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Robert McNamara On Doubts, And Vietnam

Former defense secretary Robert McNamara died Monday. In a 1995 interview with Terry Gross, McNamara reflects on Vietnam and admits his serious doubts about US policy and the decision-making that escalated the war.

13:44

Other segments from the episode on July 6, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 6, 2009: Obituary for Robert McNamara; Interview with Errol Morris; Review of 4-DVD set called "Playing Shakespeare."

Transcript

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Robert McNamara On Doubts, And Vietnam

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. Robert McNamara, who is considered
the architect of the war in Vietnam, died early today at the age of 93.
We’re going to listen back to a 1995 interview with him and an interview
with Errol Morris about his movie, “The Fog of War: 11 Lessons from the
Life of Robert McNamara.”

Let me quote the New York Times McNamara obituary by Tim Weiner. Quote:
“Robert McNamara was perhaps the most influential defense secretary of
the 20th century. He helped lead the nation into the maelstrom of
Vietnam and spent the rest of his life wrestling with the war’s moral
consequences. Serving President John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson
from 1961 to 68, McNamara oversaw hundreds of military missions,
thousands of nuclear weapons and billions of dollars in military
spending and foreign arms sales. Half a million American soldiers went
to war on his watch. More than 16,000 died. Forty-two thousand more
would fall in the seven years to come.

The war in Vietnam became his personal nightmare. He concluded well
before leaving the Pentagon that the war was futile, but he did not
share that insight with the public until late in life.

In 1995, he took a stand against his own conduct of the war, confessing
in a memoir that it was wrong, terribly wrong,” unquote, from Tim
Weiner’s obituary.

Here’s an excerpt of the interview I recorded with Robert McNamara when
that 1995 memoir was published. In the interview, he refers to Dean
Rusk, who was secretary of state during the years McNamara was secretary
of defense. I asked McNamara if he saw his book as an apology.

Mr. ROBERT McNAMARA (Former Secretary of Defense): Some people have used
redemption, apology. Forget redemption and apology and say that I think
those us - assuming for the minute I am correct - as I say in the
preface, I believe it was an error, a tragic error.

Assume for the minute that my judgment is correct, then I think we owe
an explanation to future generations of what happened and how to avoid
that in the future. That’s the purpose of the book.

GROSS: To explain.

Mr. McNAMARA: To explain and, more than explain, to draw lessons and
suggest how to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

GROSS: Do you think an apology is appropriate?

Mr. McNAMARA: Well, if you want me to apologize, of course. But that’s
not the issue. The issue isn’t apology. You don’t, I’ll call it, correct
a wrong by apologizing. You can correct a wrong only if you understand
how it occurred and you take steps to ensure it won’t happen again.

GROSS: Let me ask you about the anti-war movement. I think some of the
conclusions you reach in your memoir about why the war was unwinnable
and why it was a mistake, leaders of the peace movement were saying for
many years, for example, that the communist threat wasn’t as great as it
was represented to be, that the North Vietnamese, even though they had a
small and low-tech army, had strong nationalistic feelings and a will to
keep fighting, and then that would inspire them to just keep pushing.

I’m wondering if you listened to the peace movement at all, or if you
shut it out and just thought, you know, they’re wrong, and I’m not going
to pay any attention to what they’re saying.

Mr. McNAMARA: No. I listened to the peace movement. One of the close
friends of my middle child, a daughter, organized and led thousands of
individuals to march on Washington, demonstrate against the president,
against me. My daughter, on several occasions, brought him home to
dinner after that.

On one occasion, after dinner, we went into the library. We talked till
10:30. As he left, his last words, very serious, were: No man can be all
bad who loves the mountains as much as you do. I listened to the
protestors. I had them in my home. So that’s one point.

Now the second point, you have to understand where we came from. And
many of the protestors had not. President Kennedy, Dean Rusk and I and
many others of us had fought in World War II, three years, four years,
five years. Churchill said millions of men lost their lives in that war
because the West reacted too late to Hitler’s menace to the security of
Western Europe. And by God, says Churchill, we should never do that
again.

Just after that war, the Soviet Union took control of Hungary, Poland,
Czechoslovakia. After that, in my period, in August of 1961, the Soviet
Union sought to take Berlin. General – I called Norstad, the supreme
allied commander in Europe to my office, and I asked him how we would
have to react. He said you may well have to use nuclear weapons. This
was a dangerous world.

