The Fog of War is an interview with former American Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. As a historical document, it is fascinating. As a study in leadership, it is invaluable. It is a beautiful film, illustrating the starkness of war, the uncertainty inherent in the actions of the powerful, and the thoughtfulness of a human being. I keep coming back to this documentary again and again, as a sobering reminder of the responsibilities of leadership.
One of the themes that I explored in my MA thesis was the issue of aging and how elderly academics were treated by their younger counterparts. The academics that I studied were treated rather badly, but they had valuable thoughts to offer. Robert McNamara is not a saint. His actions resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, and that is not to be taken lightly. But the thing is, he doesn’t take it lightly. He has had time to reflect on his actions and on the actions of those around him, and from a position of experience, calls upon today’s leaders to think through the problems of war. I think this film shows that we need to listen to the elderly, to those who have lived through conflict. And we certainly need to listen to each other.
Watch for his reaction to Kennedy’s death, his response to Johnson’s awarding him the Medal of Freedom, and his quotation of T.S. Eliot at the end of the film:
“I’m not so naive or simplistic to believe we can eliminate war. We’re not going to change human nature any time soon. It isn’t that we aren’t rational. We are rational. But reason has limits. There’s a quote from T.S. Eliot that I just love: “We shall not cease from exploring, and at the end of our exploration, we will return to where we started, and know the place for the first time.” Now that’s in a sense where I’m beginning to be.”