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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Fog of War

Tonight I saw the documentary (The Fog of War (2003)) about Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense during the Cuban Missile Crisis and much of the Vietnam War.  He discusses eleven lessons he has learned from his war experiences.  They are:
1.    Empathize with your enemy
2.    Rationality will not save us
3.    There's something beyond one's self
4.    Maximize efficiency
5.    Proportionality should be a guideline in war
6.    Get the data
7.    Belief and seeing are often both wrong
8.    Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning
9.    In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
10. Never say never
11. You can't change human nature

He provides us with a great service in enunciating these lessons.  Lesson 1 derives from the Biblical injunction to love your enemies.  As McNamara observes, it’s possible that tremendous tragedy can be averted through such empathy—from seeing the conflict from the point of view of one’s antagonist.  Lesson 2 is a cold shower warning us that neat and tidy rationality is only one facet of what can be a highly messy situation.  Lesson 3 again invites us to get outside our skins and see the world from different perspectives.  Being able to laugh at one’s own foibles is important here.  Lesson 4 when taken alone can be disastrous.  Yet, it is certainly a desirable objective that waste when it exists should be understood and avoided.  Willful waste that doesn’t count the cost (typically indicated by unlimited budgets) is too often associated with war.  Lesson 5 is easily forgotten in war as the drive is often the opposite—to proceed onward at a profligate pace undertaken with full emotional abandon.  Lesson 6 reminds us that like empathy, objectively ascertaining the facts—sometimes an exacting, unpleasant, and extremely humble pursuit—is an expression of the disciplines of love.  Lesson 7 is dramatically counter to the human inclination to take sheer belief as a guarantor of doubtless future accomplishment with the associated tendency to view perception as uncolored by our prejudices.  Lesson 8 recognizes the fact that gargantuan resistance to re-evaluation occurs once we have committed to a course of action.  Lesson 9 challenges us to identify and commit to priorities sometimes with deeply conflicting results—we sometimes must choose the lesser evil.  Lesson 10 reminds us that our knowledge is often vastly incomplete.  Events occur that even the wisest did not nor could not predict.  Lesson 11 concedes that the mile high fact to consider is that human nature is deeply flawed and yet susceptible to redemption.                                                                                                                                         
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