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John Simkin

Fog of War

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The Fog of War is one of the best documentaries ever made. I was impressed by Robert McNamara’s willingness to accept that his decisions resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians: Fire Bombing of Japan, Agent Orange, the escalation of the Vietnam War, etc. One of the most moving parts of the film was when he described the suicide of Norman R. Morrison outside his office in protest against the Vietnam War. The point that Morrison was trying to make was that it is one thing to give the orders that results in the deaths of thousands of innocent people, but a very different experience when someone sets fire to themselves by your window.

McNamara’s description of Curtis LeMay’s behavior during the Pacific War was very revealing. At least LeMay was honest enough to admit that if America lost that war he would have been prosecuted and convicted as a war criminal.

McNamara was also with LeMay during the Cuban Missile Crisis. His description of LeMay’s views was indeed chilling. It helps to explain why JFK was determined to marginalize LeMay in 1963. JFK would have been particularly concerned about LeMay getting involved in Vietnam.

The thing that stands out about McNamara was that he is an intellectual. That is why he got on so well with JFK. McNamara had the ability to reflect on his decisions. He got it completely right when he said the problem with politicians is that “we see what we want to believe”. As he pointed out, they completely failed to “put ourselves into the skins of the enemy” in Vietnam. The only reason that the Cuban Missile Crisis did not end in a nuclear war was because JFK did have empathy with the enemy. Empathy is the most important trait that a political leader needs to have. It is something that George Bush does not have. That is why he is in so much trouble in Iraq.

The Fog of War is one of the most important films ever made. However, despite the obvious skills of Errol Morris, those lacking empathy, will not get it.

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A very thought-provoking film. Useful for teaching the Cold War to A Level or IB classes. Not sure I'd call it "one of the most important films ever made" though. Hyperbole? Most important films ever made? Answers on a postcard, please, to ...

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Today I viewed in full "The Fog of War", a very interesting film that I recommend to those who have not seen it.

The film had a clip of Barry Goldwater's acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican GOP convention, at which he said:

Make no bones of this. Don't try to sweep this under the rug. We are at war in Vietnam. And yet the President, who is Commander-in-Chief of our forces, refuses to say - refuses to say, mind you, whether or not the objective over there is victory. And his Secretary of Defense continues to mislead and misinform the American people, and enough of it has gone by.

The film makes clear that Goldwater was right.

In the film, Robert Strange Mcnamara admits his own deception to the American people about the war. He admits he knew we were losing the war, but when he came back from Vietnam he gave glowing reports to the assembled media.

As it related to one of LBJ's first increase in troops sent to vietnam, McNamara is recorded on tape telling Johnson that he will make the announcement as late in the day as possible so many morning newspapers would catch it.

The film is definitely worth viewing because it has McNamara's comments on the CMC; his analysis of Gen. Curtis LeMay (he worked with LeMay in World War Two); and other matters that might indeed be relevant to the assassination. McNamara states that JFK intended to pull the troops out of Vietnam, for instance (but remember Mcnamara as much as admitted he is a xxxx). (In the latter matter, I encountered portions of a JFK interview with NBC News in late 1963 in which he clearly and unequivocally endorsed the "domino theory".)

John, your post makes me wonder how closely you listened to "The Fog of War." In it McNamara argues the point that per the North Vietnamese they were only fighting for their independence and they had been fighting the Chinese for centuries. If this is correct certainly we would not have had a nuclear war with China had we attacked Hanoi.

That the US was never willing to go "on to Hanoi" is one of the primary reasons we lost the war.

Do you think the allies would have ever won WWII had we simply tried to defend England and had never invaded France and then Germany? Of course not.

It made no sense for any Americans to die in a war we were doomed to lose because we were not willing to fight to win. Yet that is the war that LBJ and McNamara engineered.

In "The Fog of War" McNamara ultimately concludes that we fought the entire war and lost so many Americans (and killed so many Vietnamese) because we never understood the North Vietnamese and where they were coming from. He claims the entire war was based on a misunderstanding. If that is true, then McNamara has indicted himself as the idiot. And his idiocy caused the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans.

Barry Goldwater was wrong--very wrong--about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But he was right (no pun intended) about how to defeat Communism. If your objective is not to defeat your enemy, the best you can hope for is a stalemate. When Reagan became president and changed the American strategy in the Cold War from containment and detente to victory, Communism fell in eight years and there was never a nuclear war. Goldwater once wrote a book about Cold War strategy, the title of which said it all: "Why Not Victory?"

(But Reagan, of course, from your world view, was also an idiot. (LOL))

Tim, you're so wrong on so many levels. PLEASE go back and read some of the books I've begged you to read before you EVER post on Vietnam again.

