OR ELEVEN LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF ROBERT McNAMARA
This documentary made in 2003 traces the life of a troubled man. With mixed feelings of regret, guilt, and urgency to publicly confess, yet restraining his political opinions, the once called architect of the Vietnam War, Robert S. (the middle initial stands for Strange) McNamara, tells the lessons he learned in life.
Director Errol Morris, through the use of many close-ups, black and white, and color footage of the events narrated by McNamara, bring us close to experiencing this man’s trials and triumphs. McNamara fought in World War II under the command of the relentless General Curtis Le May. This man was responsible for 100,000 Japanese deaths including women and children. Under Le May’s orders, we learn, 67 cities in Japan were burned to the ground before the two atomic bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1961, McNamara was appointed Secretary of Defense by President Kennedy and both men had to face the Cuban Missile Crisis and resist General Le May’s demands of “Let’s totally destroy Cuba”.
After Kennedy’s assassination, the war in Vietnam escalated. Although McNamara recommended to President Johnson to gradually withdraw 16,000 men, Johnson would not agree. Retiring as Secretary of Defense in 1968, McNamara witnessed how the war caused 58,000 American and 3,400,000 Vietnamese deaths.
In this essential historical documentary, he tells us, shakily and tearfully, that one of his controversial lessons is that sometimes to do good in the world a government needs to be involved in evil acts.
You be the judge
See also directed by Errol Morris: Wormwood (2017).