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Film / The Fog of War

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The Fog of War is a 2003 war documentary about the life of The Vietnam War Secretary of Defence, Robert S. McNamara and includes his eleven lessons of war. Directed by Errol Morris.

Provides examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: McNamara is more interested in illustrating particular points than in a strict chronology, although each individual point is usually explained chronologically. As a whole, the film starts with the Cuban Missile Crisis, jumps back to World War I, advances to 1960 only to jump back to 1945, and so on.
  • The Book of the Film: A companion book with the same name uses lessons from McNamara's life to examine issues of war and peace in the 20th century.
  • Due to the Dead: McNamara is notably shaken when he recalls the requiem and burial of John F. Kennedy, forty years on.
  • Happily Married: McNamara and Margaret, his wife for 41 years. He defines it as "a marriage made in heaven". She was survived by him.
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  • Honest Advisor: One of the reasons why McNamara continued in office under Lyndon Johnson and became the longest serving Secretary of Defense.
  • The Mentor: Much of the film has McNamara being the mentor to the documentary audience; he points out many mistakes and near-misses that he saw, and pleads with the audience to learn from his experiences. Particularly chilling is his recounting of a meeting in 1992 with Fidel Castro, who told him that, during the Cuban Missile Crisis 30 years previously, he (Castro) wanted Khrushchev to launch the stationed missiles.
  • Morton's Fork: McNamara is asked a difficult question about The Vietnam War and answers "damned if I do (reply), damned if I don't". He chooses to remain quiet.
  • Refusal of the Call: McNamara was reluctant about his joining the cabinet because he knew nothing about politics. JFK charmingly convinced him by saying "Look, Bob, I don't think there's any school for Presidents either."
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  • Shout-Out: Several parallelisms to Sun Tzu's treatise The Art of War are evoked.
  • The Smart Guy: McNamara's background; war data analyst, whiz kid at Ford and later successful CEO.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: McNamara's iconic glasses contribute to his intellectual aura.
  • Stock Footage: As a documentary about the history of the twentieth century, it uses quite a lot, but usually rather well.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: In reference to the firebombing campaign:
    McNamara: I don't want to suggest that it was I who put in LeMay's mind that his operations were totally inefficient and had to be drastically changed. But, anyhow, that's what he did. He took the B—29s down to 5,000 feet and he decided to bomb with firebombs.
  • War Is Hell: As Curtis Lemay puts it "War is cruelty", but a lesser evil.
  • Who's on First?: To great hilarity, when Robert Strange McNamara was asked in a telegram for his full name by his future wife in order to print wedding invitations, he wired back "My middle name is Strange," to which she retorted "I know it's strange, but what is it?"
  • Worthy Adversary: McNamara portrays Fidel Castro and Kruschev as rational, pragmatic counterparts during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Written by the Winners: McNamara admits that firebombing 63 Japanese cities and following it up with 2 nuclear bombs would be considered a war crime if not for the fact that he was on the winning side.


Example of: