Movie Review: Fog of War: Robert McNamara’s Journey

January 6, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
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“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Bhagavad Gita

Robert Oppenheimer’s Thoughts On Seeing The First Atomic Test. The Picture On The Left is of A Hydrogen Bomb.

Fog of War: A documentary film directed by Errol Morris. Rating A+
This is a brilliant movie about Robert McNamara’s views on war and peace in the nuclear age based on his experience as Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and his service as a staff officer to General Curtis LeMay during WWII. General LeMay’s command was responsible of the fire bombing of Japanese cities (bombing that in the aggregate did more damage and took more lives than the nuclear events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki). One wonders why if fire bombing was so destructive was it necessary to use nuclear bombs. One of many questions raised by this perceptive film although McNamara says Truman was correct in using nuclear weapons.

This film is based on Mr. McNamara’s book, In Retrospect, The Tragedy and Lessons on Viet Nam, Mr. Morris’ interviews with McNamara and archival film footage of the events discussed.

The premise of this film is that given human fallibility and the power of nuclear weapons to destroy entire nations in a few minutes we must be better prepared to solve international problems through diplomatic means or mediation by third parties i.e. the United Nations. Further if there is to be a war it has to be done with multilateral consent and not just one nation squaring off against another.

The film is an interview with Robert McNamara juxtaposed with archival footage of the events in his life that led him to his conclusions. Conclusions that include his belief that the Vietnam War was a mistake and that in the case of Japan, General Curtis LeMay’s comment that they would all be prosecuted as war criminals, if we lost the war, because of the fire bombing was probably correct. This is balanced by the fact, he points out, that sometimes you must do evil to accomplish good i.e. countless American lives were saved by the fire and nuclear bombing of Japan. I can’t help being reminded of the sayings, the end never justifies the means and he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword which was certainly part of the Bushido code.

McNamara states when we entered the Vietnam War we knew we could not win because we wanted to avoid a larger war with China and possibly Russia. Mr. McNamara knew this in 1962 or 1963 because intelligence reports including CIA evaluations revealed that bombing in itself could not stop North Vietnam from supplying the South with men and supplies and since the supplies of war was generated outside North Vietnam we were powerless to destroy the means of production also. Our leaders knew for every troop commitment by the U.S. the North Vietnamese could match it with an increase of their own troop strength. Further it became obvious that the will to fight in the South basically centered in the Army and not the people. After Diem and his bother were assassinated with U.S. complicity, there was no viable political base to build on. We lost the hearts and minds of the people to the Viet Cong very early.

Mr. McNamara points out that the only way out of Vietnam was unilateral withdrawal because the North knew it was winning and there was nothing to negotiate. Bombing did not seriously interdict their ability to wage the war or recruit men to fight.

So how did we go there in the first place? Mr. McNamara believes it was caused by the lack of experienced U.S. Southeast Asia experts. The fall of China and the subsequent McCarthy witch hunts had effectively purged our government of knowledgeable experts on the area. He makes the point that to the Vietnamese the war was a fight against colonialist aggressors and a civil war. Vietnam had been in a battle to free itself from Chinese domination and later French domination for a thousand years. The Americans were seen as a new colonialist aggressor while we saw ourselves in a battle to stop communist expansion. Since WWII Containment was our policy against Russian Imperialism and the domino effect was our rallying cry justifying our involvement in Vietnam. Lack of experience on our part caught us seeing this war as another Korea and another advance of communist hegemony over the world instead of a small country trying to assert its independence from China, then France, then us.

Well with the benefit of hindsight we now see that Vietnam was not the threat to the free world as first perceived. It now appears to be the independent country it always wanted to be albeit communist in government probably because that was the only source of help Ho Chi Mien could turn to in the fight against French colonialism. At that time you had to line up on one side or the other to survive and prevail. Unfortunately for the U.S. our allies in the Cold War were also the major colonialists of the world. France unlike Britain was unwilling to leave some of its former colonies peacefully and America saw the Vietnam war as one of communist expansion rather than a war to rid itself of the last vestiges of colonialism and the French trained elite among its own people.

