The Fog of War (PG)

Showing at FACT from 16 -20 July

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

This impressive and absorbing documentary, directed by Errol Morris ('The Thin Blue Line'), looks at the life of former USA Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, who held that post during the most bloodiest period of the Vietnam war.

He was a hated figure in America at that time, particularly in his apparent callous disregard for the loss of life of young soldiers in that conflict - over 25,000 were killed in combat while he was in power.

Bizarrely, after running Ford motor company, he was given the job of Secretary of Defence by President John F. Kennedy "I have no qualifications for the post..." he said to Kennedy when offered the job.

But that did not stop him having a major influence on America's war strategy, first under Kennedy then later with Lyndon Johnson.

He spoke in chilling terms how America and the USSR came perilously close to all-out nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 over the issue of the USSR stationing nuclear weapons in Cuba pointing at America. Holding his thumb and index finger less than half an inch apart, he said "...we came that close to annihilating each other."

He admitted that Fidel Castro was prepared to see Cubs wiped out by America rather than bow down to their demands.

"Despite Kennedy and Kruschev being rational people, and aware of the consequences of what they were proposing to do," stated McNamara,"they were both prepared to take their countries to the very brink of nuclear catastrophe."

He was ready to admit that mistakes do take place during times of war, mainly through its unpredictability, hence the title 'The Fog of War', and he was also guilty of misjudgements himself.

This is a superbly edited film by Morris, with an oustanding soundtrack by minimaist musician Philip Glass. Morris structured the film into '11 lessons from the life of Robert McNamara'. Now 85, McNamara reflected back not only on his time in office but on other major conflicts of the 20th century.

For instance, he spoke of the outrage in the world when America dropped two nuclear bombs on Japon in 1945, which brought an end to the war in the Pacific.

"But far worse damage was inflicted, with much larger numbers of human casualties, during the many instances of incendiary fire bombing commited by America in Japan, without any condemnation by the outside world."

Originally granted an hour of interview time with McNamara, Morris ended up filming over 20, making this an essential film to watch for anyone interested in the psychology and philosophy of war in its many guises.