A year later, Khrushchev put nuclear missiles into Cuba. To this day,
the American public doesn’t know how close we came to nuclear war. In
June of 67, the Egyptians vowed to eliminate Israel from the face of the
earth. The Israelis learned of it in advance. They attacked Egypt,
knocked the hell out of them, hit Jordan as well.

Kosygin used the hotline for the first time - the Soviet prime minister
- to Johnson, said if you want war, you’ll get it. It was a dangerous
world. That was driving us to our action in Vietnam.

We were wrong. The protestors turned out, with hindsight, to be right.
We didn’t believe it at the time.

GROSS: You raise a question in your book, you know, why didn’t you and
other government officials spend more time on questions that seriously
challenged some of the rationales of the war? And you write: readers
must wonder – readers of your memoir – must wonder how presumably
intelligent, experienced officials failed to address questions whose
answers so deeply affected the lives of our citizens and the welfare of
our nation. An orderly, rational approach was precluded by the crowding
out, which resulted from the fact that Vietnam was about one of a
multitude of problems we confronted.

Mr. McNAMARA: Let me digress just a second to say I signed a contract to
write an autobiography, and when I presented the book proposal to
publishers, I outlined how I was going to do it, and I had a section on
the Defense Department. I was there seven years.

Vietnam was just one of a hundred problems, if you will, we were dealing
with at the time. I mentioned - I forgot, I didn’t mention one, the Bay
of Pigs, which occurred within 90 days after (unintelligible). It was a
total debacle.

Then we faced Berlin and we faced Cuba, both of which we handled, I
think, very, very wisely and very well. Then we faced the June 67 war.
Again, I think we handled it very well. But in between this, the cities
were burning. We had racial problems. We had riots in the cities, and
Vietnam fitted in all of this, and we did not organize properly to deal
with it.

I think we organized admirably to deal with the nuclear danger in the
Cuban Missile Crisis, but it was a relatively simple thing to deal with.
It was a short period of time, a simple, narrow issue. We should have
organized - I’ll call it a war Cabinet, Churchillian war cabinet, to
deal with Vietnam. We didn’t. That’s one of the reasons we failed to
address the questions you’ve outlined.

GROSS: But Vietnam was a place where, you know, thousands and thousands
of young Americans were dying. I guess it’s a kind of frightening
thought that you felt you were all just too busy, and that’s…

Mr. McNAMARA: No, no, no. No, no, no. You’re - no, no, no. You’re - no,
no. You’re - no, no you’re conveying a misimpression. It was a – my God,
we were working, you know, 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

GROSS: But you were too busy to see more clearly is the point you’re
trying to make.

Mr. McNAMARA: No, no, no. Well, the point I’m trying to make is that we
were overwhelmed with problems, and we hadn’t organized to segregate out
from those people to work solely on Vietnam at the upper echelons of the
government. And that’s one of the lessons. And in the last chapter, I
point to 11 lessons, of which that’s one. For God’s sakes, Mr. America,
when you face military conflict, organize to deal with it effectively.

GROSS: I want to get back to the peace movement for a second and ask you
if this kind of behavior had any effect on you. You write in your memoir
about how after speaking to students at the Harvard Business School, a
group of students surrounded your car and were shaking it, and I mean,
you were surrounded and felt quite under attack.

You were at the Seattle airport after climbing Mount Rainier, and a man
came up to you and spit on you and called you a murderer. You were at a
restaurant. A woman comes up to you and calls you a baby killer. What
impact did that have on you?

Mr. McNAMARA: Well, I relate all that in the book to emphasize that were
protests, and I was aware of them, as I’ve just outlined. My children
were of the generation that was protesting. One of them was at Stanford,
for example, and was involved in the protests there, and he’d point to
the protests…

GROSS: Actually, let me focus my question a little bit more so you
understand more of what I’m getting at.

Mr. McNAMARA: No, I understand.

GROSS: No, but allow me to just focus it a little more. I’m wondering if
that kind of direct confrontation put you in a position of hardening
yourself more against protestors or whether that behavior reached you
and made you think more gee, maybe something wrong is happening here.

Mr. McNAMARA: Oh yes, absolutely. It was the latter. No, no, no. It
didn’t harden me. How could it harden me when I’ve mentioned that my
daughter brought protestors into the home and when my son was associated
with them in California? And as a matter of fact, I was meeting with one
of the major protestors, a chaplain at Yale at the time, and I met with
many others because I felt we had to stay in touch with them.

And you haven’t begun to deal with this issue of protest. Let me tell
you something. It’s in the book, and I hope your listeners will read it.
A man, a Quaker, one of the finest human beings, his name was Morrison.
He burned himself to death under my window in the Defense Department,
and yesterday – the first point I want to make is I was aware of the way
people felt. I was aware of the problem.

