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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Contrasting styles....

The Fog of War, the 2003 documentary offering the reflections of former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, is perhaps among the best teaching tools I have put to use in a long time. I used it in my administrative and policy ethics course last semester to deal specifically with the ethics of war, but it is relevant to a great deal more. This semester I used it for my undergraduate "Bureaucracy in America" course, following its screening up with a "discussion forum" session that is now in its fifth day. Yes, participation is required, but I remain impressed with the quality of the posts. The film raised many significant issues, and the students seem to be getting it.

As a contrast, I am contemplating having them watch Charlie Rose's interview with the current Secretary,Donald Rumsfeld. I don't know whether to scream or cry when I hear the "straight talk" rationalizing that Rumsfeld engages in, and one can only wonder whether he would ever be capable of the kind of reflection we now see in McNamara....

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Comments on "Contrasting styles...."


Blogger Ciarán said ... (10:30 AM) : 

Far be it from me to defend Rumsfeld's self-deluded Bullshit - a bizarre mixture of bad metaphor and military-speak - but in fairness the comparison with McNamara is unfair.

There's no evidence that Rumsfeld is able to reflect properly, and there is evidence that McNamara is, but at the same time, there is little evidence that McNamara was at all frank when he was Secretary of State. I remember a point in Ellsberg's Secrets where Ellsberg discusses with McNamara, on a flight back from Vietnam, the fact that they're losing and McNamara gets off the plane and immediately tells the press that they're winning.

Rumsfeld's Nixon-lite paranoia and legal post-facto justifications (obliquely for wiretapping) is silly and logically incoherent, but obfustication is good politics.


Blogger Mel said ... (10:40 AM) : 

Agreed -- I guess I was thinking about the reflective McNamara that emerged with age and distance from the DoD position. (Rumsfeld is already 'long in the tooth' and probably would not have that many years out of office to contemplate or reflect in....) McNamara certainly had his "tricks" for handling the media. At one point in Fog he is clear that he never answered the questions he was asked, but rather the ones he thought should have been asked. One student observed that he was probably doing the same when director Morris was asking him quesitons for the film....


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