The Fog of War

The Fog of War quotes

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Robert McNamara


I'm not so naive or simplistic to believe we can eliminate war. We're not going to change human nature anytime soon. It isn't that we aren't rational. We are rational. But reason has limits. There's a quote from T.S. Eliot that I just love:
We shall not cease from exploring
And at the end of our exploration
We will return to where we started
And know the place for the first time. Now that's in a sense where I'm beginning to be.


I've always wondered where explanations end and excuses begin. And is there a difference between excuses and explanations ... is an excuse a bad or self-serving explanation? I don't know. Maybe Newton's Law is an excuse for why bodies just stay at rest or in motion unless acted on by some external force. I look at the McNamara story as the-fog-of-war-ate-my-homework excuse. After all, if war is so complex, then no one is responsible. Errol Morris' response to Ron Rosenbaum's suggestion that the film be re-titled Eleven Excuses of Robert S. McNamara.

If you went to the C.I.A. and said "How is the situation today in South Vietnam?" I think they would say it's worse. You see it in the desertion rate, you see it in the morale. You see it in the difficulty to recruit people. You see it in the gradual loss of population control. Many of us in private would say that things are not good, they've gotten worse. Now while we say this in private and not public, there are facts available that find their way in the press. If we're going to stay in there, if we're going to go up the escalating chain, we're going to have to educate the people, Mr. President. We haven't done so yet. I'm not sure now is exactly the right time. This conversation was also taped by Johnson, on June 9, 1964.

In the first message, Khrushchev said this: "We and you ought not to pull on the ends of a rope which you have tied the knots of war. Because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. And then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you. I have participated in two wars and know that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction. For such is the logic of war. If people do not display wisdom, they will clash like blind moles and then mutual annihilation will commence."

In Thompson's mind was this thought: Khrushchev's gotten himself in a hell of a fix. He would then think to himself, "My God, if I can get out of this with a deal that I can say to the Russian people: 'Kennedy was going to destroy Castro and I prevented it.'" Thompson, knowing Khrushchev as he did, thought Khrushchev will accept that. And Thompson was right. That's what I call empathy. We must try to put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes, just to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions and their actions.

Interview with American Amnesia.

Kennedy was trying to keep us out of war. I was trying to help him keep us out of war. And General Curtis LeMay, whom I served under as a matter of fact in World War II, was saying "Let's go in, let's totally destroy Cuba."

LeMay said, "If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals." And I think he's right. He, and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?

Let me go back one moment. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, at the end, I think we did put ourselves in the skin of the Soviets. In the case of Vietnam, we didn't know them well enough to empathize. And there was total misunderstanding as a result. They believed that we had simply replaced the French as a colonial power, and we were seeking to subject South and North Vietnam to our colonial interests, which was absolutely absurd. And we, we saw Vietnam as an element of the Cold War. Not what they saw it as: a civil war.

Morris, Errol. "New Morris Film Traps McNamara in a Fog of War".

Morris, Errol. The Anti-Post-Modern Post-Modernist.

My wife, Julia Sheehan, sees McNamara as 'the flying Dutchman,' destined to travel the earth looking for redemption, absolution, whatever. Many political writers have been less kind. They see his trip to Vietnam, to Hanoi, as an attempt to justify a war that can never be justified. And they see his trips to Havana and to Moscow as facile attempts to rewrite history. I see it differently. There is something, for me, deeply moving and interesting about McNamara's attempt to figure out what happened, who he is and what he's done. Unusual among public figures, he has embarked on an historical investigation of himself. But doesn't he know what he's done? Call it the Cartesian error: the belief that we have privileged access to our own minds, that we somehow know what we're thinking or what we were thinking. Can't I just look 'upstairs' and summarize what I find up there? I don't think so. Errol Morris

Never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you.

Norman Morrison was a Quaker. He was opposed to war, the violence of war, the killing. He came to the Pentagon, doused himself with gasoline. Burned himself to death below my office. He held a child in his arms, his daughter. Passersby shouted, "Save the child!" He threw the child out of his arms, and the child lived and is alive today. His wife issued a very moving statement: 'Human beings must stop killing other human beings.' And that's a belief that I shared. I shared it then and I believe it even more strongly today. How much evil must we do in order to do good? We have certain ideals, certain responsibilities. Recognize that at times you will have to engage in evil, but minimize it.

On his way out of the studio, Errol Morris remarked that last August in Waco, Texas (where he was shooting a Nike commercial), he looked up in the airport and saw Karl Rove standing in front of him. Morris introduced himself as the film-maker of "The Fog of War." With something more than cordiality, Rove responded: "That's one of my favorite movies. I recommend it to everybody I know." Christopher Lydon