They didn’t see the danger of Soviet communist aggression leading to the
world war that Dean Rusk predicted would happen if we didn’t save
Vietnam. But yesterday, I received from the widow of Mr. Morrison, she’s
now remarried. Her name is Ann Morrison Welsh - a letter, and I want to
read one paragraph.

To heal the wounds of that war, we must forgive ourselves and each other
and help the people of Vietnam to rebuild their country. I am grateful
to Robert McNamara for his courageous and honest reappraisal of the
Vietnam War and his involvement in it. I hope his book will contribute
to the healing process.

She was a protestor. He was a protestor. She is a noble lady. She
understands we should look back in retrospect. We should draw the
lessons to try to prevent that from happening again.

GROSS: I guess what I think a lot of people want to know is this: During
the period when you had grave doubts about the war, and 1,000 Americans
a month were getting killed in that war, was it hard for you to not
speak out publicly? And then also after you left the administration and
the war continued for seven more years and American casualties continued
to mount up, if you had such grave doubts, how did you not manage to
share them?

Mr. McNAMARA: Well, you misstate my position. It wasn’t that I had, I’ll
call it grave doubts about the war. I had grave doubts that we could win
it militarily, and that is a major distinction. At the same time I had
grave doubts about winning it militarily, I, along with my associates,
believed that if we didn’t prevent communist domination of Vietnam and
use of that to obtain communist control of Thailand, Indonesia,
Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, we would be moving to a World War III. And
therefore, what I had to do was reconcile this fear that we couldn’t win
militarily with the fear that if we just disengage, we’d be on the way
to World War III.

And the way I brought those together in these memoranda of May, ’67 and
November, ’67, was to say to the president, Mr. President, I don’t think
we can win militarily. We’ve got to use our military pressure as a basis
for negotiation that will permit us to disengage militarily without
leaving South Vietnam to communist control and the start of World War
III. That was the basis.

GROSS: Let me tell you something a friend said to me when she knew I was
going to interview you. She said: Oh, I bet he wrote this book because
he knows he’s going to meet his maker.

Mr. McNAMARA: Look, when I meet my maker, the book isn’t - he’s not
going to consider the book. The book was not written for redemption.
Redemption is between me and my maker, and the book will have no
influence on how he responds to that.

GROSS: Robert McNamara, I want to thank you very much for talking with
us.

Mr. McNAMARA: Thank you, indeed.

GROSS: Robert McNamara, recorded in 1995, after the publication of his
memoir. He died today at the age of 93. Coming up, Errol Morris talks
about his Academy Award-winning film, “The Fog of War: 11 Lessons from
the Life of Robert McNamara.” This is FRESH AIR.
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McNamara And The 'Fog Of War'

TERRY GROSS, host:

We’re remembering Robert McNamara, who was considered the architect of
the war in Vietnam. He died today at the age of 93. He served as
secretary of defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

For many years, he wouldn’t speak about his role in the war. That
silence was broken by his 1995 memoir. In 2003, Errol Morris made a
movie that tried to penetrate McNamara’s enigmatic character. The movie
was based on 20 hours of interviews with him, reflecting on the lessons
he learned from Vietnam and World War II, in which he helped plan the
fire-bombing of Tokyo. Morris’ film, “The Fog of War: 11 Lessons from
the Life of Robert McNamara,” won an Academy Award. Before we hear the
interview I recorded with Morris, here’s a clip from the beginning of
“The Fog of War.”

(Soundbite of movie, “The Fog of War: 11 Lessons from the Life of Robert
McNamara”)

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. McNAMARA: It’s almost impossible for our people today to put
themselves back into that period. In my seven years as secretary, we
came within a hair’s breadth of war with the Soviet Union on three
different occasions. Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year for seven
years as secretary of defense, I lived the Cold War.

(Soundbite of explosion)

Mr. McNAMARA: During the Kennedy administration, they designed a 100-
megaton bomb. It was tested in the atmosphere. I remember this. Cold
War. Hell, it was a hot war.

GROSS: You know, one of the things that really astonished me watching
“The Fog of War” was that McNamara was really lively, anecdotal,
interesting, and I always thought of him, among other things, as cold
and kind of inaccessible - in other words that you’d never get anything
out of him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Give me an example of something he said that really surprised
you.

