Rumsfeld's Fog of War

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“Oh, hey, wait a minute, I tried that and it was a major disaster. I still can barely even begin to face what I did it’s so awful looking back on it.” This is the message that the recent film “Fog of War” sends from Robert McNamara to Donald Rumsfeld, from one Secretary of “Defense” to another.

“There is no alternative in this age of terror,” might be the response we could expect from Rumsfeld, who continues to promote “preemptive” war.

I don’t know if Rumsfeld has watched “Fog of War,” but if he has, he might choose to focus on the two main excuses that McNamara offers for the Vietnam War. McNamara offers a lot of excuses, including placing responsibility on President Johnson, claiming that we didn’t know enough at the time to see the Vietnam War the way we do in hindsight, and suggesting that there were no established moral standards available to guide him. But the main excuses that he offers as two of the 11 lessons presented in the film are that you must do evil in order to do good and that you cannot change human nature.

When a bald and pensive Don Rumsfeld makes his “Fog of War” 35 years from now, it will be very difficult for him to offer these same excuses if – and only if – it has at that time been 35 years since the United States fought a war. If it has not at that time been 35 years since the United States fought a war, Rumsfeld may not be around to make the film and none of us may be around to watch it. The course we’re on includes plans for so much humanly natural evil for the sake of good that we’re likely to create a nuclear holocaust this generation.

If Rumsfeld can stand it, I’d recommend to him reading a couple of French authors who were being read by a lot of Americans at the time that McNamara was burning a lot of women and children.

First, he should read Jean-Paul Sartre, who pointed out that there is no human nature. By this, Sartre didn’t mean that there are no physiological traits that all humans share, no way to distinguish humans from chimpanzees or rhinoceroses. Rather, he meant that you cannot declare a common human behavior inevitable and use as your excuse the phrase “human nature.”

We can’t say that war or sexism or racism or religiosity or selfishness or generosity or homophobia or monogamy or democracy or communism or anything else is an inevitable behavior. Our actions are choices we make and for which we cannot avoid responsibility.

Second, Rumsfeld should read Albert Camus, who pointed out that there are means that no end can justify and that cannot lead to the ends intended, an argument made even more clearly by Mohandas Gandhi. We do not need yet another war to end all wars, much less one that lasts 50 years. We need a peace to end all wars, and we can only achieve it through peaceful means.

Some of the 11 lessons in “Fog of War” are good ones. McNamara argues that nuclear war was averted during the Cuban Missile Crisis because Kennedy listened to an adviser who was able to understand what Khrushchev was thinking, who empathized with the “enemy,” got into his skin, and recognized that avoiding disaster would allow both sides to declare success. Khrushchev could take credit for preventing the United States from invading Cuba while Kennedy took credit for removing Soviet missiles from Cuba.

This elementary mental feat was never achieved during the Vietnam War, as McNamara freely admits. Nor has it been attempted by the George W. Bush Administration. Probably the most notable proponent of this wisdom in the United States today is Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who was asked in an interview printed in USA Today on Nov. 20, 2003: “You say you’re a pragmatist, even as you talk of your dream for world peace. As a pragmatist, how would you get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons? And how would you deal with India and Pakistan?”

Kucinich replied: “Let’s start with North Korea. Let’s go inside Kim Jong Il’s skin for a minute….”

Interviewer, interrupting to betray his utter lack of understanding of what is needed: “Scary thought.”

Kucinich, continuing: “But we need to do that. As president, I need to be able to see how that other person views the world so I can understand what I need to do to meet his fears and resolve these questions. Kim heard the United States’ president describe North Korea as part of an axis of evil. Remember, during the Korean War that country was leveled. To have the United States making bellicose statements about North Korea has to be pretty scary. As president, I’d have a new policy of engagement. Go talk to him! Not isolate him and make him believe that he has no ability to deal with the United States other than to rattle a nuclear saber. In our development of new nuclear weapons, we’re not only breaking our own pledge in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but we’re also creating a basis for nuclear proliferation – which brings us to India and Pakistan. We have no credibility telling the Asian subcontinent not to go ahead and arm with nuclear arms when we ourselves are doing that.”

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