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Like the movie The Trial of Henry Kissinger did a great job illuminating the illegal bombing campaign in Cambodia, The Fog of War does an amazing job illustrating The Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam and the U. S.-Japanese conflict in the second World War.
The movie is a sit-down with Robert McNamara, former president of Ford, Secretary of Defense under JFK and LBJ and leader with the World Bank. He’s in this 80s now and shares his 11 lessons of war and politics.
I hadn’t known that the U.S. first started bombing Japan from a station in China. They’d fly the fuel over from India to China and then the planes would deploy from there. Eventually McNamara and his statisticians crunched the numbers and realized that they could make better use of their bombing power by starting with the Marianas Islands.
His grief at JFK’s death was palpable and he was charged with choosing the burial place for Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery.
He focuses greatly on the warning of total war and nuclear annihilation and marvels at how the U.S. and Cuba/Soviet Union came within a hair’s-breadth of complete war.
He vists Vietnam in the 1990s and talks to some of the leaders that led the war against the South Vietnamese. The Vietnamese saw the United States as another occupying force like the French colonialists. The U.S. saw the conflict as containing the domino theory of Communism. The Vietnamese saw it as a civil war, the U.S. as a global one. He strongly points out that the U.S. should never ever deploy under unilateral action – that if you can’t get other countries that share your values to join you in the war, then you probably need to think the reasons for it. I had never really stopped and realized that Vietnam was a unilateral military action. He says that basically the leaders of the Vietnam war were war criminals and if we had lost – they’d have been prosecuted for war crimes.
Particularly startling were the similarites of LBJ’s anti-communist rants to George W. Bush’s anti-everybody rants.
I find I enjoy these documentaries about the 60s and 70s so much more now than I ever would have in a high school setting. I always hated war history in school because it all seemed to be so many dates and numbers – never settling on the societal effect of warfare and the culture and mindset from which it springs.