In the end the lives of 58000 Americans and three million Vietnamese (The equivalent of twenty seven million Americans. McNamara loves numbers and their relationships.) were lost on misperceptions given as advice to our Presidents and political leaders. Advice McNamara disagreed with and which ultimately caused his dismissal by President Johnson. . This is documented by statements on tape and internal government documents since released. The hawks appear to be senators, congressmen, cabinet members and outside experts buttressed by the Joint Chiefs who were always for escalation and a military solution which would have been impossible with out a probable third world war with nuclear consequences for every living soul on earth.

To his credit he says LeMay was a brilliant commander and military leader who was indispensable in war. However McNamara says LeMay believed we were going to fight the Russians eventually so why not when we had nuclear superiority in warheads and missiles. This is why military men should be advisors and not policy makers. McNamara points out in October 1963 the military had advised the invasion of Cuba when unbeknownst to us the Russians had ninety tactical nuclear weapons and about sixty strategic nuclear weapons in Cuba. If Kennedy and Kruschev were unable to negotiate a peaceful withdrawal there would have been a nuclear exchange with the probable end of human civilization as we know it. The same situation would have occurred in Vietnam if we had followed military advice and escalated the war by using tactical nuclear devices. China would have felt threatened and retaliated. Chou En Lai once said that if we had not advanced to the Yalu River in the Korean War and sent scouting missions and flights beyond, China would have not entered the war.

McNamara makes the point in this film with Errol Morris’ formidable help that in this nuclear age we cannot go to war over a misunderstanding of another nations actions. A nuclear exchange offers no
room for correction or change of policy or goals once its done its all over.

History is plastic as it unfolds and in the heat of the moment one decision can lead to unintended results and history is always plastic in the subsequent interpretation and evaluation of events and so it is with McNamara, Morris and their film and views. One thing McNamara has right is that we cannot have a nuclear exchange by large powers or even lesser powers, ever, or else we will see Armageddon in our times.

My only sadness about this film is the limited release this picture was given. I believe five theatres nation wide are showing it. It ought to be shown to every high school student in America and all other countries as well as an example of the terms of life in the nuclear age. As McNamara points out we are not going to change human nature but communication and understanding can be improved.

If McNamara and his counterparts were sane men doing rational acts under misperceptions what about other men such as Saddam Hussein? Was/is he sane. If he was was he duped into misperceiving the consequences of his acts by fawning staff members who were fearful of disagreeing with him? Kim Il Jung. Is he sane or rational? What are his misperceptions about being a nuclear power. Would an advisor ever disagree with him in public or private? McNamara credits Tommy Thompson a former ambassador to Russia who had spent time with Kruschev and his family with saying to Kennedy during the Cuban crisis that he ought not react to the hard line second message from Russia and respond to the earlier more conciliatory message that appeared to come directly from Kruschev. Although Kennedy initially had thought he had no alternative but to respond to the later hard line message. In following Thomson’s advice Kennedy was able to work out a plan of disengagement whereby Kruschev was able to say he had prevented an invasion of Cuba and of course Kennedy secured the removal of the intermediate range missiles and their nuclear warheads which threatened ninety million U.S. citizens with extinction. Years later Castro told McNamara that at the time he urged the Russians to use nuclear weapons even though it meant complete annihilation of Cuba as a country. Is he a rationale man? Should he be in charge of country?

Bush must have thought the same about Saddam Hussein who tried to assasinate the elder Bush when he visited Kuwait after the Gulf War. Such an act, if successful, would have meant immediate war with the U.S. and Husseins probable removal ten years earlier. Is Bush’s policy of preemptive strikes a sound and a rational action? It may be with rational or irrational dictators acquiring weapons of mass destruction and little compunction against using them. This film raises all these and other questions about national policy in the nuclear age



August 12, 2014 by · 2 Comments
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Hillary Sworn In As Secretary of StateHILLARY CLINTON SWORN IN AS THE 67th U.S. SECRETARY of STATE

President Obama took office on January 20 2009, and that was when Hillary took office.   Before that she had to assemble a team that could work with the Chief Of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and the White House National Security team. She met with the White House Security Team in Chicago on December 15, 2014.  Vice President Joe Biden had been in the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for years and the President’s National Security Advisor was General James Jones, a former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe . Susan Rice was to be U.N Ambassador. All these people she knew well. (Susan Rice had wanted the National Security Advisor post that went to General Jones . When Hillary resigned her post after four years Rice had her name removed as a candidate for Secretary of State because of her statements on the Benghazi, Libya tragedy.)

