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Tog of War (The)

Robert McNamara, once Ford Motor Company's head, Secretary of State to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and the Vietnam War architect, later become World Bank president. Morris, who films pet cemeteries, Death Row, robots, and Stephen Hawking, got McNamara to talk "for an hour" that turned into 20. Morris' Interrotron lets McNamara look at him while looking at the camera; he seems in constant eye-contact with us.

Still healthy at 85, McNamara shares his ideas and memories; Morris terms them "McNamara's Life Lessons:" "Empathize with your enemy," "Rationality won't save us," "Get the data," "Belief and seeing are often both wrong," and "Be prepared to re-examine yourself." Could later Secretaries of Defense learn from him? Recalling a WWI parade when he was 2, McNamara searches his soul. A key WWII aide to hard-nosed General Curtis LeMay, whose strategy was "kill 'em 'til they give up," he planned pre-A-bomb air raids on Japan. Of 100,000 people burned alive in Tokyo, McNamara says, "Kill only enough of the enemy," and, "You might have to do evil to do good." LeMay said later that if America had lost, he'd've been tried for war crimes.

McNamara's two fingers almost touch, showing how near nuclear war was in 1961's Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy answered only the conciliatory one of two Khrushchev telegrams. Castro later said he'd been ready to sacrifice Cuba; we avoided nuclear war only by grace. When President Johnson expanded the Vietnam War, McNamara told him it couldn't be won, and resigned. A few months later, Johnson said he wouldn't run again. Oval Office recordings of McNamara, Kennedy, and Johnson, archival film of McNamara at Ford, graphics, a chart of US towns the size of the ones McNamara targeted in Japan, and photos of LeMay with a cigar, heighten all McNamara says, or describe what he won't. Philip Glass' driven score also moves the film.

A Quaker burned himself to death below McNamara's Pentagon office. Could he have done more to end the war? He's elusive, and won't say why he didn't, but wishes he had. Morris wants him to say he's sorry, but he won't be hypocritical or humble, and won't discuss certain things. The film shows a leader uncertain, too certain, and subject to irony. Some commentators question McNamara's facts, as he does, too. At 85, he knows: "You can't change human nature."
Director(s): Errol Morris
Writer(s): Errol Morris
Cast: Robert McNamara
Release Date: 2004   
Keyword: R McNamara, Secretary of State, JFK, Bay of Pigs, Vietnam Wa
Target Age: 15+   Category: war and peace
Documentary: yes
Language: English   Reviewer's Name: Micah
Review: http://MRQE
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