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Monday, September 27, 2004


The Fog of War Criminals, Part II

In January I wrote about a review of The Fog of War, the movie which profiles (and extensively interviews) Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. One of the things I highlighted in that review review was the movie's revelation of McNamara's role in the fire-bombing of Tokyo. Well, last night I finally saw the movie, and learned a lot more about that episode. I, and probably most readers of Left I on the News, knew about the fire-bombing of Tokyo, which killed 100,000 people in a single night, and destroyed 50 square miles (!) of Tokyo. What I didn't know until last night is that that episode was just the tip of the iceberg. As part of the same campaign, U.S. forces under the command of the infamous Curtis LeMay fire-bombed 67 Japanese cities, destroying 50-90% of each of them (according to McNamara)! And McNamara has the gall to discuss this in a section of the film in which he talks about how "proportionality should be a guideline in war," and then suggests that "some people" (he never says whether he's one of them) think that the fire-bombing was not a "proportional" response. May he rot in hell. As an example of his attitude in this area, he tries to excuse his role in this way:
"I analyzed bombing operations and how to make them more efficient, i.e., not more efficient in the sense of killing more, but in the sense of weakening the adversary."
Oh, right, only their chosen method of "weakening the adversary" just happened to be killing as many civilians and destroying as much of their cities as they could.

The film isn't a great film, largely because one tires of McNamara's self-serving comments and evasiveness, but definitely includes a lot of worthwhile information and footage. There's been a lot of talk in the recent Presidential campaign about how people are tired of hearing about Vietnam, and want to hear about current issues, including the current war in Iraq. Watching this movie makes one all the more aware of how much talk of Vietnam (not Kerry's service or Bush's non-service, of course, but the actual war) is totally relevant to what is happening today. McNamara talks about "Vietnamization," largely as a P.R. effort designed to deflect criticism of the war; shades of "Iraqization" (too bad that's so hard to pronounce or it would probably be more in common currency). There are some very interesting taped conversations between Lyndon Johnson and McNamara, such as this one from Johnson:

"Not a damn human thinks that 50,000 or 100,000 or 150,000 [U.S. troops] is going to end this war. We're not getting out but we're trying to hold what we've got. We're doing bad...we're losing at the rate we're going."
Now what makes this quote all the more interesting is the context. I didn't catch the exact date of the quote, but it is followed by a contemporary television newscaster saying "It was announced today that total American casualties in Vietnam now number 4877 including 748 killed." In other words Johnson's statement came at an earlier stage of the Vietnam war than we are currently in in Iraq [and, of course, note the correct use of the word "casualties," one of Left I's pet peeves in today's coverage].

In more shades of today's war, the newscaster also says "Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, on each of his seven inspection trips to Vietnam, has found some positive aspect to the course of the war there." Well, of course!

Another Johnson quote is priceless for its combination of bravado and bullshit explanations for the reasons for the war:

"America wins the wars that she undertakes, make no mistake about it. And we have declared war on terrorism tyranny and aggression. If this little nation goes down the drain and can't maintain [!] her independence, ask yourself what's going to happen to all the other little nations?"
Oh, that Johnson, always sticking up for the little guy.

The nominee for the most inane line of the film comes from McNamara, attending a recent conference in Vietnam to discuss the war, and talking with the former Vietnamese foreign minister. McNamara says (to the filmmaker), "I formed a hypothesis that each of us could have achieved our objectives without the terrible loss of life," and then (as if to the foreign minister), he says:

"You didn't get any more than we were willing to give you at the beginning of the war. You could have had the whole damn thing - independence, unification..."
Well, Bob, in that case, there's just one simple question you need to answer - What the hell were we doing there? Jesus, what a self-serving, dissembling, sorry excuse for a human being. See the film if you must, but don't eat dinner beforehand.

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