiency
    5. Overkill should be a guideline in war
    6. Ignore the data
    7. Belief is NOT wrong
    8. Be prepared to powerpoint everything
    9. In order to do evil, you must engage in evil
    10. Never say no
    11. You can change human nature

  3. You see, Bush was right. Surround yourself with tons of half-witted ideologues, and you won’t have to worry about anyone have morals or qualms or rethinking anything. Hell, thinking alone was enough to get you fired, unless you were thinking about how Jesus wanted you to torture people.

  4. I really enjoyed this film. He may have lived part of his life as a dick, but he finished as a pussy–and I respect him for it.

  5. If his good works removed enough of the bloody stain to get him through the pearly gates, it sure will be awkward when he runs into Uncle Ho. On the other hand, if not, I’m sure Tricky Dick will be waiting to greet him with a brimstone cocktail.

  6. Really, at this point, shouldn’t the question be: How many people will Mark Sanford kill so he can continue having sex once a month with his wise Latina lover?

  7. [re=355623]Crow T. Robot[/re]: Is it kind of a backhanded compliment when “Crow T. Robot” says he “really enjoyed a film”? Just wondering. Signed, Tom Servo.

  8. That was about as close as he came to saying Vietnam was a huge fuckup. But of course he was circumspect about it throughout the whole of the movie, insofar as he never just came out and said it and that he was sorry for — you know — killing tens of thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese.
    Oh, and minor quibble — people knew and protested Agent Orange, and DOW, its creator, specifically, during the war, not just afterwards.
    He made a bunch of excuses for his actions, but in the end he died at 93 in his sleep. That was vastly too pleasant an ending for such a monster.

  9. I have friends from High School up on The Wall in D.C.

    Fuck Robert McNamara. Fuck John F. Kennedy. Fuck Lyndon B. Johnson. Fuck Richard M. Nixon.

    Fuck “The Best And The Brightest.”

    No politician should be allowed to vote for any war (or “police action” or “peacekeeping mission” or whatever) unless her or she has done time as an 11-Bravo or equivalent (e.g., combat medic).

    Fuckin’ McNamara.


  10. Robert McN was by no means alone in creating that particular clusterfuck. He was ably assisted by a diverse group that ranged from at least two Kennedys and a Johnson to Roger Hilsman. But McNamara gets almost all the blame. Strange thing.

  11. [re=355636]Neilist[/re]: Yeah. Fuck Dean Rusk and all of Camelot too. Just because they looked so classy doesn’t mean they weren’t part of the problem. The music and the drugs may have allowed some of us to forget it.

  12. You won’t see any pussy apologies from Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz in the end. They’re only regret is Iran had a chance to vote. I’d love to see these assholes reflect and write memoirs from their 6×6 cell in the Hague.

  13. [re=355649]TGY[/re]: W worked hard for hindsight in advance. He worked HARD, came in on week-ends an’ all. Too bad no-one told him his hindsight in advance was sticking his head up his ass.

  14. [re=355620]shortsshortsshorts[/re]: Nah, it just occurred to him at some point that he might have to duck hippies spitting at him for the duration of his life, so he needed to do something to mollify them all. Fortunately for him most hippies were more concerned with the rules of vegetarianism, how best to get skank, and which animal experiments were most off-putting to bother holding public figures accountable by worrying them as to whether or not they’d get spat upon. And after the hippies they made the Xbox, so McNamara at that point was pretty well in the clear concerning whether or not people gave a shit about him being a mass murderer.

  15. Why do Americans keep falling for the ‘boogey man’ story, over and over again.?

    wtf? do we need those jobs building the war machine so much? why cant we build something else, anything else, for a change that will provide the same jobs… without all the killin’ an such

  16. You would think that evil people would exude some sort of evil aura — or at least walked hunched over and ashamed.

    I have come in contact with a couple of truly evil, murderous and mean people in my life — and there is really nothing distinguishing about them.