Robert Gates remained as Secretary of Defense. He has an old Washington hand and she knew him well. Traditionally State and Defense were often at logger head on many issues. However she and Gates saw eye to eye on major issues. One was that diplomacy (soft power) was to be used to the maximum extent before military power (hard Power). Also Gates believed that State had been under funded compared to  Defense  and that there should be a better balance in funding between State and Defense. The   State budget is approximately 1% of the total national budget, while military spending is approximately 18%.

The Obama administration was determined to use soft power and multilateralism to its maximum advantage. Hillary calls the use of soft power and hard power smart power. This can be seen in Iran where diplomacy supported by economic power coupled with the threat of military power has been the brought to bear on the nuclear issues.

Hillary recruited Cheryl Mills to be her Counselor in Chief.   Capricia Marshall was asked to be Chief of Protocol , this last appointment  met with some resistance from the White House staff  but Hillary got her way .

As  for Afghanistan and Pakistan She recruited Richard Holbrooke, in her opinion the première diplomat of our generation appointed as Special Representative For Afghanistan and Pakistan

George Mitchell was appointed Special Representative for the Middle-East. He had worked with her husband to bring peace to Northern Ireland. President Obama approved and came to State for both men’s swearing in ceremony.

At President Obama’s request Jim Steinberg was appointed her Deputy Secretary for Policy.  Jack Lew was appointed as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, a position that had been previously unfilled in prior administrations.

She met with Condoleezza Rice on two cordial occasions as well as receiving a letter from her  wishing her well as Secretary. She also talked with formers Secretaries, Albright, Christopher, Kissinger, Baker, Powell and Shultz.

After spending weeks preparing for her Senate confirmation hearing on January 3, 2009 she was confirmed by a vote of 94-2.

She took office with the policy of using smart power to its fullest extent possible. This of course was the mantra of the Obama Administration and did not originate with her office although she may have had some input in the formulation of the policy. (This doesn’t sound like a “Team of Rivals  but  people pretty much all on the same page concerning the implementation of American soft and hard power now known as smart power, to be asserted in coordination with our Allies. Obama and his advisors seem to have kept a tight reign on foreign policy.)

According to David Packer, in the New Yorker, Hillary was an excellent Secretary visiting 112 countries giving speeches and holding town halls with questions and answers explaining American values and policies.  However there no major Foreign Policy events like the doctrine of containment, the Marshall Plan or Nixon’s rapprochement with China during her tenure, the pivot to Asia seems to have never happened except in some minor gestures.

Packer says that that Obama denied Clinton the opportunity to be a great Secretary of State “… she and her department were never trusted with the policy blueprints. From Iran and Israel to proliferation and human rights the President has kept policymaking inside the White House, tightly held by a small circle of trusted advisors.”

So Hillary was a ceremonial Secretary of State implementing policy made by the White House and occasionally her voice was heard on policy decisions like the surge in Afghanistan. Obama may have seen her as a rival but as a result she had a small voice in the formulation of policy and apparently she was not on the White House team that made the policy she was obliged to follow.

Obama sought her support in the campaign and he needed prominent woman in his camp and after winning the election she was rewarded with the Secretary Of State position but he did not give her free reign and she was not a significant voice in the formulation of policy.

If there was a Team of Rivals as she says she was mainly out of the loop on policy issues according to David Packer. Thus Hillary in this chapter may telling us indirectly that she was marginalized by Obama  and his staff  to being an ordinary Secretary of State when a person of her intellect, energy and talent could have been a great  Secretary of State.













One has to wonder the impact of the video of the Apache Attack Helicopter attack and the death of the   and the death of the men in a Bagdad street had on 22 year old Bradley Manning when he first saw the  gunship attack on unknown men dressed in mufti on a street via copies of the gunships video cameras which were in a classified file he had accessed.

