Fog Of War

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Robert S. McNamara is one of modern America's most controversial figures. His opinions, policies, and actions have led to a firestorm of debate, ignited most recently by Errol Morris's Academy Award-winning film, The Fog of War. In the companion book, editors James G. Blight and janet M. Lang use lessons from McNamara's life to examine issues of war and peace in the 20th century. McNamara's career spans some of America's defining events—from the end of World War I, through the course of World War II, and the unfolding of the Cold War in Cuba, Vietnam, and around the world. The Fog of War brings together film transcripts, documents, dialogues, and essays to explore what the horrors and triumphs of the 20th century can teach us about the future.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When Robert Strange McNamara ran the Vietnam War as secretary of defense from 1961 to 1968, he let it be known that he had all the answers, and that those who didn't agree with him were not as smart nor as well informed as he was. After being forced to resign in 1968, McNamara refused to discuss the Vietnam War until his book, In Retrospect, was published in 1995. In that controversial apologia, he allowed that he "made mistakes" in Vietnam, but stressed that every other top official in Washington did as well and that he based his policies on incorrect information supplied by the military. McNamara (b. 1916) conveyed that same message in Errol Morris's Oscar-winning 2003 documentary The Fog of War. Brown University political scientists Blight and Lang retread McNamara's testimony in the documentary and add other archival material to look primarily at the big decisions of WW II (in which McNamara served) and the Vietnam War. The authors are not dispassionate observers. They present what amounts to a glowing assessment of McNamara and the Errol Morris film, for which they served as advisers. They speak of McNamara's "passionate concern for the human future" and his "hard work and courage." They refer to the Morris film as "an artistic triumph" and "a brilliant work of art." The authors pay lip service to McNamara's many critics from across the political spectrum, but the book feels most like strategic support for McNamara's mea culpa and for military intelligence reform generally. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Those interested in national policy decision-making or strategy and policy at the Naval War College courses will find this book and film of interest.
— LCDR Youssef Aboul-Enein, MSC, United States Navy
Robert K. Brigham
Essential reading for anyone interested in drawing lessons from the Vietnam war.
Edward T. Linenthal
It is difficult to imagine a book more terribly relevant than The Fog of War. James Blight and janet Lang weave together a compelling narrative, important historical documents from the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam war, and gripping exchanges of old adversaries met in dialogue in order to offer readers Robert McNamara's darkly prophetic 'lessons.' In so doing, they brilliantly engage the turbulent, complex, endlessly fascinating life of this remarkable public figure. This book is certainly one of the surest guides through the fog, and we would be wise to pay attention.
Graham Allison
This book should help teachers and students use Errol Morris's 'The Fog of War' as a launching pad for debating Robert McNamara's lessons about war and peace.
Paul L. Wachtel
Jim Blight and janet Lang's book is a novel achievement. The documentation, and their enormously helpful commentary, complements the film in an incredibly valuable way. This book should be read by anyone who wants to understand the perilous world we live in.
Joseph S. Nye Jr.
This fascinating book is rich with lessons for leaders, citizens and students. It is hard to put down. I hope that more of our leaders will pick it up.
Jorge I. Dominguez
Robert McNamara is the single most important government official of our times. In the winter of his life, McNamara—through the skillful and talented medium of Blight and Lang—reflects on his mistakes, the lessons he has drawn from them, his empathy for his enemies, and his willingness to reexamine his own reasoning. And he seeks now to persuade us, passionate as ever that each of us, mighty government officials or ordinary citizen, will be better if we remain skeptical of our certainties.
William Taubman
Passionately and effectively, Blight and Lang extend McNamara's anti-war lessons by deepening our insight into his life, and with dramatic and revealing documents and oral history dialogues about crises in which he played a leading role: the Cuban missile crisis; the Vietnam war; and the World War II fire- and atomic-bombing of Japan. The result is a classic handbook, at once terrifying and yet hopeful, about how easily the killing can start and what can be done to prevent it.
Chester L. Cooper
In his Academy Award-winning film, Errol Morris transformed the popular vision of Robert McNamara from a creator and cold accountant of death and destruction into an agonized, thoughtful, sympathetic public servant. For their part, James Blight and janet Lang have documented the challenges Robert McNamara faced throughout his seven years as America's Secretary of Defense. They have provided fascinating, often chilling selections from correspondence with and between Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro, Johnson, and other players during the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War. This previously classified material, together with thoughtful commentary from scholars and observers, and the helpful views of Blight and Lang, provide a valuable background to the lessons McNamara draws from 'The Fog of War.' Just as Morris's documentary is 'must' seeing for all thoughtful Americans, the Blight/Lang book is 'must' reading.
James K. Galbraith
A gripping documentary accompaniment to 'The Fog of War,' the collaboration of McNamara and Morris, and Blight and Lang, is destined to eclipse Graham Allison's Essence of Decision with an altogether darker, and even more equivocal vision—a multimedia complex of scholarship and art.
Fredrik Logevall
A fascinating and instructive book that builds on Morris's brilliant film. Accept the latter-day McNamara's interpretations and explanations or not, The Fog of War—both the film and this volume—deserve, indeed demand, to be grappled with.
Scott D. Sagan
This excellent book is more than a companion volume to the 'scar-winning documentary. The historical case-studies, declassified documents, and vivid photographs shed important new light on Robert McNamara and his efforts to learn from the triumphs and tragedies of his public life.
John Tirman
Perhaps no political leader of such magnitude ever subjected himself publicly to the introspection and analysis that Robert McNamara has. In The Fog of War, we see a man struggling with momentous decisions and consequences, a remarkable tour of past and future horizons of great significance for how the United States conducts its foreign policy. James Blight and janet Lang stimulated the creation of this unique treasure, and now they have brought us a version with revealing context and depth, wrought with clarity, intelligence, and urgency. In all ways, it is an important and rewarding book.
Dcmilitary.Com - LCDR Youssef Aboul-Enein
Those interested in national policy decision-making or strategy and policy at the Naval War College courses will find this book and film of interest.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780742542204
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group Inc
  • Publication date: 3/28/2005
  • Pages: 324
  • Sales rank: 1,189,650
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

