Morris on McNamara

Documentarian extraordinaire Errol Morris takes on Robert McNamara.

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


Culled from two dozen hours of videotaped interviews with Robert McNamara and declassified White House recordings from the ’60s, this latest film from documentarian extraordinaire Errol Morris is a memorable piece of work. Among other things, Mc-Namara makes the case against himself as a “war criminal” for having helped plan the firebombing of Japanese cities during World War II, resulting in 900,000 civilian casualties.

But who’s in control here? The film is structured as 11 “lessons,” each written by its own less-than-trustworthy subject. (Lesson #9: “In Order to Do Good, You May Have to Engage in Evil.”) This is the same McNamara known for never answering the question he’d been asked, but rather the question he wished he’d been asked. True to form, when Morris asks him about Vietnam, he delves into an autobiographical tour of duty that includes wistful reminiscences of his ’50s tenure at the Ford Motor Company.

When McNamara finally does discuss his role in Vietnam, his weepy remorse comes across as both genuine and self-serving. It’s tempting to say that Mr. Death, Morris’ previous movie, would have made an apt title for this film. But Fog does not leave the viewer with such moral clarity. As McNamara is quick to point out, this Mr. Death also helped bring us the seatbelt.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate