Interviews and profiles Robert S. McNamara, former Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. — Genre: Documentary — Rating: PG13 — Release Date: 1-MAY-2007... more »
A. H. Lynde | Ewa Beach, HI United States | 03/15/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This brilliant work by director Morris is the stuff of life. And death. It arouses the most basic moral and immoral questions of being human through an enormously complex and yet simple man, Robert Strange McNamara. It seems no coincidence, his middle name, as we get to know him in all his cleverness and contradictions. Morris subtly illuminates, literally through McNamara's eyes, what it means to have power over life and death. Like God. There is something almost spiritual in McNamara's eyes, edited against searing images of, well, graphs, statistics, memoranda, bursting firebombs and nuclear mushrooms, almost all rarely seen-before footage. The eyes are the soul of this film - McNamara's are a combination of supreme confidence and extreme doubt. But not only his eyes - for example, we see President Kennedy's eyes frozen in the lens as he tells the nation of imminent nuclear war in 1962, a look that would make a Marine shiver. This new interview technique ("interrotron" ) draws us into what? War? Peace? Honor? Life? Power? Evil? Born 85 years ago, McNamara is the quintessential man of his time, what Brokaw called the greatest generation, a sobriquet this documentary underscores. In McNamara's words he deplored the sorrow and pity of the four great wars of his lifetime; the trenches in France; the nuclear and indiscriminate firebombing of innocent Japanese; the debacle in Korea; the flaming jungles of Vietnam. His command of statistics is breathtaking. But it is the eyes that reveal an inner truth, the precise opposite of his concise, rational words - his 11 "lessons". We see a man who never found himself in harm's way. We see eyes so ironically blinded by a circa 1918 vision of duty and honor that, though he loathed the horrifics of Vietnam, he was compelled to allow his true judgment to go unexpressed until nearly 60,000 Americans were dead. He was at once perhaps the most powerful man in the world and its most despicable. It is easy to see why a brilliant young President Kennedy would choose someone as Defense Secretary who seemed so like himself, but tragically without the courage. And why, with Kennedy's death, McNamara by sheer ambition and brilliance would ascend to the very pinnacle of power.Yet, I couldn't hate this guy. Perhaps the most telling moment is McNamara's clear devastation at Kennedy's assassination 41 years ago, again told in his eyes and a rare, emotional choking voice. So it's difficult to blame him for all those deaths he might have prevented -- McNamara genuinely believed he was doing the right thing for his Presidents: through an obsessive sense of duty and loyalty. Now that his day of legacy approaches, he expresses criticism over the actions of others -- General LeMay and President Johnson are the favored targets. But McNamara cannot quite bring himself to admit his own mistakes of enormous proportions. Yet it's quite clear that he was one of only two men who could have ended the 7-year slaughter (of his term in office). Many may find that failure a reason to despise the man. I found it just human.This film offers up no easy answers (certainly not his 11 "lessons'), but more importantly raises many fundamental questions. Philip Glass' elegiac, edgy scoring perfectly meshes with this thriller. An impressive and important contribution to understanding our nation's ambivalent past."
It's His Eyes
John P Bernat | Kingsport, TN USA | 01/13/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"You end up watching this man, a "talking head," for so long. While there are a handful of shots of him driving what looks like a Ford Taurus past the Pentagon and a number of other government landmarks, almost all footage showing a contemporary Robert McNamara seems to be a single-camera setup.
He is trying to be honest, but does not promise to be self-revelatory. Others here speculate that it is his shot at redemption. If you know his work at Ford, you know that he's not really a redemption kind of guy. Rather, he's more a scientist or engineer. He want's to contribute to a growing body of knowledge. He's [obviously] not afraid to make mistakes, so long as they are cataloged and recorded.
So long as we all learn from them.
That's why he made this film. There are moments of emotion - for example, when he talks about John Kennedy's death. But it's not a confessional. He says more than once, "I'm not going to go into this," because it relates to private matters.
Watch his eyes. Watch how hard it is for him to do what he feels so strongly compelled to do: somehow add meaning to his experiences by teaching us. The pain his eyes express sometimes is at once awful and compelling.
I don't think he made this movie to earn absolution. He's the kind of guy who would claim absolution as a matter of right.
No, he wants us to learn, and to enable that by as much lucidity and honesty as he can muster. Most leaders don't care enough about us to take this effort.
As much as a reasonable person could hate McNamara, I thank him for trying to teach us. It's like hearing someone already in hell trying to offer a word of warning."
