Question for Discussion: Filmmaker Errol Morris shaped his film, The Fog of War, around “eleven lessons from the life of Robert McNamara.” How do the lessons Errol Morris identified compare with the list that Robert McNamara has articulated?

Robert S. McNamara – March 23, 2003

  1. The human race will not eliminate war in this century, but we can reduce the brutality of war–the level of killing–by adhering to the principles of a “just war,” in particular the principle of “proportionality.”
  2. The indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations.
  3. We are the most powerful nation in the world–economically, politically and militarily–and we are likely to remain so for decades ahead. But we are not omniscient. If we cannot persuade other nations with similar interests and values of the merits of our proposed use of that power, we should not proceed unilaterally except in the unlikely requirement to defend the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii.
  4. Moral principles are often ambiguous guides to foreign and defense policy, but surely we can agree that we should establish as a major goal of U.S. foreign policy, and indeed of foreign policies across the globe, the avoidance in this century of the carnage–160 million dead–caused by conflict in the 20th century.
  5. We, the richest nation in the world, have failed in our responsibility to our own poor–and to the disadvantaged across the world–to help them advance their welfare in the most fundamental terms of nutrition, literacy, health and employment.
  6. Corporate executives must recognize there is no contradiction between a soft heart and a hard head. Of course, they have responsibilities to stockholders; but they also have responsibilities to their employees, their customers, and the society as a whole.
  7. President Kennedy believed a primary responsibility of a president–indeed, I would say the primary responsibility of a president–is to keep the nation out of war if at all possible.
  8. War is a blunt instrument by which to settle disputes between or within nations. And economic sanctions are rarely effective. We should build a system of jurisprudence–based on the International Criminal Court that the U.S. has refused to support–which would hold individuals responsible for crimes against humanity.
  9. If we are to deal effectively with terrorists’ across the globe, we should develop a sense of empathy–I don’t mean “sympathy,” but rather understanding–to counter their attacks on us and the Western World.
  10. One of the greatest dangers we face today is the risk that terrorists will obtain access to weapons of mass destruction, as a result of the breakdown of the non-proliferation regime, to which we in the U.S. are contributing.
  11. We fail to recognize that in international affairs, as in other aspects of life, there may be problems for which there are no immediate solutions. At times, we may have to live with an imperfect, untidy world.

Errol Morris

  1. Empathize with your enemy.
  2. Rationality will not save us.
  3. There’s something beyond one’s self.
  4. Maximize efficiency.
  5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
  6. Get the data.
  7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
  8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
  9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
  10. Never say never.
  11. You can’t change human nature.
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