  17. [re=355649]TGY[/re]: It’s not like we didn’t have ample warning about Vietnam. The French warned us in 1954 — after they got their asses kicked by Uncle Ho et. al. — that we should leave Vietnam alone. We refused, the big excuse being that communism was a monolithic system that imperilled the West, and the real reason (allegedly) that the country had a buttload of tin, rubber and other exploitable natural resources.

    Which sounds vaguely familiar now that I think of it. I’m going to have to re-evaluate my stance that the Iraq chickenhawks learned nothing from Vietnam. In fact, they learned that we weren’t badass enough in Vietnam. It’s just completely the wrong lesson is all.

    And since I’m on a roll, I highly recommend just about anything Bernard Fall ever wrote about Vietnam — look him up on Amazon. Hell in a Very Small Place is a brilliant and harrowing account of Dien Bien Phu, the cherry on top of the fuckup sundae that was the French occupation of Indochina. Street without Joy is an excellent series of short but related pieces about the French battles with the Vietnamese communists — the French get massacred on a consistent basis. And there’s one called Final Reflections on a War (or maybe final thoughts) that was put together after he was killed after stepping on a landmine in 1967 while on patrol with US Marines.

  18. [re=355757]SayItWithWookies[/re]: Allow me to add Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia by William Shawcross. And Nuremburg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy by Gen. Telford Taylor. Also.

  19. [re=355757]SayItWithWookies[/re]: and on the war book topic, I recommend two current ones: The Unforgiving Minute, by Matt Mullaney, about Afghanistan (and about his becoming a soldier) and Joker One, by Donovan Campbell, about Iraq (and his becoming a soldier). Two very, very good takes (both very well written) on the incredible heroism of your “average” soldier and the general stupidity of the current wars. Mullaney was an Obama advisor during the campaign.

    They have sites, of course:

  20. [re=355757]SayItWithWookies[/re]: Ah, yes, Bernard Fall. I remember the bit (in “Hell”?) about how, when the German members of the French Foreign Legion were captured, and the Viet Minh tried to get them to denounced France, they were all for it.

    “Ich Fucque De French!,” they exclaimed in their gutteral native tongue (or something).

    But then the Commies tried to get these Huns to denounce the Legion. There was a long pause, and then one began singing the old S.S. song, “Once I Had A Comrade.” Soon, all were singing, and the Commies threw them back in with the Frogs.

    They would denounce France, but not the Legion that had shielded them from War Crimes prosecution.


    I tear up just thinking about it . . . .

  21. [re=355630]gjdodger[/re]: Tom, you’ve changed your look. But seriously, when I say I enjoyed a film, I mean, I enjoyed it. I slathered it with mustard. If I had a penis, I’d have an erection. I sent out a twitter to all my friends & I passed out a few copies on the streets. I laminated the poster and stitched it to the back of my letterman jacket. I wrote a song about it, called “Old Robert McSad Pants.”

  22. [re=355990]Neilist[/re]: I don’t remember that story, so I don’t think it’s in Hell. But there is a compelling story in Street without Joy that I’ve thought needs to be turned into a screenplay. It’s about this Israeli soldier who was on trial for going AWOL. He tells his story at his trial — turns out he was a concentration camp survivor whose entire family was massacred by a particularly vicious guard at whatever camp they stayed at.

    He survived though, and emigrated to Israel, then served with the IDF. While doing so, he heard that the guard (he had some badass nickname, but I’ll use “The Barracuda” for now) had joined the French Foreign Legion. IDF guy hops on a boat and goes to France and joins up too. Finds out what unit The Barracuda was in, and after about a year gets assigned to it, and is shipped to Vietnam. They fight side-by-side for a long while until one day, during a firefight, IDF Guy and The Barracuda are isolated from the rest of their unit. IDF Guy calls out the guy’s nickname in Hungarian (I think it was Hungarian, but in his pre-Foreign Legion tongue) and The Barracuda looks at him in puzzlement. “You killed my family.” Pow. End of story.

    IDF Guy is reluctantly sentenced to a year or so in jail, and serves it gladly, of course. Not too sure if the story is true, but it sure is compelling.