James G. Blight and Janet M. Lang served as academic advisors for Errol Morris's film. Pioneers in the field of critical oral history, they teach at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Relations. James Blight is the author of more than a dozen books on the recent history of U.S. foreign policy, most recently Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba’s Struggle with the Superpowers after the Missile Crisis (with Philip Brenner); Cuba on the Brink: Castro, the Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse (with David A. Welch); Wilson’s Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing and Catastrophe in the 21st Century (with Robert S. McNamara); and Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy (with Robert S. McNamara and Robert K. Brigham).

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Table of Contents

Prologue : critical oral history : Robert McNamara's road to "the fog of war" 3
1 Lesson one : "emphathize with your enemy" 27
2 Lesson two : "rationality will not save us" 59
3 Lesson three : "belief and seeing, they're both often wrong" 87
4 Lesson four : "proportionality should be a guideline in war" 113
5 Lesson five : "be prepared to reexamine your reasoning" 139
6 Critical essays : "I'd rather be damned if I don't" 173
Epilogue : Wilson's ghost 219
App. A Chronology of the life and times of Robert S. McNamara 243
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 4, 2011

    Review of the Review by Anonymous

    Anonymous purports to review "The Fog of War" by making a gratuitous attack on the authors, blames the book on liberalism, and suggests the authors missed an opportunity to "review important events in American History with someone...actually involved". That seems at best to reveal the ignorance of Anonymous. "The Fog of War" is a deeply insightful view based directly on the experience (and words) of Robert McNamara who was about as involved in both WWII and Vietnam as you can get. McNamara was the 'whiz kid' for Gen. Curtis Lemay in designing the 'efficient way' to level Japanese cities in the infamous firebombing techniques that did far more damage than actually dropping atomic bombs. McNamara then became Secretary of Defense when LeMay wanted to 'nuke' our enemies outright and put a check on that impulse, only to engineer the tragedy of Vietnam with the Kennedy 'Best and Brightest' bunch. "The Fog of War" reveals the insights of a man who actually examined his own life and involvement in the light of history and the facts. This was not 'liberalism'. This was 'truth speaking from power' - an architect of power, in fact, who was able to ask the question, in discussing what a nation chooses to do in its war conduct: "...what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?" That's the question we should ask - no matter one's politics. It used to be a conservative value, for instance, to avoid unnecessary foreign entanglements. Indeed, historically, liberalism was associated with a willingness to engage in such entanglements. We are talking about a man who worked for John Kennedy, after all. But, the modern version of political partisanship has obscured what were once well-defined categories that no longer serve usefully to distinguish what anyone thinks. The best guide now is to ask what someone's opponents think (or at least 'say'), and then expect that person to 'think' the opposite - if that can be called 'thinking' as distinct from merely 'reacting'. If you are still 'thinking', read - and see - "The Fog of War".

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2006

    Missed Opportunity

    I found this book to be extremely disappointing. The authors spend a lot of time defending their past works and refuting work of other historians in a childish 'I told you so' manner, while repeatedly plugging the documentary the Fog of War, which they served as advisers. They discuss Robert McNamara's WWll experience in a negative light. They leave you feeling the United States actions during WWll were evil & inhumane while the actions of the Japanese Empire during WWll are ignored. They missed an opportunity to review important events in American history with somebody who was actually involved in those events. Unfortunately the book is another attempt by liberals to bash the United States of America. Very sad.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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