Attended an event at Zellerbach tonight with Amy: Former Secretary of State Robert McNamara and filmmaker Error Morris talking about Morris’ new film Fog of War, which is about McNamara’s role in some of the largest U.S. involvements of the 20th century: WWII, the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam (and more) and how his thinking has changed over the years. They showed a truncated version of the movie, and then had a sit-down with Mark Danner.
The film excerpts were incredible — new windows onto 20th century history, beautifully rendered. In one segment, McNamara talked about how Americans had already killed around a million Japanese civilians with conventional firebombs before dropping the big one on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — proportionally equivalent to destroying 40% of New York, 50% of LA, 57% of Chicago, and so on for 60 American cities, raising the question of whether nukes were really necessary to end WWII. And even though McNamara was part of the machinery that made it happen, he says that he and others in the administration asked themselves whether they were behaving like war criminals at the time. And he asks whether they would have been tried as war criminals if we had lost, rather than won… and what it is about winning that lets leaders get away with things for which the loser gets punished.
Human beings killed 160 million fellow human beings during the course of the 20th century. McNamara hopes we can do better in the 21st. While careful not to allow himself to make statements about Iraq and the current administration, he did recently come down hard on the war in Iraq in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
The post-screening conversation was a bit rambling. McNamara is getting older, Morris too, and Danner is… Danner. But still, a moving evening. Webcast will be online here.