The Fog of War

The Fog of War quotes

37 total quotes (ID: 841)

Related Quotes
Robert McNamara


"Mr. McNamara, You must never have read a history book. If you'd had, you'd know we weren't pawns of the Chinese or the Russians. McNamara, didn't you know that? Don't you understand that we have been fighting the Chinese for 1000 years? We were fighting for our independence. And we would fight to the last man. And we were determined to do so. And no amount of bombing, no amount of U.S. pressure would ever have stopped us." - Thach, former Foreign Minister of Vietnam, 1995, as recalled by McNamara.


"A friend of mine has said, 'You can never trust someone who doesn't talk a lot, because how else could you know what they're thinking?' This could be true. There's a belief that if you sit people down and you let them talk that they will reveal who they are. And then this also contrary to the whole idea about how you're supposed to investigate stuff, how you're supposed to interview people. After all, you're supposed to ask difficult questions. You're supposed to - particularly if you want to find something out, you're supposed to back the subject against the wall, press them hard and get them to 'fess up in some way or another. This is part of many of the criticisms that I heard about my film of Robert S. McNamara. That he should have been subjected to much tougher questions." Errol Morris

I want to say, and this is very important: at the end we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war. We came that close to nuclear war at the end. Rational individuals: Kennedy was rational; Khrushchev was rational; Castro was rational. Rational individuals came that close to total destruction of their societies. And that danger exists today.

Any military commander who is honest with himself, or with those he's speaking to, will admit that he has made mistakes in the application of military power. He's killed people unnecessarily -- his own troops or other troops -- through mistakes, through errors of judgment. A hundred, or thousands, or tens of thousands, maybe even a hundred thousand. But, he hasn't destroyed nations. And the conventional wisdom is don't make the same mistake twice, learn from your mistakes. And we all do. Maybe we make the same mistake three times, but hopefully not four or five. They'll be no learning period with nuclear weapons. You make one mistake and you're going to destroy nations.

At my age, 85, I'm at age where I can look back and derive some conclusions about my actions. My rule has been try to learn, try to understand what happened. Develop the lessons and pass them on.

McNamara: I was on the island of Guam in his command in March of 1945. In that single night, we burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo: men, women, and children.
Morris: Were you aware this was going to happen?
McNamara: Well, I was part of a mechanism that in a sense recommended it. I analyzed bombing operations, and how to make them more efficient. i.e. Not more efficient in the sense of killing more, but more efficient in weakening the adversary. I wrote one report analyzing the efficiency of the B--29 operations. The B--29 could get above the fighter aircraft and above the air defense, so the loss rate would be much less. The problem was the accuracy was also much less. Now I don't want to suggest that it was my report that led to, I'll call it, the firebombing. It isn't that I'm trying to absolve myself of blame. I don't want to suggest that it was I who put in LeMay's mind that his operations were totally inefficient and had to be drastically changed. But, anyhow, that's what he did. He took the B--29s down to 5,000 feet and he decided to bomb with firebombs.

McNamara: It was just confusion, and events afterwards showed that our judgment that we'd been attacked that day was wrong. It didn't happen. And the judgment that we'd been attacked on August 2nd was right. We had been, although that was disputed at the time. So we were right once and wrong once. Ultimately, President Johnson authorized bombing in response to what he thought had been the second attack; it hadn't occurred but that's irrelevant to the point I'm making here. He authorized the attack on the assumption it had occurred, and his belief that it was a conscious decision on the part of the North Vietnamese political and military leaders to escalate the conflict and an indication they would not stop short of winning. We were wrong, but we had in our minds a mindset that led to that action. And it carried such heavy costs. We see incorrectly or we see only half of the story at times.
Morris: We see what we want to believe.
McNamara: You're absolutely right. Belief and seeing, they're both often wrong.

I can still see it. There's a love seat, two armchairs with a lamp table in between. Jack Kennedy is sitting in one armchair and Bobby Kennedy's sitting in the other. "Mr. President, it's absurd, I'm not qualified." "Look, Bob," he said, "I don't think there's any school for Presidents either." McNamara on his reaction to being offered the position of the Secretary of Defense.

Kennedy: The advantage to taking them out is?
McNamara: We can say to the Congress and people that we do have a plan for reducing the exposure of U.S. combat personnel.
Kennedy: My only reservation about it is if the war doesn't continue to go well, it will look like we were overly optimistic.
McNamara: We need a way to get out of Vietnam, and this is a way of doing it.
[This conversation was taped on October 2, 1963. This tape, together with a series of conversations between McNamara and President Johnson together depict McNamara as being less pro-war than he is often charactarized as being.]

Johnson: I always thought it was foolish for you to make any statements about withdrawing. I thought it was bad psychologically. But you and the President thought otherwise, and I just sat silent.
McNamara: The problem is...
Johnson: Then come the questions: how in the hell does McNamara think, when he's losing a war, he can pull men out of there?
[This conversation was taped by President Johnson on February 25, 1964.]

I formed the hypothesis that each of us could have achieved our objectives without the terrible loss of life. And I wanted to test that by going to Vietnam. McNamara, on his 1995 meeting in Vietnam with the former Foreign Minister of Vietnam

I called the superintendent of Arlington Cemetery. And he and I walked over those grounds. They're hauntingly beautiful grounds, white crosses all in a row. And finally I thought I'd found the exact spot, the most beautiful spot in the cemetery. I called Jackie at the White House and asked her to come out there, and she immediately accepted. And that's where the President is buried today. A park service ranger came up to me and said that he had escorted President Kennedy on a tour of those grounds a few weeks before. And Kennedy said, "That was the most beautiful spot in Washington." That's where he's buried.

Morris: When you talk about the responsibility for something like the Vietnam War, whose responsibility is it?
McNamara: It's the president's responsibility. I don't want to fail to recognize the tremendous contribution I think Johnson made to the country. I don't want to put the responsibility for Vietnam on his shoulders alone, but I do -- I am inclined to believe that if Kennedy had lived, he would have made a difference. I don't think we would have had 500,000 men there.

I had a lot of trouble with McNamara in the course of making this movie. Horrible disagreements about stuff I had put in the movie that he did not want in there. One of the major disagreements concerned the lessons in the film. There are 11 lessons. And he repeatedly said, 'You know, Errol, those are not my lessons. They are your lessons.' And I said, 'Yeah, yeah, they are. But they're extracted, of course, from things that you've said,' things that McNamara said, which is indeed the case. Perhaps not the lessons that McNamara would have chosen, but then, he was not directing the movie. I think that the lessons are all ironic. It's very odd to me that people talk about the film and they talk about the lessons without pointing out that there might be intended ironies with each and every one of them. But yes, they are for me ironic, particularly the last one in the movie: You can't change human nature. It tells you that all of the other lessons are valueless, that the human situation is indeed hopeless." Errol Morris

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."