The attack allegedly occurred when the crew of the helicopter was called in by ground troops because there was insurgent unrest in the area and troops had been fired on.  The crew thought the men were armed. It turned out it was Reuter’s newsmen with cameras with large lenses. Apparently another two of the eight or nine in the group allegedly were armed with an AK-47 and maybe an RPG launcher but they were not firing or holding the weapons in any confrontational manner.

The men were fired on and wounded or killed. A passerby in a van who stopped in a humanitarian attempt to help the wounded and dying was also attacked. There were two children ages 6 and 9 in this vehicle who were also injured. The attack helicopter circled around after the initial attack killing anyone who was wounded but appeared to be alive.  Usually the Geneva Conventions does not condone the killing of unarmed wounded men.

Bradley who was 5’2, 105 lbs and homosexual with gender identity problems was accepted into the Army’s 101st Mountain Division in 208 in 2008 and after training  deployed to Iraq as an intelligence specialist.

There he had access to the Apache Attack Helicopter videos, combat reports and diplomatic cables.  Approximately  700,000 items in all were copied by him. He managed to download this material on to a thumb drive and later to smuggle the material on a camera digital card out of his camp. At some point in late 2010 he gave the materials unredacted to Julian Assange of Wiki Leaks. Exactly where, when or how this transfer was made is unknown and the rest is history.

Now he has been tried and awaits sentencing. He previously pled guilty to 10 of the lesser charges against him in exchange of a sentence of 16 years. He was acquitted of the charge of aiding the enemy which could have carried a life sentence without parole. However the Judge who presided over the trial, Col. Denise Lind, found Manning guilty of 17 of the 22 charges in their entirety which included five counts of espionage and theft. His sentencing hearing is in progress

Edward Snowden, born June 21, 1983, was enraged enough to act when as  a computer infrastructure analyst expert for the NSA, CIA and later as an independent contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton a giant government contractor he determined that the NSA was not only collecting telephone call  meta data (time, numbers locations etc.) inside and outside  the United States but also capturing and storing the substance of the calls as well as all computer online activity including e-mails , web browsing and other activities.

Both men felt compelled to download and leak the data. Manning, to Wiki Leaks who shared it with the Guardian, N.Y. Times and the Washington Post in the United States and the equivalent foreign newspapers in Germany and Spain.

Snowden leaked to the Guardian which is slowly releasing the information he gave them on government spying activities.

Both men believed the government was engaged in illegal activities and concealing them from the public.

They saw themselves as whistleblowers although they did not avail themselves of The Whistleblower Statute and its procedures, perhaps because others had done so ineffectually and to their detriment.

Both men come from middleclass families whose fathers were careerists in the military. Manning’s father was an enlisted man in intelligence in the Navy and Snowden’s father was a career Coast Guard officer.

Both were computer literate neither was well educated formally.

Neither man acted for mercenary reasons but with great sacrifice to themselves. Manning probably will be subject to a long prison term. Snowden is in self exile in Russia right now.  A place without a clear definition or protection  of privacy rights.

Interestingly enough while the Justice Department and the Army has doggedly pursued these men on criminal violations no criminal charges has been brought against the actors on the government side.

For Example on March 12, 2013 before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence James Clapper, Director Of National Intelligence, said this about surveillance while under oath testifying to the Senate:

(Senator) Wyden asked Director Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Response: “No, sir.”

Wyden asked “It does not.” and Clapper said “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

Another is the Apache helicopter incident when the wounded, unarmed man is machine-gunned to death while trying to crawl to safety, probably a war crime.

There seems to be a double standard in operation here. Leakers are punished severely probably as a warning to others while on the government side wrong doing even to the extent of killing a wounded unarmed man or a massive invasion of the public’s Fourth Amendment rights is overlooked or excused away as fog of war occurrences or necessary for protection against terrorism.


Today, August 8, 2013, on  the Washington Post’s Wonkblog  in a post by Ezra Klein, Edward Snowden was called a “patriot” in small case because of the measures President Obama said he was taking in regard to safeguarding American’s privacy which were a direct response to Snowden’s disclosures.





