Vail Symposium film series continues on Tuesday
Vail CO, Colorado
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” “I know what many of you are thinking. You’re thinking, ‘This man is duplicitous’. You’re thinking that he has held things close to his chest. You’re thinking that he did not respond fully to the desires and the wishes of the American People. And I want to tell you ‘you’re wrong’.” That is a quote by former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in “The Fog of War.”
The Vail Symposium presents the powerful 2003 Oscar-winning documentary film, “The Fog of War” by Errol Morris. Now, 40 years after McNamara left his position as Secretary of Defense, he is still regarded as one of the most controversial and influential figures in world politics.
The scars from Vietnam still divide this country, and if anything, they have resurfaced with the recent activities of the Bush Administration in Iraq.
“As the war wages on in Iraq, the 2008 political campaigns rage with commentary about the war, and nearly every dinner table has hosted a discussion about the war. It will be an insightful time to revisit the complexity of ‘Fog of War,'” said Fraidy Aber, executive director of the Vail Symposium. “We are looking forward to a robust discussion after screening this film on the big screen.”
After the film, critic Walter Chaw will lead a discussion over dessert and coffee in the Vailar Center’s lower lobby.
As film critic Roger Ebert described, “After 20 years of reviewing films, I haven’t found another filmmaker who intrigues me more … Errol Morris is like a magician, and as great a filmmaker as Hitchcock or Fellini.” Ebert is not the only fan waving the Errol Morris flag. He is known by many as one of the premier documentarians of all time. His groundbreaking style of documentary film making has been adopted in the industry. In addition to “The Fog of War,” Morris is also recognized by some of his other films, including “Gates of Heaven” (1978), “The Thin Blue Line” (1988), and his most recent release, “S.O.P.: Standard Operating Procedure” (2008), a film about Abu Ghraib.
In “The Fog of War,” Morris combines archival footage, re-creations, newly declassified White House recordings, with his signature panache. Morris urges the audience to morally consider the roles and implications of war, whether victorious or defeated. Through McNamara’s eye, the film depicts the challenging role of an advisor. Morris describes his seventh feature-length documentary “The Fog of War” as, “a 20th century fable, a story of an American dreamer who rose from humble origins to the heights of political power.”
Influenced by the Great Depression, McNamara got his undergraduate degree at the University of California-Berkely, and went on to get his MBA from Harvard. He was an inaugural member of the Statistical Control division of the U.S. Air Force.
Commissioned a captain in the air force in 1943, McNamara worked through the end of World War II. He was awarded the Legion of Merit and promoted to lieutenant colonel before going on inactive duty in April of 1946. Then, McNamara worked his way through the ranks of the Ford Motor Company. At the request of John F. Kennedy, McNamara left his post as president of the Ford Motor Company in 1961 to serve as Secretary of Defense of the Untied States, a position he held until 1968.
Less than a year into his tenure as Secretary of Defense, McNamara and his colleagues in Kennedy’s cabinet approved an invasion into Cuba, which later came to be known as the Bay of Pigs. Shortly thereafter, McNamara recommended the United States initiate a naval blockade of Cuba. The last five years of McNamara’s term were defined by the Vietnam War. McNamara left his post as Secretary of Defense to become president of the World Bank Group of Institutions in April of 1968, where he stayed until his retirement in 1981. McNamara has authored several books, including “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam,” the book upon which this documentary was based.
McNamara raises deep moral questions about his role and the role of a nation’s force in war, asking, “In order to win a war, is a nation justified in killing 100,000 civilians in one night?”, “What constitutes a war criminal?,” and “What makes immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?” Ultimately, the term “fog of war” describes the level of situational ambiguity experienced by participants in military operations.
The 11 lessons in the film come out of the interviews with McNamara, and include: No. 1. Empathize with your enemy. No. 3. There is something beyond oneself. No. 6. Get the data. No. 10. Never say never.
“The Fog of War” is the first historical investigation to make use of taped telephone conversations from the Oval Office of the White House between Johnson and McNamara. From these recordings, McNamara emerges as a complex man who served two very different presidents: John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
There are two nights remaining in the Beaver Creek Documentary Film Series. “The Fog of War” is Tuesday night and “Woven Songs of the Amazon” on Jan. 22 at the Vilar Center for the Arts. The films start at 7 p.m., and cost $11 for each film. Pre-paid parking will be offered for $5 at Villa Montagne or Village Hall. For more information, visit http://www.vailsymposium.org. Purchase tickets at 845-TIXS or http://www.vilarpac.org, or at the box office.