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More from Morris on McNamara

Updated

That, and other news, in today’s Roundup and Recap.

Errol Morris, director of “Fog of War,” argued that Robert McNamara’s life has to be viewed in the context of the times. In an essay in today’s New York Times, he challenged the notion that the former defense secretary was an unabashed hawk, like something out of “Dr. Strangelove.”

Morris wrote, “He worried that the Joint Chiefs wanted nuclear war, and he was determined not to allow that to happen. From ’63 to about ’67, we had first-strike capacity and nuclear superiority against the Soviet Union. (In the words of George C. Scott in “Dr. Strangelove,” I’m not saying we wouldn’t have got our “hair mussed.” But we would have destroyed them.) After Kennedy’s death, he served that central role of keeping the Joint Chiefs in check. If true, he becomes not the villain of American history, but something quite different.

“And what about the escalation of the Vietnam War? Recently, the taped conversations between President Lyndon Johnson and his advisers have been made public. Listening to the president and Mr. McNamara, it appears that the pressure for escalation did not come from Mr. McNamara, but from Johnson. Mr. McNamara was not an enthusiast for this war. But charged with the responsibility for carrying it out, he argued for it.”

As Morris told me on Monday, he demonstrated against the war, but his hours and hours of conversations with McNamara seem to have given him a new level of understanding of the embattled defense secretary’s tenure. McNamara will continue to be a polarizing figure, but Morris has been integral in casting him in a new light, at least to the generations that did not grow up in Vietnam yet are interested in the history of the war. Whereas McNamara’s autobiography “In Retrospect” incited a new wave of reaction against him when it was published in 1995, centering on the question of why he didn’t speak up or do more to stop the war given his own doubts, Morris’ “Fog of War” generated a far different reaction. Coming as it did during the initial months of the war in Iraq, McNamara came across as something of a sage, or at least a voice of reason, warning of military intervention abroad without truly understanding the enemy.

Tea Leaves: New Mexico media jumped on the news that Val Kilmer is consider a role in the movie “MacGruber” as a sign that he’s not going to run for governor there. Kilmer indicated in May that he was leaning against such a bid.

Letterman on Palin: For the second night in a row, David Letterman ventured into Sarah Palin territory, this time devoting his Top Ten list to her decision to resign. The list is the “Top Ten Messages Left on Sarah Palin’s Answering Machine.” Among them is a message from Letterman himself: “Sarah, are we still cool?”

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