Monday, July 6, 2009

Emerging from The Fog of War

A blog posting today, from my friend John Williams over at A Special Way of Being Afraid, jarred loose a significant memory for me which I had not re-explored in quite some time. His reference to the movie The Fog of War, the Errol Morris documentary in which former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara is interviewed about, among other heady subjects, his role in the escalation of the Vietnam War, reminded me of when I first saw it at the Inwood Theatre in Dallas, Texas. While it's true I've been known to cry at cell phone commercials (just the one, honest), by the end of The Fog of War I was left emotionally obliterated.

There were plenty of lessons to learn from the reflective McNamara---11 to be exact---but it was more the sight of a man nearing the end of his life, looking back upon the "evil" he had perpetrated...essentially admitting that he was, by most definitions, a war criminal, that had left me visibly shaken and embarrassed to reveal my tears. McNamara, even then at the age of 88, possessed a stunning intellect. It was a wise man laying his soul bare not in a self-serving request for absolution, but more so as one last contribution to the world of men. It was amazingly relevant at the time (we had invaded Iraq just a few months before its US release), and even more so in the time since. There will be no such mea culpa from Dick Cheney's death bed. There will be no such wisdom he can impart. Cheney, like so many others who have come before and will come after, got lost in the fog of war. McNamara, somehow, was able to emerge by the end.

McNamara's favorite quote, which he recites at one point during the movie, comes from T. S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

McNamara passed away in his sleep this morning. He was 93.


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