Nowhere Land

Friday, October 07, 2005

In Retrostpect vs. The Fog of War

I'm reading McNamara's biography- In Retrostpect. This is rather interesting. As in the film, the author is frank and eluding at the same time. A very contradictory person. But he is still the most frank and brave US top official among those responsible for the war.

I don't know if I hate or like this man. I absolutely hate and despite Johnson, Nixon, Rostow, Dean Rusk- the cold politicians and experts who rushed America to destroy another country and harm their own country.

But for this guy, I have mixed feeling though he is one of the few men in charge of the escalation of the war which at last kill around four millions of my compatriots. He is an extremely arrogant and insensitive guy who made unforgivable mistakes. Yet I find him very human. And I admire his courage when speaking what he really think (not in all cases and very late, sure) and not lying to himself.

Compared to the film, the book is duller. But this thing is also expected. However, McNamara is more honest and ready to accept mistakes than in the film, where he finds it more difficulty to talk about his mistakes and responsibility.


I really like the film. This review was written a long time ago. I find this documentary much better than the controversial Farenheit 11/9. Perhaps the best documentary I've seen so far (very few, hehe. I haven't watched Bowling to Columbine yet. Is it very good?). And it concerns our Vietnamese past.

I find this review for the film in Amazon very interesting. It shares the feelling I had when I was watching the film.

A Giant, Startling Vision, March 15, 2004
Reviewer: A. H. Lynde "ahlynde" (Ewa Beach, HI United States) -

This brilliant work by director Morris is the stuff of life. And death. It arouses the most basic moral and immoral questions of being human through an enormously complex and yet simple man, Robert Strange McNamara. It seems no coincidence, his middle name, as we get to know him in all his cleverness and contradictions. Morris subtly illuminates, literally through McNamara's eyes, what it means to have power over life and death. Like God. There is something almost spiritual in McNamara's eyes, edited against searing images of, well, graphs, statistics, memoranda, bursting firebombs and nuclear mushrooms, almost all rarely seen-before footage. The eyes are the soul of this film - McNamara's are a combination of supreme confidence and extreme doubt. But not only his eyes - for example, we see President Kennedy's eyes frozen in the lens as he tells the nation of imminent nuclear war in 1962, a look that would make a Marine shiver. This new interview technique ("interrotron" ) draws us into what? War? Peace? Honor? Life? Power? Evil?


Born 85 years ago, McNamara is the quintessential man of his time, what Brokaw called the greatest generation, a sobriquet this documentary underscores. In McNamara's words he deplored the sorrow and pity of the four great wars of his lifetime; the trenches in France; the nuclear and indiscriminate firebombing of innocent Japanese; the debacle in Korea; the flaming jungles of Vietnam. His command of statistics is breathtaking. But it is the eyes that reveal an inner truth, the precise opposite of his concise, rational words - his 11 "lessons". We see a man who never found himself in harm's way. We see eyes so ironically blinded by a circa 1918 vision of duty and honor that, though he loathed the horrifics of Vietnam, he was compelled to allow his true judgment to go unexpressed until nearly 60,000 Americans were dead. He was at once perhaps the most powerful man in the world and its most despicable. It is easy to see why a brilliant young President Kennedy would choose someone as Defense Secretary who seemed so like himself, but tragically without the courage. And why, with Kennedy's death, McNamara by sheer ambition and brilliance would ascend to the very pinnacle of power.

Yet, I couldn't hate this guy. Perhaps the most telling moment is McNamara's clear devastation at Kennedy's assassination 41 years ago, again told in his eyes and a rare, emotional choking voice. So it's difficult to blame him for all those deaths he might have prevented -- McNamara genuinely believed he was doing the right thing for his Presidents: through an obsessive sense of duty and loyalty. Now that his day of legacy approaches, he expresses criticism over the actions of others -- General LeMay and President Johnson are the favored targets. But McNamara cannot quite bring himself to admit his own mistakes of enormous proportions. Yet it's quite clear that he was one of only two men who could have ended the 7-year slaughter (of his term in office). Many may find that failure a reason to despise the man. I found it just human.

This film offers up no easy answers (certainly not his 11 "lessons'), but more importantly raises many fundamental questions. Philip Glass' elegiac, edgy scoring perfectly meshes with this thriller. An impressive and important contribution to understanding our nation's ambivalent past.

9 Comments:

  • Certainly McNamara, Nixon, and others made many mistakes in Vietnam. But, from your perspective, who in Vietnam (both North and South) also made mistakes? Is there any way that the whole terrible war could have been avoided, and millions of lives saved?

    By Blogger VietPundit, at 10/08/2005 4:16 AM  

  • This is a difficult question. I think every leader in this period has his share of the blame. But this is a very complex conflict to blame some names or a certain side. Yet, I think the decision of bringing American soldiers to Vietnam soil is an unforgivable act. Everything Americans say afterward to defend it becomes rubbish and hypothetical.

    By Blogger Linh, at 10/08/2005 1:01 PM  

  • You're right, that is a very complex question, and I wasn't trying to fix "blame" on anybody or any "side". The reason I brought that up is because you said McNamara has "admitted mistakes". I just think that we Vietnamese, on both sides North and South, have to also examine the causes and effects of the war honestly, and try to learn from the mistakes. Who amongst us Vietnamese has admitted mistakes?

    As Pham Thi Hoai wrote recently, "Làm sao có thể hoà giải, nếu không sám hối và tha thứ?"

    As I said before, Linh, you and I may disagree politically, but I think you're a thoughtful and honest person, and you say what you truly think, not for propoganda purposes. I hope that your reading and thinking about this issue will continue.

    By Blogger VietPundit, at 10/08/2005 2:32 PM  

  • Yes, Bowling for Columbine is good, although u know u're manipulated by the director sometimes (quite his style).
    Mc Namara, in the film, did he really admit mistake? If I recall correctly, he did go around and never quite directly "admitted" although he was pretty sharp and quick in pointing out other's wrong decision. Human, all too human ... :P

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/09/2005 3:31 AM  

  • Thanks Vietpundit. You are right, we should look at this complex issue more carefully with a conscious mind, not letting personal feelings intervene no matter it is hatred, bitterness, pride...

    To Anonymous (N/A?), McNamara admits responsibility but not mistakese in the film. As I said "However, McNamara is more honest and ready to accept mistakes than in the film, where he finds it more difficulty to talk about his mistakes and responsibility". Perhaps admitting a mistake before an audience (as in the film) is more difficult than by himself (as in the book).
    In the book, McNamara admits his and their (the so-called "best and brightest"'s) mistakes many times. For example, in the preface, he says "We are wrong, terrribly wrong".

    By Blogger Linh, at 10/09/2005 4:25 AM  

  • Bài trả lời phỏng vấn của em gái chị Thuỳ Trâm với đài BBC.
    http://fab.blogs.com/milestonedangkimtram.mp3

    By Blogger Linh, at 10/17/2005 8:08 PM  

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