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The Fog of War(s)

“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.” - T.S. Eliot

I just watched “The Fog of War”, a documentary about the life and times of Robert Strange McNamara. McNamara served as secretary of defense under JFK and LBJ for most of his two terms. He also played a part in the fire bombing of Japan during WWII and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

From what I understand, many people in the 1970‘s considered McNamara the direct spawn of the devil. He was a major cog in the political machinery that sent us to Vietnam, resulting in the death of about 50,000 Americans and several million Vietnamese.

This film presents many potential parallels to be drawn to the current administration. Unfortunately the mappings cannot be correctly defined without historical hindsight, which we will not have the benefit of for years, perhaps decades.

Shortly before Kennedy was assassinated, the two colleagues had determined a withdrawal plan to remove the military advisors stationed in Vietnam. After Kennedy’s death, McNamara became a worker bee, albeit a very efficient and loyal one, for LBJ. McNamara felt working for the elected President required him to have confidence in LBJ’s decisions and enact them to the best of his ability. It almost seemed that McNamara had no strong feelings either way at the time of the war, and would sooner do what he was good at: crunching numbers to achieve maximum efficiency.

Will history find that our executive branch was unable to learn from America’s past? Our lack of empathy for the people of the Mideast certainly could be compared to our lack of understanding of the Vietnamese. Will Colin Powell become the McNamara of the 21st century? (I personally don’t think he could stomach staying on board long enough to reach McNamara’s status) Will the added factor of our unilateral action in Iraq result in an even larger blunder in the eyes of history?

There are counterpoints to many of these assertions. It is implied that Kennedy would have pulled out of Vietnam, but what he would have done is not known. After we pulled out of Vietnam, the dominoes did not continue to fall, but would they have if we never went to war in the first place? Would it have mattered if they did fall?