Every Miltary Person, and Ideally Every Citizen, SHould View
Robert D. Steele | Oakton, VA United States | 06/21/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
This is the only documentary film to make it on to my list of 470+ non-fiction books relevant to national security & global issues. It is superb, and below I summarize the 11 lessons with the intent of documenting how every military person, and ideally every citizen, should view this film.As the U.S. military goes through the motions of "transformation" while beset by the intense demands of being engaged in a 100-year war on six-fronts around the world, all of them against asymmetric threats that we do not understand and are not trained, equipped, nor organized to deal with, this film is startlingly relevant and cautionary.LESSON 1: EMPHATHIZE WITH YOUR ENEMY. We must see ourselves as they see us, we must see their circumstances as they see them, before we can be effective.LESSON 2: RATIONALITY WILL NOT SAVE US. Human fallibility combined with weapons of mass destruction will destroy nations. Castro has 162 nuclear warheads already on the island, and was willing to accept annihilation of Cuba as the cost of upholding his independence and honor.LESSON 3: THERE'S SOMETHING BEYOND ONESELF. History, philosophy, values, responsibility--think beyond your niche.LESSON 4: MAXIMIZE EFFICIENCY. Although this was McNamara's hallmark, and the fog of war demands redundancy, he has a point: we are not maximizing how we spend $500B a year toward world peace, and are instead spending it toward the enrichment of select corporations, building things that don't work in the real world.LESSON 5: PROPORTIONALITY SHOULD BE A GUIDELINE IN WAR. McNamara is clearly still grieving over the fact that we firebombed 67 Japanese cities before we ever considered using the atomic bomb, destroying 50% to 90% of those cities. LESSON 6: GET THE DATA. It is truly appalling to realize that the U.S. Government is operating on 2% of the relevant information, in part because it relies heavily on foreign allies for what they want to tell us, in part because the U.S. Government has turned its back on open sources of information. Marc Sageman, in "Understanding Networks of Terror", knows more about terrorism today than do the CIA or FBI, because he went after the open source data and found the patterns. There is a quote from a Senator in the 1960's that is also compelling, talking about "an instability of ideas" that are not understood, leading to erroneous decisions in Washington. For want of action, we forsook thought.LESSON 7: BELIEF & SEEING ARE BOTH OFTEN WRONG. With specific reference to the Gulf of Tonkin, as well as the failure of America to understand that the Vietnamese were fighting for independence from China, not just the French or the corrupt Catholic regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, McNamara blows a big whole in the way the neo-cons "believed" themselves into the Iraq war, and took America's blood, treasure, and spirit with them.LESSON 8: BE PREPARED TO RE-EXAMINE YOUR REASONING. McNamara is blunt here: if your allies are not willing to go along with you, consider the possibility that your reasoning is flawed.LESSON 9: IN ORDER TO DO GOOD, YOU MAY HAVE TO ENGAGE IN EVIL. Having said that, he recommends that we try to maximize ethics and minimize evil. He is specifically concerned with what constitutes a war crime under changing circumstances.LESSON 10: NEVER SAY NEVER. Reality and the future are not predictable. There are no absolutes. We should spend more time thinking back over what might have been, be more flexible about taking alternative courses of action in the future.LESSON 11: YOU CAN'T CHANGE HUMAN NATURE. There will always be war, and disaster. We can try to understand it, and deal with it, while seeking to calm our own human nature that wants to strike back in ways that are counter-productive.For those who dismiss this movie because McNamara does not apologize, I say "pay attention." The entire movie is an apology, both direct from McNamara, and indirect in the manner that the producer and director have peeled away his outer defenses and shown his remorse at key points in the film. I strongly recommend the book by McNamara and James Blight, "WILSON's GHOST." In my humble opinion, in the context of the 470+ non-fiction books I have reviewed here, McNamara and Bill Colby are the two Viet-Nam era officials that have grown the most since leaving office. He has acquired wisdom since leaving defense, and we ignore this wisdom at our peril."
deborahinplains | Norfolk, Virginia | 01/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Errol Morris's stunning documentary is about one of the 20th century's most significant players: Robert McNamara, who reprises the highlights of his life and professional career. The movie covers a lot of ground, including McNamara's stint as a Ford Motor Co. executive, his participation as a war planner in World War II, and his crucial involvement as secretary of defense under President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and under Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War. There are some stunning revelations, including his role in the firebombing of Japan, as well as the nuclear face-off between the United States and Cuba. This is another brilliant coup for Morris, the inspired documentarian who has made a career out of conversations with the most fascinating subjects. He tells a story that knocks you right off your feet."
All eleven lessons are extremely important to us all.
Don Robert House | Ringwood, Illinois USA | 02/17/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Errol Morris did his homework for this movie. 20 hours of film and tape. The music by Philip Glass is outstanding. The film, the interaction in the first person, the archival footage, some in three dimensions are mind boggling. The music is very unique and original. The messages are clear. In war the human mind cannot comprehend the complexities. "How much evil must we do, to do good?" Having assisted in the production of the film, I know how hard everyone worked to make this unforgetable film. It should be required viewing for all military and flag officer candidates as well as all presidential candidates. SEE IT. It is worth every minute. Even if you are too young to remember Vietnam. Even if you served in Vietnam and hate Mr. McNamara. You need to see this important film."