“We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself…
We know nothing of man, far too little.
His psyche should be studied because we are the origin of all coming evil.”
—Carl Jung, BBC interview, 1959
“Any military commander who is honest with himself, or with those he’s speaking to, will admit that he has made mistakes in the application of military power. He’s killed people unnecessarily – his own troops or other troops – through mistakes, through errors of judgment.
A hundred, or thousands, or tens of thousands, maybe even a hundred thousand.
But, he hasn’t destroyed nations.”
—Robert S. McNamara
Eleven lessons from the Academy Award winning documentary about Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, who subsequently became president of the World Bank.
LESSON #1: EMPATHIZE WITH YOUR ENEMY.
“Kennedy was trying to keep us out of war. I was trying to help him keep us out of war. And General Curtis LeMay, whom I served under as a matter of fact in World War II, was saying ‘Let’s go in, let’s totally destroy Cuba.'”
LESSON #3: THERE’S SOMETHING BEYOND ONE’S SELF.
“I took more philosophy classes – particularly one in logic and one in ethics. Stress on values and something beyond one’s self, and a responsibility to society.”
LESSON #5: PROPORTIONALITY SHOULD BE A GUIDELINE IN WAR.
“[I]n order to win a war should you kill 100,000 people in one night, by firebombing or any other way. LeMay’s answer would be clearly ‘Yes’ . . . Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Killing 50% to 90% of the people of 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional, in the minds of some people, to the objectives we were trying to achieve.”
LESSON #6: GET THE DATA.
“I was present with the President when together we received information of that coup. I’ve never seen him more upset. He totally blanched. President Kennedy and I had tremendous problems with Diem, but my God, he was the authority, he was the head of state. And he was overthrown by a military coup. And Kennedy knew and I knew, that to some degree, the U.S. government was responsible for that.”
LESSON #7: BELIEF AND SEEING ARE BOTH OFTEN WRONG.
“We spent ten hours that day trying to find out what in the hell had happened. At one point, the commander of the ship said, ‘We’re not certain of the attack.’ At another point they said, ‘Yes, we’re absolutely positive.’ And then finally late in the day, Admiral Sharp said, ‘Yes, we’re certain it happened.’ So I reported this to Johnson, and as a result there were bombing attacks on targets in North Vietnam. Johnson said we may have to escalate, and I’m not going to do it without Congressional authority. And he put forward a resolution, the language of which gave complete authority to the President to take the nation to war: The Tonkin Gulf Resolution.”
LESSON #8: BE PREPARED TO REEXAMINE YOUR REASONING.
“Were those who issued the approval to use Agent Orange: criminals? Were they committing a crime against humanity? Let’s look at the law. Now what kind of law do we have that says these chemicals are acceptable for use in war and these chemicals are not. We don’t have clear definitions of that kind. I never in the world would have authorized an illegal action. I’m not really sure I authorized Agent Orange. I don’t remember it but it certainly occurred, the use of it occurred while I was Secretary.”
LESSON #9: IN ORDER TO DO GOOD, YOU MAY HAVE TO ENGAGE IN EVIL.
“How much evil must we do in order to do good? We have certain ideals, certain responsibilities. Recognize that at times you will have to engage in evil, but minimize it.”
LESSON #10: NEVER SAY NEVER.
“One of the lessons I learned early on: never say never. Never, never, never. Never say never. And secondly, never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you. And quite frankly, I follow that rule. It’s a very good rule.”
LESSON #11: YOU CAN’T CHANGE HUMAN NATURE
“We all make mistakes. We know we make mistakes. I don’t know any military commander, who is honest, who would say he has not made a mistake. There’s a wonderful phrase: ‘the fog of war.’ What ‘the fog of war’ means is: war is so complex it’s beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all the variables. Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate. And we kill people unnecessarily.”
Fog of War Trailer