The Pentagon Papers includes documents revealing that the Pentagon knew that the more we killed the more joined up, the more we bombed the greater the resistance became. McNamara thought there was a point at which this would reverse itself, and kept upping the ante. He misunderstood the NV resolve to win. Around the point where we had a HALF A MILLION in country, he realized it was a black hole. Johnson, however, felt he was stuck politically (You can't admit a mistake in this country and expect to be re-elected...not with Nixon and Goldwater and BOBBY taking every cheap shot against you...). Since you're into movies, watch the The Path to War--THE definitive picture of the Johnson White House and Vietnam, as far as I'm concerned.

Your theory that Goldwater could have won the war by nuking the NV, and that China and Russia would have stood quietly by is INSANE. Just because Ho Chi Minh was no fan of Brezhnev and Mao's doesn't mean he didn't have agreements with them. If they didn't move to his defense they may very well have moved on Korea or Berlin while over a HALF MILLION of our soldiers were tied down in Nam. As stated, we had a HALF MIL in country, and could barely hold on to the South. It may have taken another MILLION before we could have taken the North without the use of nukes, and then they would have had to stay there to keep the peace, basically making us the moral equivalent of the Nazis in Africa, and just as vulnerable. The use of nukes, even without a Russian or Chinese response would almost certainly have been disastrous for our foreign policy, particularly in Asia, where our decision to nuke would have been viewed as racist. No way would Nixon have been able to go to China if we'd nuked Nam. It may very well have driven Indonesia towards communism.

And your comparing a land war in Vietnam to missile defense strategy under Reagan is like comparing apples and oranges. If Reagan had applied his commitment to win policy to a land war in Russia, he would have followed Napoleon and Hitler into infamy as fool number three. Having a commitment to win and a lot of expensive toys isn't enough to win, as is being proved in Iraq--it takes the good will of the people.

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Well, John, your last sentence is certainly wrong.

Ignoring the morality of what Truman did, it was not the good will of the Japanese people that stopped the war in the Pacific Theatre--it was two nuclear weapons.

When countries are ruled by madmen, the good will of the people often counts for nothing.

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John, your post makes me wonder how closely you listened to "The Fog of War." In it McNamara argues the point that per the North Vietnamese they were only fighting for their independence and they had been fighting the Chinese for centuries. If this is correct certainly we would not have had a nuclear war with China had we attacked Hanoi.

This is twisted logic. McNamara correctly points out that the US failed to understand that Vietnam was involved in a nationalist struggle. The US has made the same mistake throughout the second-half of the 20th century. They thought they were fighting communism but in reality was fighting nationalism. As a result of this lack of understanding they pushed people like Fidel Castro into the hands of the communists. The Americans are making the same mistake in Iraq. They believe they are fighting Muslim fundamentalists but in reality they are really involved in a nationalist struggle.

Ho Chi Minh did not want Vietnam to be occupied by the French, the United States, China or the Soviet Union. However, in his struggle for independence, like Castro, was willing to accept the support of communist states.

If Goldwater had been elected president and North Vietnam suffered a full-scale invasion, the same thing would have happened with the United States invaded North Korea. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops would have pushed back the US Army from where they came. Harry Truman was sensible enough to accept defeat and sacked Douglas MacArthur when he suggested using nuclear weapons on China. Lyndon Johnson’s policy was based on the idea of fighting a war of containment. Lucky for us, he was not tempted to accept the advice of right-wing nutters like Barry Goldwater, William Buckley or Tim Gratz.

In "The Fog of War" McNamara ultimately concludes that we fought the entire war and lost so many Americans (and killed so many Vietnamese) because we never understood the North Vietnamese and where they were coming from. He claims the entire war was based on a misunderstanding. If that is true, then McNamara has indicted himself as the idiot. And his idiocy caused the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans.

Indeed he does. However, the point he is making that virtually all American presidents have made the same mistake (except for JFK who after the Cuban Missile Crisis began to see the Cold War differently). That does not make him an idiot. The idiots are those right-wingers like Goldwater who never worked out that the Americans were really fighting a nationalist rebellion. The same goes for George Bush in Iraq today. I would have preferred it if McNamara had reached this conclusion in 1963. However, at least he is now willing to admit to his mistakes. That is why I believe the Fog of War is so important. It illustrates the failure of “bully boy” tactics that has brought us several times to the verge of a nuclear war.

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McNamara was also with LeMay during the Cuban Missile Crisis. His description of LeMay’s views was indeed chilling.

I watched Fog of War for the umpteenth time late last night, and McNamara's comment about LeMay's attitude at the end of the Missile Crisis is indeed chilling. But I think there is point of huge historical magnitude that largely goes unnoticed.

McNamara mentioned the massive nuclear superiority the U.S. held at that time, citing the ratio of 17:1. When McNamara mentions that LeMay wanted to use that superiority while we still had it, he's revealing a deep truth. The tactic of exaggerating the capabilities of one's enemy was applied to the Soviets all through the Fifties to justify our own massive nuclear build-up. That build-up was for a first strike capability - what I like to characterize as a Nazi-like attitude, "The First Strike Final Solution."

