McNamara & The Fog of War

Robert McNa­ma­ra, the archi­tect of the failed Viet­nam War, died ear­li­er this week. He was a major force on the Amer­i­can polit­i­cal scene through­out the 1960s. Then, he re-emerged in 2004, when Errol Mor­ris released The Fog of War, an Oscar-win­ning doc­u­men­tary that fea­tures McNa­ma­ra look­ing back on his career and high­light­ing the lessons learned from the Viet­nam expe­ri­ence.  You can watch the film above. (Admit­ted­ly the film qual­i­ty is not the best.) Or you can buy it here.

In the mean­time, a quick fac­toid: After McNa­ma­ra left the John­son admin­is­tra­tion under a fair amount of dis­grace, he was appoint­ed to lead The World Bank. Fast for­ward to 2005, and we have Paul Wol­fowitz, a key archi­tect of the Iraq War, leav­ing the Dept. of Defense also under dis­grace and get­ting to lead The World Bank. Now we know where our next mil­i­tary bun­gler will go and save some face…

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  • Varun says:

    An excerpt from John Ral­ston Sauls “Voltaire’s Bas­tards” which McNa­ma­ra def­i­nite­ly was:
    “Robert McNa­ma­ra is, John Ral­ston Saul says, a man of hon­our. His career has been found­ed upon the belief that “the appli­ca­tion of rea­son, log­ic and effi­cien­cy will nec­es­sar­i­ly pro­duce good.” In McNa­ma­ra’s own mind he is prob­a­bly a mod­ern Riche­lieu or Bis­mar­ck, in Saul’s he is a kind of diplo­mat­ic Nor­man Wis­dom, a well-mean­ing fool whose actions “have result­ed in uncon­trol­lable dis­as­ters from which the West has not recov­ered.”

    McNa­ma­ra start­ed the arms race, pre­cip­i­tat­ed the fail­ure of Viet­nam and cre­at­ed the Third World debt cri­sis. It is a proud record that puts him at the head of Saul’s long list of blun­der­ers who have been daz­zled and hyp­no­tised by a con­cep­tion of ratio­nal­i­ty that is inef­fec­tive and, fre­quent­ly, lethal.

    The rea­son before which the incom­pe­tent ratio­nal­ist tech­nocrats pros­trate them­selves is a per­ver­sion of the rea­son of the Enlight­en­ment. What the tech­nocrats mean by rea­son is the objec­tive appli­ca­tion of exper­tise and analy­sis to the facts and to the future. Such a def­i­n­i­tion has cer­tain impli­ca­tions: it excludes val­ues, it sim­pli­fies and it cre­ates her­met­ic sodal­i­ties of exper­tise. Fur­ther­more, this rea­son is anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic: the voice of the peo­ple will clear­ly get in the way and, from the per­spec­tive of the tech­no­crat, will prob­a­bly be wrong.”

    Robert McNa­ma­ra sym­bol­ized Amer­i­ca’s deep root­ed affin­i­ty for fun­da­men­tal­ist rea­son which I believe, over the years has sig­nif­i­cant­ly, shaped its for­eign pol­i­cy. This fun­da­men­tal­ist “rea­son” is sort of the philo­soph­i­cal dual of fun­da­men­tal­ist reli­gion and McNa­ma­ra was its Osama. We’re talk­ing about the Bay of Pigs, The Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis and even­tu­al­ly Viet­nam. Instead of crit­i­ciz­ing the man — Id rather take a dig at his lega­cy — this “slick” image of “wont take no for an answer” Amer­i­can is what needs to be chal­lenged and thank­ful­ly is. I have noth­ing per­son­al against the US, I just wish it act­ed less­er than a “Defend­er of the Free World” back in the day. A strong con­tem­po­rary crit­ic of McNa­ma­ra is Jon Ral­ston Saul and I encour­age any­one guilty of the “holi­er than thou” image that Amer­i­can often por­trayed, read.


  • Hanoch says:

    Wol­fowitz left the Depart­ment of Defense “under dis­grace”? Well, if you con­sid­er depos­ing one of world’s most bru­tal and oppres­sive tyrants a fail­ure, then I sup­pose yes. But for those of us who val­ue lib­er­ty and a just form of gov­ern­ment, I don’t think so.

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