What kind of world do we want for the twenty-first century?

This provocative movie by the filmmaker Errol Morris examines issues of war and peace in the twentieth century through the lens of one of the century’s pivotal figures. Robert McNamara offers his account of the century just past, as he remembers participating in it, as well as his reflections on its meaning for the twenty-first century.

Some of what McNamara says in the film is highly controversial – the thoughts of one man reflecting on his own history and the history of his era. That other accounts, other reflections, may differ markedly from McNamara’s makes the film all the more provocative for your students.

This teacher’s guide, prepared by the Choices Program and the Critical Oral History Project – both at Brown University – offers a variety of lesson plans to be used in conjunction with the film.

These lessons will help your students to connect the film and its message to twentieth century history and to consider McNamara’s role as a political and military figure. In a final activity, “What kind of world do we want for the 21st century?” students will have the opportunity to define their own hopes for the future. They are invited to add their voice to those of peers nationwide using the U.S. Role Online Ballot.


Empathize with your enemy

Rationality will not save us

Belief and seeing are both often wrong

Proportionality should be a guideline in war

Just War and Proportionality

Oral History and the Vietnam Experience

Film as Media

What kind of world do we want for the 21st century?

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Blight, James G. and Lang, janet M. The Fog of War: Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005). Based on the Academy Award winning film by Errol Morris.

McNamara, Robert S. and Blight, James G. Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing and Catastrophe in the 21st Century (expanded paperback edition, PublicAffairs, 2003).

McNamara, Robert S. In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (Times Books, 1995);

McNamara, Robert S. and Blight, James G. and Brigham, Robert K. (with contributions by Thomas J. Biersteker and Col. Herbert Y. Schandler), Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy (PublicAffairs, 1999).

Declassified documents on a wide range of topics
U.S. Catholic Bishops [See the section on Just War criteria.]
Filmmaker Errol Morris derives eleven lessons from the life of Robert McNamara. Robert McNamara articulates a different list. Compare McNamara's own lessons with the lessons Errol Morris identifies.
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