Errol Morris's new documentary, The Fog of War, is neither a hatchet job nor a whitewash. Rather, Morris lets his subject, Robert McNamara (briefly president of Ford Motor Company, Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in 1961-1968, and president of the World Bank) simply tell the story that McNamara wants to tell.
In short, the story is "Acknowledge your mistakes. Learn from them."
McNamara's willingness to take responsibility for the deadly decisions he made while prosecuting the Cold War and overseeing the Vietnam buildup is bracing.
Equally surprising and refreshing is the shades-of-gray treatment of Gen. Curtis Lemay, McNamara's superior during the war with Japan and his subordinate in Vietnam. Rather than demonizing Lemay as bloodthirsty, McNamara gives him his due for wanting to carry out missions efficiently.
Morris breaks the film into eleven sections, each of them marked with a title card giving one of the lessons from the Secretary's life.
The first of these, learned in October, 1962, when nuclear conflagration over Soviet missiles in Cuba was averted, is "Empathize with your enemy." Would that the current occupants of the White House would heed this teaching.