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Topic: How embarrassing can former PMs be? (Read 259 times) previous topic - next topic
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Re: How embarrassing can former PMs be?

Reply #15
There was an interesting doco called Fog of War. It focussed on Robert Strange McNamara (and yes, that really is his middle name rather than an insult). He was the controversial Secretary of Defence under LBJ as the Vietnam War escalated. It was an intriguing doco as it was like an interview but was interspersed with film of various events he'd influenced, such as the incendiary bombing of Tokyo and of course the war in Vietnam. On the one hand, it would be easy to regard him as a cold-hearted monster, but he came across as a friendly and engaging intellectual who pondered philosophical issues raised by his own decisions.

At one point, he noted that many years after the Vietnam War had ended, he had the opportunity of meeting his opposite number in the then North Vietnamese Government. Wikipedia notes,
In November 1995, McNamara returned to Vietnam, this time visiting Hanoi. Despite his role as one of the architects of Operation Rolling Thunder, McNamara met with a surprisingly warm reception, even from those who survived the bombing raids, and was often asked to autograph pirate editions of In Retrospect which had been illegally translated and published in Vietnam. During his visit, McNamara met his opposite number during the war, General Võ Nguyên Giáp who served as North Vietnam's Defense Minister. The American historian Charles Neu who was present at the McNamara-Giáp meeting observed the differences in the style of the two men with McNamara repeatedly interrupting Giáp to ask questions, usually related to something numerical, while Giáp gave a long leisurely monologue, quoting various Vietnamese cultural figures such as poets, that began with Vietnamese revolts against China during the years 111 BC-938 AD when Vietnam was a Chinese province. Neu wrote his impression was that McNamara was a figure who thought in the short term while Giáp thought in the long term.

In the doco, McNamara admits it blew his mind when Giáp said to him something like, "Why did you fear that we would form a powerful communist bloc with the Chinese? Didn't you know that we fought the Chinese for a thousand years?" McNamara lamented that he should have realised it at the time.

So, even the architects of the Vietnam War were able to see the human side of their opponents rather than just their ideology, once the fog of war had lifted.