December 10, 2003

SHADOWS AND "FOG": Last night

SHADOWS AND "FOG": Last night I attended a screening for the new documentary by noted filmmaker Errol Morris, "The Fog of War." This fascinating film consists of interviews with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, discussing his role in such international events as the World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and of course Vietnam.
McNamara, who made major headlines a few years ago when he admitted that he had known the Vietnam War was a mistake as early as 1966, movingly and chillingly tells different stories from the wars, combined with archival footage from them, as well as newly declassified recordings of his conversations with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Ironically, the most disturbing moment of the picture is film of the Tokyo firebombing in World War II that killed 100,000 civilians, and McNamara's candid admission that had it been a losing war he likely would have faced war crimes charges.
The Vietnam segments, perhaps naturally and perhaps because Morris framed them that way, look and sound eerily like the modern-day footage of the war in Iraq, right down to the Secretary of Defense stating that the war is going better than it actually is. Disproportionate casualty totals and other differences notwithstanding, the entire film almost has a voice in the background whispering, "Iraq is Vietnam, Iraq is Vietnam." But this is no Michael Moore picture- Morris has no interest in beating his audience over the head with such metaphors, and if McNamara shared any opinions about the current War on Terror, they're not in the film.
I met Morris a few years ago when he came to Brandeis to show a rough cut of his film "Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.," the story of a designer of execution equipment who later became a leading spokesman for the Holocaust denial movement. In the subsequent Q&A session Morris, whose shyness and unassumingness I found very refreshing, had to defend himself from a barrage of questions from audience members who assumed that he made the film to draw a moral equivalence between the death penalty and the Holocaust, until he finally came out and said "there's clearly a difference between putting men, women and children on trains and gassing them and capital punishment of murderers."
Morris unfortunately took ill and missed his advertised appearance at the "Fog of War" screening, robbing him of the chance to make a similar (or opposite) statement about the Iraq/Vietnam comparison. But the auditorium wasn't wanting for star power- I passed Mike Wallace in the hallway, and recognized no less than a couple dozen "media people" who looked familiar but whose names I couldn't quite place. Bloggers too- Elizabeth Spiers and Neal Pollack were both in attendance as well. That "Liberal East Coast Media Elite" that O'Reilly and the others always talk about? They were out in full force- and yes, the screening was followed by a cocktail party.
After the film ended, former JFK speechwriter and biographer Ted Sorenson got up and defended his longtime friend McNamara, calling him a good man and comparing him favorably to those currently in Washington. Much more classy comments than those of the woman before him, who wondered if the film would ever be screened for "the masses."

Posted by Stephen Silver at December 10, 2003 05:01 PM
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