I recently watched one of the most interesting, thought-provoking films I have seen in some time. It’s called The Fog of War, and is viewable for free here. (For the moralists like myself, profanity is limited, and violence is restricted to that necessary to carrying the story forward. It’s mostly subject-matter based. It’s not a movie for a five-year-old, but it could work for a thoughtful 12-year-old.)
Robert McNamara was the ultimate Washington outsider: he had experience during World War II as a military planner, and then went into the private sector, ending up at Ford Motor Company. President Kennedy then came calling, asking him to be Secretary of Defense. He was present when CIA operatives were sent to Vietnam. He was there when the troop levels kept escalating. He also was present for the Cuban Missile Crisis. Vietnam and Cuba are really the backbone of the film, but his World War II experience also comes to bear.
He asks moral questions with great clarity. Were we justified in firebombing Tokyo during World War II, for instance? (He had a role in the planning of these attacks.)
The movie is structured into several chapters, each with a lesson he learned from his life. If memory serves, there are roughly twelve lessons.
For me, the most interesting and applicable lesson is that to be successful, even in war, one must empathize with the enemy. Bob McNamara states this as the crucial reason for why the Cuban Missile Crisis ended without much bloodshed. They understood Kruschev, his motivations, what he wanted, etc., because they put the effort forward.
He contrasts this with Vietnam. The Vietnamese largely viewed us as a colonial occupying force, a continuation of the struggles with imperial Europe which extended back hundreds of years. No matter what we thought our role in Vietnam was, or how justified we were in being there, to the Vietnamese, we were an unwanted occupying force, and they would fight to the end to make sure they protected their country from us. Mr. McNamara says we didn’t have this perspective when we went in. We didn’t understand how we were viewed until after it was all done. And he says that as Secretary of Defense, things would have gone differently if that perspective was had.
Of course, empathy is a Christian trait. Are we not to love our enemies? Are we not to even pray for them? Is not this the way by which disciples of Christ are known and identified?
One wonders about our current global involvement. The current mindset, in the media and throughout the country, especially at the highest levels of government, seems to indicate that empathizing with the enemy is discouraged. Asking “why” (for instance, why did they attack us on 9-11, or why did they butcher our contractors in Kirkuk, or why is the insurgency so strong in Iraq and Afghanistan) is prohibited. How do the Germans view us? Or the Koreans? The Chinese? Iraqis? Iranians? Why do they have such feelings of hostility? Where do they come from? How should we react to them? What can we do now to engender peace, not hostility, in this time of global crisis? (I would go further and ask, “Is a policy of pre-emptive war really in our best interests? Is it even logistically feasible?” But perhaps I digress.)
At the end of the movie, the concept of war as a “fog” is discussed. Neither side sees clearly, and so tragic and unnecessary mistakes are made. Judgments are tragically rushed to, which, if the picture were clearer, would be completely avoided. To me, this is a compelling way to view war.
No matter what your political persuasion: liberal, conservative, moderate, libertarian, undecided, etc., this movie is a fascinating history lesson and brings up some great points about the complex and increasingly involved state of war we find ourselves perpetually embroiled in. I highly recommend it.