When Kennedy found himself being pressed on issues like the Missile Gap and a generally weaker posture than Eisenhower embodied, his solution was to leak through a low-level speech by Roswell Gilpatrick the true balance (or imbalance, actually) of power. This was in September, 1961. In hindsight, we now know that this exposure led directly to Khrushchev's need for a quick fix, which came to be the Cuban missile deployment.

T.C.

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I find this thread very thought provoking, and think I have a couple of points worth considering, concerning the use of 'propaganda' and the ability to control public opinion regarding points raised concerning 'The Fog of War.' Specifically, America's conundrum between the 'hawks and the doves' re: willingness to use the nuclear option in Vietnam, and how time is the great equalizer in this issue, and its relationship to Keenan's concept of 'containment.' It was, at least with regards to the American public not as controversial to use 'the bomb' in the closing days of the Pacific War due to the fact that it appeared inevitable, or so historians tell us, ostensibly because the Allies would be forced to invade Japan, casualty estimates in a US military invasion of the Japanese mainland were said to be as high as 1 million servicemen, Killed or Injured.

With the ostensible 'surprise' attack on Pearl Harbor, the American public's reaction to the Manhattan Projects success could be said to be somewhat subdued, regarding the morality of what had been done (at least compared to what it would be now) I believe in light of the fact that, long and short term effects of radiation exposure were not even on the radar of screen of public awareness. After 1968 and the Tet Offensive, hindsight over the use of nukes in WW2 among American's were arguably in two camps. Veterans and those 'old enough to remember' to some degree had less qualms with the issue, but many Baby Boomers held an opposite view, that what had been done In Nagasaki and Hiroshima was inherently evil, and that it was to our 'eternal shame' that we were the only country to use nukes on another nation.

Against that backdrop, JFK's policies in SE have been historically vindicated, and the argument can be made that the media has shown a remarkable penchant for 'trying to blame Vietnam on Kennedy, while it was LBJ that 'manufactured the Gulf of Tonkin incident into a smokescreen to escalate the war dramatically. I believe arguments to the effect that the 'liberal media' causing a lack of domestic support for 'ultimate victory in SE Asia' contributed to the 'defeat,' I believe that argument is hogwash. And Goldwater never stood a chance against LBJ, if Kennedy had lived do you think Kennedy vs Goldwater would have been any less of a thumping. Romney was who Kennedy was worried about, as for the Fog of War I find it hard to be objective regarding someone who admittedly decieved the American public, but he is a actor in a cast of thousand's, when it comes to the divide between those who fight the war, and those who send people into the line of fire. In that respect, I think there are eerie similarities between Vietnam and Iraq. The same glowing predictions, the same elite who don't have to worry about their children dying 'over there,' win lose or draw.

IMO Vietnam was a 'failure' for the US for the same reason it was for the French, MacArthur although a complete opposite of Kennedy politically he rightly advised Kennedy 'not to get bogged down in a land war in SE Asia.' Kennedy told the Pentagon to convince MacArthur and then he (Kennedy) would be convinced.

Now 43 years later we have ostensibly learned that the Joint Chiefs wanted to drop at least 15 atom bombs on Russia before they perfected their ICBM delivery system, and even reports that there were also similar sentiments in the Pentagon/Joint Chief's regarding Communist China.

As an aside, regarding America's covert war in North Vietnam; One should read "Spies & Commandos - How America Lost the Secret War in North Vietnam," Conboy/Andrade it is a good read, and if anything is a sobering thought when you consider how critical their ineffectiveness was.

Now in the New American Century we have a (bias) media that runs hard and fast about Kennedy's personal life and morals, and has at least contributed to the perception of him as 'pop icon,' instead of someone who had the helm during one of America's most difficult foreign policy imbroglio of it's history (Berlin, SE Asia, Cuba.) Having said all that, regarding Mr Gratz comment 'When countries are ruled by madmen, the good will of the people often counts for nothing,' a point needs to be made. Perceptions regarding 'madmen' is not strictly an American phenomena, go to Europe or the Middle East and ask people there about their opinion of President Bush.

While it is not strictly an American phenomena 'not to care about what other countries think of us,' I think America's past is catching up with us, you don't have to be a 'subversive' to look at our grand history of foreign interventions since the 19th century and feel a little reticent, while I understand the concepts of hegemony and geopolitics, I submit that every country, or at least every major power has some form of a philosophy of 'national greatness,' and I think that the George Bush's ideas regarding the separation of 'church and state' and 'faith based initiatives are 'dangerous when coupled with a segment of the voters who know nothing about the 'Watergate Era' and all it's hideousness that has been discussed 'ad infinitum' on the JFK Debate Forum, to me it is smacks of a pseudo continuation of George Herbert Walker Bush's '1000 points of Light', which might sell well to the Great Unwashed, but doesent sit too well with me and a lot of other Americans.

Wilson's 'keep the World Safe for Democracy,' to Kennedy and 'keep the World Safe for Diversity,' what will be the phrase that defines the Bush Administration?

Edited by Robert Howard

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