Morris on McNamara

Documentarian extraordinaire Errol Morris takes on Robert McNamara.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Culled from two dozen hours of videotaped interviews with Robert McNamara and declassified White House recordings from the ’60s, this latest film from documentarian extraordinaire Errol Morris is a memorable piece of work. Among other things, Mc-Namara makes the case against himself as a “war criminal” for having helped plan the firebombing of Japanese cities during World War II, resulting in 900,000 civilian casualties.

But who’s in control here? The film is structured as 11 “lessons,” each written by its own less-than-trustworthy subject. (Lesson #9: “In Order to Do Good, You May Have to Engage in Evil.”) This is the same McNamara known for never answering the question he’d been asked, but rather the question he wished he’d been asked. True to form, when Morris asks him about Vietnam, he delves into an autobiographical tour of duty that includes wistful reminiscences of his ’50s tenure at the Ford Motor Company.

When McNamara finally does discuss his role in Vietnam, his weepy remorse comes across as both genuine and self-serving. It’s tempting to say that Mr. Death, Morris’ previous movie, would have made an apt title for this film. But Fog does not leave the viewer with such moral clarity. As McNamara is quick to point out, this Mr. Death also helped bring us the seatbelt.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate