Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Uncategorized The Fog of War – handling of the cold war

The Fog of War – handling of the cold war

The Fog of War takes a look at the controversial figure Robert S. McNamara through archival footage and from the words of McNamara himself in a one on one interview. He is a man who served as a secretary of defense under John F. Kennedy and then under Lyndon B. Johnson. In this film we get this man’s perspective on life through the context of the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam War and most of the cold war.

The presentation of this documentary has a very cinematic feel. That is to say the musical score and visual effects set up a very dramatic atmosphere. The structure of the film is centered on McNamara’s 11 lessons on dealing with conflict. Presented in a counting up order, each lesson is narrated by McNamara on an example in history of how he came up with his conclusion. As well as audio recordings of conversations McNamara had with Kennedy and other figures. (Now and then you hear Morris shout questions, which can be annoying at times)  An example being the first lesson titled “Empathize with your enemy”. It deals with the handling of the Cuban missile crisis and how thinking about the enemy’s reasoning helped avoid nuclear war. Throughout the lessons are bits of McNamara’s personal life and upbringing sprinkled in and given to us within the context of his dealing with war. These and events in history aren’t really presented in chronological order but according to the lesson that’s being displayed.

Within his reasoning we also see how contrasts himself with other political and military figures. Most significant would be the comparison McNamara made with himself and General Lemay. He described Lemay as somebody who wanted to respond militarily to all conflicts, whereas McNamara would prefer to negotiate first. This is interesting when you juxtapose it to McNamara saying having to do slightly evil things (such as bombing civilians) is essential in war. In some sense McNamara serves as somewhat of a middle ground for going to war and peaceful negotiations.

McNamara is also candid in his emotions on subject matters. Such as his talks with world leaders he was an enemy with during the cold war. Which includes talks with Fidel Castro and former Vietnamese Prime Minister Thach. In particular with Thach, he expresses how almost came to blows after a discussions on what his thoughts were on the Vietnam War. This serves well in one of the lessons where mentions reevaluating what he used to think. McNamara is equally candid on saying that he has made many mistakes. Many have seen him as somebody who acts like a know it all, but McNamara perfectly contradicts this image of himself.

Part of the candidness is thoughts when Kennedy’s assignation.  McNamara goes into detail about how everyone around him was devastated and at times tears up when speaking. In a unique use of imagery, we see footage of Kennedy in office as McNamara talks about his death. This is contrary to other films where we usually see footage of the grassy knoll before Kennedy is shot. This perfectly reflected McNamara’s perspective on the matter.

The phrase “the fog of war” is mentioned by McNamara when he wraps up the film and says war is extremely complex and full of many different points of view.  In this film we get a good understanding what that phrase exactly means. The Fog of War is a must see movie and a necessity for learning about the cold war.

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