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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Fog of War

On November 3, 2004, the United State chose the world’s biggest WMD as their president for another four years. On the same day, a film viewing was held at the McCormack Building-The Fog of War by Errol Morris in which Morris featured an interview with former Secretary of Defense (under President Kennedy and Johnson), Robert S. McNamara. Through out the film, McNamara was proud to show the behind-the-scenes decision-making in the firebombing of Japanese cities during the WWII, the Cuban missile crisis, and the devastating effects of the Vietnam War. In the film, he presents himself as the one who reveals the new information of these events and admits the government’s and his mistakes during the decision making processes. Although McNamara was, after all, merely a politician who made great efforts to justify his deeds, there were also several insights he offered and many things to learn from his life and be applied for the world today. Errol Morris divided his film into eleven sections giving a lesson for each one. Lesson #8: Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning. Seeing the situation getting worse in the Vietnam War, President Kennedy and McNamara planed to pull out the US army by the end of 1965. However, three months after Kennedy’s death, President Johnson decided to increase the number, and none of the allies supported the US during the war. “If we can’t persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we’d better reexamine our reasoning”, says McNamara recalling the time. He also gives a very useful insight: “We are the strongest nation in the world today. I do not believe that we should ever apply that economic, political, and military power unilaterally”.

Lesson #7: Belief and seeing are both often wrong.During the Vietnam War, there was the report that two US destroyers were attacked by the torpedoes of the North Vietnam while they were in the international waters. Based on this report, President Johnson declared a bombing campaign on North Vietnam. The report was wrong; it didn’t happen. “We see what we want to believe”, Morris says to McNamara, who responses, “You’re absolutely right. Belief and seeing, they’re both often wrong.” From his experience during the Cuba Crisis, McNamara derives another great insight.

Lesson #1: Empathize with your enemy.When President Kennedy had to choose between answering two conflicting messages from the Soviets, one belligerent and the other more conciliatory, the former ambassador to the Soviet Union, Tommy Thompson, who knew Nikita S. Khrushchev well and understood that the Soviet leader was looking for a way to avert war while saving face, urged Kennedy to respond to the softer message. Thompson was right and his way of thinking prevented the nuclear war. Reflecting on this event, McNamara says, “We must try to put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes, just to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions and their actions”. McNamara understands his mistakes in the wars he participated in, and learned from his experiences. Still, his problem was, like many other politicians and military leaders, that he keeps making efforts to justify his actions and never fully accepts that he was at fault. Before dropping off two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US army firebombed 67 Japanese cities including Tokyo, roughly the size of New York, 51% of which was destroyed and 100,000 Japanese civilians were burned to death in the one night. After saying this, McNamara agrees that his commander, Curtis LeMay, and him, were behaving as war criminals; however, he also insists that what he did was to maximize the efficiency not in the killing but in a use of B-29, an airplane introduced and successful to carry out the firebombing, and it was LeMay who actually operated the killing. On the decisions during the Vietnam War and the firebombing of Japanese cities, McNamara admits that “I’ve made errors,” but his conclusion was after all, “We all make mistakes … [and] we can’t change human nature.” To a question if he feels guilty in those events, McNamara answers, “It is so complex that anything I say …” Throughout the film, he never answered to the question. These lessons in the film can be directly applied to the situation today in the United States (someone started a war on Iraq without supports of other nations and based on the false assumption). We all need to keep these lessons in mind and learn from them. Yes, we all make mistakes but should not make the same mistake over and over. The lessons and the transcript of The Fog of War is available at the website of Errol Morris, http://www.errolmorris.com/html/home.html