What makes Edward Snowden’s case different from Daniel Ellsberg’s case.  They both worked for the U.S. Government in some capacity. Snowden for the NSA by way of Booz, Allen and Hamilton, Ellsberg as  Marine Corps Officer, Rand employee and Pentagon Assistant to Secretary McNamara. Both worked in intelligence, Snowden as a Data Systems Manager, Ellsberg as intelligence analyst at Rand and in the Pentagon.  They both released voluminous amounts of material: Ellsberg the “Pentagon Papers” which  revealed that the government knew that the Viet Nam war could not be won, yet we were drafting men  and sending them  to their deaths or injuries in a lost cause.(See the movie Born On The  Fourth of July about Ron Kovic who was made a  near quadriplegic at age 18 in Viet Nam.)

Snowden revealed the extent of NSA surveillance of innocent people in the United States and abroad for no purpose except to create a huge data base on every one for possible future use such as the PRISM program and much more including  the  copying and storing of personal Yahoo messaging videos for instance by the British.

Ellsberg has a PhD from Harvard, Edward Snowden had a GED and some college credits, both appeared to be methodical in their methods in regard to the type of materials leaked and the purpose of the leak. Ellsworth stood trial but the case was dismissed for government misconduct. The Watergate plumbers burglarized his psychiatrist’s office among other things. The Ellsberg leak was in the 1970’s almost forty years ago.

In the case of Chelsea ( b. Bradley)  Manning she like Snowden had an education limited to a few college courses. She had a troubled family life and after enlistment in the Army at age 19 had a troubled existence in the Army. At her trial witnesses in her behalf said her mother drank during pregnancy and her lawyer proposed that Manning showed evidence of fetal alcohol syndrome. Whatever her personal circumstances she was morally outraged at some of the documents and videos that she was exposed to as an intelligence technician in Iraq. In particular was a now famous Apache helicopter attack on a group of unarmed civilians on an Iraqi street corner. By some unknown conduit she released the video and about 750,000 combat reports and diplomatic cables to Wiki leaks. These were published in the Guardian, The N.Y. Times and other leading newspapers much like Snowden’s and Ellsberg’s leak.

Of the three none was motivated by money or under the control of a foreign power but moved by the callous deception of the public by the U.S. Government in their conduct of a war. Ellsberg the Viet Nam War, Snowden The War On Terrorism, Manning the War on Terrorism and the Iraq War. Manning was convicted and is in an Army Prison sentenced to 35 years but experts say he will not serve the whole sentence. Ellsberg has been an advocate for government transparency since the criminal case against him was dismissed; Snowden has been indicted but is out of reach of the U.S. Government as he is exiled in Moscow where he has the benefit of a lawyer connected to the Russian FSB (Like our CIA). He says he will return if he is guaranteed a jury trial. Attorney General Holder will not negotiate with him. Normally persons who divulge state secrets don’t get an open jury trial but a secret trial before a judge or  a panel.

Ellsberg tried to have Senators release the papers and when this failed he  went public on his own. Snowden was aware of the fate of prior whistle blowers who went through the official procedures. These people usually lost their jobs and were ostracized, some  were even prosecuted. Manning seems to have gone directly to Wiki leaks through an intermediary without seeking other legal means of disclosure. If she did it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. Her leak seems to be more a personal cry for help although triggered by what she saw in the videos and documents. Ellsberg and Snowden appear to have made a calculated decision to go public no matter what the consequences on moral and intellectual grounds.

At the present time Snowden has more  public support for his actions than the Government has for its position  and he would almost surely win a jury trial if it is granted. However A.G. Holder has followed a strict application of the law and refuses to guarantee him one. Thus he has  continued to be  exiled in Moscow.

The solution is to prosecute persons and policy makers in the Government who deliberately violate the public trust or the Constitutional and legal principles of our government. Then there will not be any secrets for whistleblowers to expose.

Also it is necessary to have a separate agency to handle whistleblowers outside and independent  of the agencies that the whistleblowers are reporting on. One that will protect the whistleblowers not punish them. Then the whistleblower laws will have credence.

As for Snowden give him his public jury trial. The secrets are out anyway and let a jury decide if he was right or wrong. This is much better than having him in Russia with an FSB lawyer for counsel.