Mr. ERROL MORRIS (Writer, Director): Well, the most surprising thing was
discovering that his role in Vietnam was different than I had thought.
Remember, the Vietnam War was known to many people as McNamara’s War. He
became not only associated with the war, people thought of it as his
war, as though he was the person primarily responsible for it.

He was the hawk. He was the guy who pushed other people towards
escalation, to bombing, to troops on the ground. You want an explanation
for how we became mired in Vietnam, look no further than Robert S.
McNamara. And yet as I got deeper and deeper into this story, my view of
him and his role in history changed.

GROSS: How did it change?

Mr. MORRIS: It changed in so many ways. I had read, in retrospect, in
1995 - this was his supposed mea culpa for Vietnam.

GROSS: His memoir.

Mr. MORRIS: His memoir. And what surprised me was the book I was reading
was so different than the book I saw described in many, many reviews and
editorials. It didn’t seem to be a mea culpa at all, more this anguished
attempt to go back into the past to try to figure out what happened and
why it happened.

There’s this very odd conversation. “The Fog of War” actually has these
recently released presidential recordings. Everybody knows Nixon made
recordings, but it’s less well known that Kennedy and Johnson recorded
their conversations, as well.

Kennedy recorded Cabinet meetings. Johnson recorded phone calls. So you
can actually hear the president of the United States talking with
McNamara, a front-row seat in history, if you like. And there’s one
powerful conversation October 2nd, 1963. This is less than two months
before Kennedy was assassinated. We hear McNamara and the president
talking, and McNamara is urging Kennedy to set a timetable, a schedule
for getting out of Vietnam.

This is the man who we consider to be the worst hawk of all in the
administration, the most bellicose advisor of all in the administration.

GROSS: It’s tempting to kind of go over your whole film point by point
and talk about all the points that Robert McNamara makes, but I think I
should let our listeners see the movie and talk about how – talk instead
about how the movie was made. But first, I do want to just get to a
couple of the very interesting points that McNamara makes in the movie,
and one of them is in talking about World War II, where he served under
General Curtis LeMay, and he participated in the planning of the fire-
bombing of Tokyo, in which 100,000 civilians were killed. And he said
something very interesting about war criminals. Why don’t we hear this
excerpt of your movie? This is an excerpt of Robert McNamara, speaking
in Errol Morris’ documentary, “The Fog of War.”

(Soundbite of movie, “The Fog of War: 11 Lessons from the Life of Robert
McNamara”)

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. McNAMARA: I don’t fault Truman for dropping the nuclear bomb. The
U.S.-Japanese war was one of the most brutal wars in all of human
history: kamikaze pilots, suicide, unbelievable. What one can criticize
is that the human race prior to that time and today has not really
grappled with what are, I’ll call it the rules of war.

Was there a rule then that said you shouldn’t bomb, shouldn’t kill,
shouldn’t burn to death 100,000 civilians in a night? LeMay said if we’d
lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals, and I
think he’s right. He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals.

GROSS: Robert McNamara, speaking in the film, “The Fog of War: 11
Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamara.” We’ll hear more of my 2004
interview with the filmmaker, Errol Morris, in the second half of the
show. Robert McNamara died today at the age of 93. I’m Terry Gross, and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. We’re remembering Robert
McNamara, who was considered the architect of the war in Vietnam. He
died today at the age of 93. McNamara served as secretary of defense
under presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Let's get back to the 2004
interview I recorded with Errol Morris about his Academy Award winning
documentary, "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert
McNamara."

Now in talking about his role in Vietnam, he certainly gives the
impression that he tried to talk President Johnson out of the war, tried
to start decreasing our presence in Vietnam. Do you believe that that
was consistently his point of view with Johnson?

Mr. ERROL MORRIS (Filmmaker): It's a tortured story. I believe that if
Kennedy had lived, in all likelihood there would not have been extensive
bombing and half a million ground troops in Vietnam. It’s one of those
great mysteries that can’t be really answered for certain, but the story
leans in that direction. There is considerable amount of evidence to
suggest that’s the case. One thing that’s really interesting, I
sometimes say, well, this revised story about Vietnam that emerges in
“The Fog of War,” it's not necessarily a better story. It’s just a
different story because it raises a whole set of different questions. If
McNamara was opposed to the war, why did he becomes a part of its
escalation? Why did he continue to serve Johnson if he disagreed with
his policies? Why did he stay on until 1968? And why, when he left the
administration, did he remain silent? War went on '69, '70, '71, '72,
'73, '74,'75. Between two and three million Vietnamese died and 58,000
Americans.

GROSS: Now aren’t these the questions that he still refuses to answer?
The questions that you just raised?

