By Andrew Lam | 2012-12-14 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
ROBERT McNamara, former Secretary of Defense under US presidents Kennedy and Johnson and chief architect of the Vietnam War, once recalled his experience as a kind of fog.
"What the fog of war means," he said, "is that war is so complex it's beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all the variables. Our judgment, our understanding are not adequate, and we kill people unnecessarily."
Errol Morris, known for his films "The Thin Blue Line" and "A Brief History of Time" used that statement to give his documentary about McNamara its title, "The Fog of War."
In an interview, Morris said, "I look at the McNamara story as 'the fog of war ate my homework' excuse. After all, if war is so complex, then no one is responsible." No doubt Morris would agree that the same fog has now crept in and enveloped Iraq one year after the US withdrew from that theater.
The war in Iraq started with Operation Shock and Awe but ended in a fizzle and, some would argue, in an epic exercise in human futility. Neither victory nor defeat was clear. Instead, with the last of the American troops, the meaning of the war is muddled.
Is this the victory we had hoped for since Vietnam? Is this what we could muster nine years after we invaded and occupied that country, supposedly to find weapons of mass destruction? Is Iraq truly a free and sovereign nation? And even if it is, was it worth the squandering of American blood and money, not to mention the killing of Iraqi civilians as "collateral damage"?
Historians will bicker over the answers but what is certain, however, is that the war in Iraq claimed 4,487 American lives, and left 32,226 Americans wounded, according to Pentagon statistics. According to Iraqbodycount.org, the number of Iraqis who died from violence ranges between 103,000 and 114,000 during the US occupation.
We closed a chapter in Iraq but the fog of war hasn't lifted. Instead one is left with an unsettling feeling, a bitterness in the mouth. America lost more than it had hoped to gain. It's not defeat exactly, but in an age of perpetual war, it's clearly no victory. And if there's no clear objective, isn't killing people objectionable and unnecessary?
But as the fog drifts about, it's as if there is a collective will to forget in this country. Let' forget Abu Ghraib, where we tortured and sexually humiliated our captives. Let's forget about the weapons of mass destruction, since we couldn't find any. Let's forget extraordinary rendition where we kidnapped thousands of world citizens and flew them directly to secret prisons for interrogation. Let's forget the 2 million displaced Iraqi refugees.
It is worth noting that right after the war in Iraq drew to an end, Congress passed a defense budget at a whopping US$662 billion with flying colors, US$16 billion more than President Barack Obama expected. In 2012 that number increased to US$707.5 billion.
There was no fighting to speak of in a Congress known for its bickering and quarrels. There was no controversy over spending that amount of money among elected officials otherwise known for their push to cut basic services.
The war industrial complex needs to be fed. Victory may no longer be needed in the world in which wars are fought not to be won or lost, but under a pretext of keeping America safe.
Morris' documentary about McNamara has a subtitle: "Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara."
One of them is "Believing and seeing are both often wrong." What that means to McNamara is that doing the right thing turned out to be an enormous error. Too bad that lesson hasn't sunk in.
The violent deeds and aggression of empires seem to depend proportionally on the complacency, and therefore tacit approval, of their citizenry.