  23. [re=355835]Barrett808[/re]: [re=355986]Doglessliberal[/re]: I’ll look into those, thanks for the recommendations.

    The reason I brought up the Bernard Fall books was because it was very clear that people knew Vietnam was a clustefuck well before we got deeply involved in it. To that end, A Bright Shining Lie, the biography of John Paul Vann, is also excellent. McNamara’s most close to sincere statements about Vietnam still manage to come across as “if we knew then what we know now” kinda regrets — and these show that enough evidence was readily available at the outset for the principals to make the right decisions — they just refused to.

    The folks who got us into Iraq are doing that sort of sales job now, and we shouldn’t forget that there was plenty of evidence beforehand that their allegations were baldfaced lies.

  24. [re=356024]SayItWithWookies[/re]: Best book about Vietnam, in my opinion, is Michael Herr’s “Dispatches.”

    He had a reporter’s/novelist’s eye, and the dialogue still rings true.

    The “M-79 Scene” in “Apocalypse Now” is a direct lift from Herr’s book. He also wrote Martin Sheen’s “voice over” dialogue that was used to try to stitch together the movie.

    “I was scaled, but I’m smooth now!”

    “Nail that slime to the paddy wall! Circle back and get the caribou!”

  25. [re=356184]Neilist[/re]: My senior thesis in college was on Vietnam, and I remember the Herr book *vividly*. It was so real that I woke up from reading it on several occasions ready to swear that I was surrounded by Marines, and that we were in the middle of a jungle encampment.

  26. [re=356207]blinky_twinkie[/re]: “Bright and Shining Lie,” “Fire on the Lake, and “Hell In A Very Small Place,” etc. are all worth reading, don’t get me wrong. But they are different books. “Dispatches,” out of all of the books on the war, comes the closest to being sui generis.

    In My Humble Opinion, anyway. Which is all I usually care about.

    “365 Days” probably would be my No. 2 pick in that genre. It was written by MASH doctor stationed in Japan, who handled burn patients. You could almost smell the wards. (Not a smell you forget in a hurry.)

    “Hey, you’re putting your foot in the American flag there!” (To a grunt kicking an empty body bag.)

  27. Wow. I got to this one late and the video was already taken down by Sony.

    Another case of saving the copyright and slowly killing the product — you go! Corporate lawyers!
    — less likely I’ll buy or rent the product for not seeing the 4 plus minutes out of what? An hour and a half flick. The same thing has happened to YouTube over the last year or so and what ends up representing the product are bad covers by bad musicians that don’t sell anything. You got grounds here under critique, review, news, all kinds of fair use, but the game isn’t worth the candle. They’ve got full time lawyers needing things to do…

    Nellist: Dispatches is one of the best books I’ve ever read, my take on Apocalypse Now and Then is it’s Dispatches slathered over a base of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

    McNamara was a sad and haunted dude. It should have been a lesson; Rumsfeld proves it wasn’t, just as Cheney proved Nixon right.

  28. [re=355636]Neilist[/re]: “Fuck Robert McNamara. Fuck John F. Kennedy. Fuck Lyndon B. Johnson. Fuck Richard M. Nixon.”

    Well, Neilist, it deserved to be repeated. Fuck them all ^3. And in particular, may our Holy God fuck over the soul of Robert McNamara, the mass murderer of many I knew, and millions more I never knew. Amen.

    McNamara invented the body-count per news cycle, Harvard MBA style way of waging and supporting perma-war. His crimes live on! His life was evil, and his untimely* death is celebrated around the world.

    *untimely means that he lived 93 years too long. His body should have been still-born with his soul.

    RIP — rest in PEACE, asshole.

  29. Since celebrities die in threes, I now regard the death of Farrah Fawcett from anal cancer to be a harbinger that God would kill three assholes — McNamara, Michael Jackson, and Ed McMahon. Ed doesn’t really sink to the level of the others, so perhaps a third will come soon. I hear that Dick Cheney is in poor health.

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