With the academic year nearly at an end, is it possible that you over-satisfied your yearly reading needs? Apart from some well-deserved relaxation, the decade’s worth of documentaries that is freely dispersed over the internet can provide you with sufficient food for thought. In the field of IR, The Fog of War is often considered as a standard work among the documentaries on world conflict, making it a perfect starting point for your cinematographic escapade. 

Although initially intended as a short television fragment, the interview of Robert. S. McNamara became an all-encompassing and award-winning documentary of the most influential Defense Secretary of the 20th century. In one of the most insightful war documentaries to date, the viewer is subject to an internal struggle between moral condemnation and appreciation of this liberal technocrat’s substantial accomplishments.

As Anthony de Mello once stated, ‘the shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story’. The vast amount of relevant archival footage, under the music of Philip Glass, shows that documentaries can provide us with this unique form of narrative that has the potential to drastically change one’s perspective. In The Fog of War, the ‘truth’ is reflected by the imperfection of men in times of war and peace, and the relevant human being is whiz-kid McNamara, a central political figure in the 20th century.

The Truth is reflected by the imperfection of men in times of war and peace.

Similarly to McNamara’s memoirs in the book In Retrospect, this documentary follows his goal of self-redemption. This does not result, however, into a get-free-out-of-jail-card for McNamara. The former Defense Secretary actually asks himself whether his war criminal-like behavior in World War II was morally responsible now that the US were the victors.

Most of McNamara’s mendacities reveal themselves quite easily to the watchful viewer, especially in his recollection of the Cuban missile crisis. In reality, after the second day of the crisis, McNamara was actually more in favor of bombing Cuba than he likes to admit and he further leaves out the covert diplomatic side of the conflict.

The Fog of War forces the viewer to compile an opinion onto whether McNamara’s errors in judgment constitute incompetence or reflect the nature and length of his career. On the face of it, McNamara never took a closer look at his eighth lesson: being prepared to reexamine his reasoning. The contentious nature of the protagonist in The Fog of War truly transforms this captivating story into one of the greatest documentaries in war cinema.

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