Movie Summary for "Fog of War"

by Robyn Lynne Schechter
Robert McNamara was the eighth U.S. secretary of defense.

Robert McNamara was the eighth U.S. secretary of defense.

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"The Fog of War" is a 2003 documentary that explores the experiences of Robert S. McNamara as U.S. secretary of defense. A well-educated and introspective man, McNamara spent many of his years after government service exploring why and how the U.S. military mission failed in Vietnam, and he often spoke about the lessons to be learned.


"The Fog of War" captures McNamara musing about modern warfare and the lessons he learned during the Vietnam War. This documentary, directed by Errol Morris, is a collection of interviews, Cabinet recordings and archive footage in which McNamara outlines 11 mistakes the United States made during the Vietnam War. He discusses previous wars but not the war in Iraq, saying a former secretary of defense should not comment on how the current secretary is doing. The title of the documentary originates from a military term that describes the uncertainty and unknowns (e.g., the nature of the enemy) that can occur during a military operation.

Robert McNamara

McNamara was born in San Francisco and educated at Harvard Business School, where he earned a master's degree in business administration. He became was president of Ford Motor Co. before entering government service. Appointed secretary of defense by President John F. Kennedy, McNamara continued to serve in this position in the Johnson administration after Kennedy was assassinated. During his tenure, McNamara was involved in the Cuban missile crisis, and he played a large role in increasing the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam. Over time, McNamara soured on the idea that the U.S. could win that war, and years later he wrote a memoir, "In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam." This memoir inspired Morris to make "The Fog of War."


"The Fog of War" has been widely by audiences, earning a 98 percent approval rating from top critics on Rotten Tomatoes. It won a number of awards, including the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2003.


Morris, who for years had wanted to make a film based on McNamara's experience, has said that getting the former secretary of defense to participate was relatively simple, in part because McNamara was promoting a recently written book at the time. Morris was surprised, however, by how he was able to find McNamara: He was listed in the telephone book.

About the Author

Robyn Lynne Schechter is a freelance writer currently living in Los Angeles, Calif. She has been an online contributor since 2007 on, covering branding developments in the fashion, music, sports and entertainment industries. Schechter graduated from Hood College with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and is also a graduate of Albany Law School.

Photo Credits

  • Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images