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The Fog of War is an attempt to derive eleven 'lessons' from the memories and experiences of Robert Strange McNamara who for seven years was the Secretary of State for Defence of the USA. Robert McNamaraHe served under both John F Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and was in charge of a department that even as early as 1961 was already, in his words, a 'behemoth' with a gigantic $280 billion budget. It was he who had to work presidential and Pentagon priorities (plus the intelligence agencies' input) in a coherent whole - evolving US foreign policy at the height of the Cold War. Thanks to decisions made in his time the USA both avoided nuclear war with its then communist enemies (the USSR and China) on a number of occasions but also managed to get bogged down in both a 'shooting' air and land war in South East Asia (particularly in Vietnam). It was this conflict that would end up defining McNamara's term in office. It would in fact continue long after he was sacked, would suck in some 2.5 million young American troops and would lead to the deaths of over 58,000 of them as well as 3 million Vietnamese. In the end America would end up releasing more bombs on predominantly rural North Vietnam between 1965 and 1973 than were dropped by all parties involved in the Second World War in Europe.

McNamara's story runs parallel to many of the most significant events of the last century. As well as his political duties in the 1960s, he was also heavily involved in some of the most important (and devastating) strategic thinking of the Second World War. He also managed to apply his skills as planner and manager to one of the biggest US companies in one of the biggest industries of the post-war period - the Ford automobile company. His 'lessons' in The Fog of War also encompass the understanding he derived from these two periods of his life.

The Fog of War is an important film text for anyone studying the history of the Second World War, the Cold War or the Vietnam War, and while it is helpful to bring some historic knowledge to a viewing, this is not a necessity. Morris’s film does an effective job of explaining the key events it describes and where there are gaps, these notes will aim to provide additional background. While it is interested in these specific events, its real focus is on an entire century of conflict that cost over 160 million people their lives. It is thus an important tool for RE, politics and citizenship lessons.