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The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)

2:07 | Trailer
The story of America as seen through the eyes of the former Secretary of Defense under President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert McNamara.


Errol Morris
Won 1 Oscar. Another 12 wins & 16 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview:
Robert McNamara ... Self


Former corporate whiz kid Robert McNamara was the controversial Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, during the height of the Vietnam War. This Academy Award-winning documentary, augmented by archival footage, gives the conflicted McNamara a platform on which he attempts to confront his and the U.S. government's actions in Southeast Asia in light of the horrors of modern warfare, the end of ideology and the punitive judgment of history. Written by Jwelch5742

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Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for images and thematic issues of war and destruction | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


The "Eleven Lessons" listed in the film are as follows:
  • 1. Empathize with your enemy.
  • 2. Rationality will not save us.
  • 3. There's something beyond one's self.
  • 4. Maximize efficiency.
  • 5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
  • 6. Get the data.
  • 7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
  • 8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
  • 9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
  • 10. Never say never.
  • 11. You can't change human nature.
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[first lines]
[Per contact at the Errol Morris Foundation, the date is 8/5/1964, and the clip is from Press Conference on The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, National Archives #111-LC-48220]
Robert McNamara: [archival footage from the press conference on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, 5 August 1964] Is this chart at a reasonable height for you? Or do you want it lowered? All right. Earlier tonight - first let me ask the TV, are you ready? All set?
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Crazy Credits

Director of Officeland Security: Jackpot Junior See more »


Low Evil
by Philip Glass
Ocean Mountain Music
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User Reviews

Interesting , Sympathetic and Flawed Documentary
25 May 2005 | by Theo RobertsonSee all my reviews

My own opinion of former defence sectary Robert McNamara is the same as that from critics who described him as " A conman ... An IBM computer on legs " and a technocrat who swapped technology for statistics . But this documentary entitled THE FOG OF WAR almost had me writing a heart felt apology to the man . I did say almost

What you think of this documentary is how you morally view conflict and morality . Is there any morality in waging war ? Probably not aside from pursuing a national interest and I did admire McNamara's honesty in saying if America had lost the second world war then the American government would have been tried for war crimes . We also learn that the United States Army Air Force found out the best way to stop a 20% mechanical failure on American planes bombing Germany was to court martial pilots if they turned back before reaching the target which soon led to a 0% mechanical failure on USAAF planes . Not to blow his own trumpet McNamara also tells his audience that he commissioned market research for Ford motor company , took part in amazing ( And quite amusing ) safety tests and fitted seat belts in American cars which save about 20,000 lives every year

But it was the waste of lives in South East Asia in the 1960s that McNamara is infamous for and it's this part of the documentary that I have a serious problem with . Despite what the liberal lobby screech about Nixon widening the war in South East Asia the waste of human life must fall squarely on the shoulders of LBJ and Robert McNamara . McNamara is NOT a stupid ignorant man but according to this documentary he was responsible for msome quite ridiculous errors such as not reading up on Vietnamese history or realising the conflict was a civil war . Of course it could be that because he was such an authoritative figure where statistics was concerned McNamara could be of the mind set that a war of attrition where one side with superior fire power with total command of the air and sea holding a manifold kill ratio over the other side will always win a war . This is totally consistent with McNamara's and American military ( Especially Westmoreland ) thinking but this aspect of American strategy in Vietnam is never brought up . We're also led to believe that The Gulf Of Tonkin incident was hyped up by Johnson but is McNamara blameless ? Yes according to McNamara because a war is a president's responsibility in which case I have to ask what does a defence sectary do all day ? And if someone who killed 100,000 Japanese civilians in an air raid is " A war criminal " then how do you describe someone responsible for fighting a war that eventually led to over 3,000,000 deaths most of them civilians ? There's some massive contradictions here especially when you consider " Empathizing with your enemy " is something he learned during the Cuban missile crisis but totally forgot for some reason during Vietnam

Despite the rather biased subject matter it's impossible to neither hate Robert McNamara or THE FOG OF WAR in the way someone can hate either Donald Rumsfeld or FARENHEIT 9/11 . With a Michael Moore documentary you know what to expect - Smug partisan glee that adds nothing to knowledge or understanding of a situation while the same smugness seems to be part of parcel of the Rumsfeld ego trip and you can't accuse Rumsfeld of being any type of intellectual . McNamara is different because he is a learned academic and while you may not agree with the 21st century neo-con admin in Washington you can at least understand where they're coming from . In a not very heavily disguised reference to the present war on terror McNamara says America lost the Vietnam war because " None of our allies Germany , Japan , Britain or France agreed with us " . Untrue . America lost Vietnam because neither LBJ or his defence sectary bothered to understand Vietnamese nationalism . Worse still unlike the present war on terror none of the strategy involving intervention in Vietnam was necessary in any way

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Release Date:

5 March 2004 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Fog of War See more »

Filming Locations:

California, USA See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$41,449, 21 December 2003

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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