Mr. MORRIS: Yes and no. The movie has an epilogue where I return to some
of the central mysteries of this story. I feel that there are partial
answers, but this is not a movie where every “T” can be crossed and
every “I” dotted. They're mysteries that remain for me, having made the
movie.

GROSS: He reaches several conclusions and had several lessons that he
feels like he’s learned from his involvement in World War II and the
Vietnam War. And one of his conclusions is you need to empathize with
your enemy, but he says about Vietnam, we didn’t know the Vietnamese
well enough to empathize and put ourselves in their shoes. We saw the
war in Vietnam as a cold war, they saw it as a civil war. And when I
heard him say that, I thought, you know, what a true and interesting
lesson to have learned and to impart to us. But then I thought for a
second, isn’t that what the anti-war movement was saying all along?
That, you know, this isn’t just the cold war, this is a civil war, why
are we involved there? I mean, isn’t that something that people were
shouting at him for years?

Mr. MORRIS: Yes. This is a movie with one interview, but sometimes I
think that they are actually two characters, the 85-year-old McNamara
speaking to the 45-year-old McNamara and one of the questions...

GROSS: Yeah. I know exactly what you mean. I mean that was my - as a
viewer that was my impression too. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: And one question that keeps coming up again and again, is
this the same man? Are these two different men?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MORRIS: Well, in one sense of course they’re not. But are they the
same? And in what way are they different, if they are different? You‘re
absolutely right. Many of the things that McNamara says could’ve come
out of anti-war demonstrators. It could've been things that they said
verbatim in 1965. People who really hate McNamara, and they are many,
when they hear about the lessons, they say, why do we want to hear
anything this man says? Shouldn’t he remain silent? My answer is an
emphatic no. He has been so much a part of history, and the stories that
he tells about history are really interesting and important stories. And
they’re stories by a man who knows.

GROSS: You know, you're talking about him being like the 85-year-old
McNamara talking to the 40-year-old or 45-year-old McNamara. And I felt
as a viewer that there were like, there were two versions of me watching
the movie...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...as there were, yeah...

Mr. MORRIS: That's really interesting.

GROSS: Yeah, and I'll explain what I mean because like when he talks
about...

Mr. MORRIS: By the way, it's also true in my case.

GROSS: Oh really? Really? Yeah.

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah.

GROSS: So, well, let me give you my example. When I was watching the
movie and he says things like, during the war in Vietnam his family was
so stressed out his family got ulcers. I can't remember if he got
ulcers, too. And that you know, that his family was just like sickened
by all of the stress. And one part of me thought, wow, that's really
interesting that, you know, that it was so stressful on your family and
that's a very kind of - that elicited a very sympathetic response for
me. But then the other part of me was saying, well, I should think so.
The whole country was divided by this war. The country was at war with
itself. Americans were dying. Vietnamese were dying. So many lives of
Americans were totally changed by the war and...

Mr. MORRIS: America, America was totally changed by the war.

GROSS: Right. So in that sense I'm saying, well, you know, sure, sure
you’d have ulcers. I mean, geez.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So I just felt myself having this constant dialogue with myself
about my reactions to him and what he was saying. Tell me about the
dialogue you had with yourself making the movie.

Mr. MORRIS: Well, my feelings about Vietnam haven't changed over the
years. I demonstrated against the war as a young student because I found
the war appalling. And now many, many years later I still find it
appalling. Sometimes I think, am I being too easy on McNamara? Other
times I think, am I being too hard on him? One undeniable aspect of the
man is that he produces these very, very strong feelings. And yet, I
feel privileged to have been able to talk to him and to make this movie.
It's interesting. I started these interviews before 9/11. The first
interview with McNamara was in May of 2001. I never thought that this
would be a movie about now, that this would be a movie about today.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. MORRIS: And yet, as I continued to work on the film, the themes, the
stories, the history that McNamara describes became more and more and
more relevant to what is going on in the world today.

GROSS: We’re listening back to a 2004 interview with Errol Morris about
his Academy Award winning documentary about Robert McNamara, "The Fog of
War." McNamara died today at the age of 93. More after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Errol Morris about his
documentary, "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert
McNamara." McNamara died today at the age of 93. The former secretary of
defense was considered the architect of the Vietnam War.

GROSS: You know, I interviewed McNamara in '95 after his memoir was
published.

Mr. MORRIS: Uh-huh.

GROSS: And, you know, as I said, I've never seen him be as interesting
and lively and anecdotal as in your movie. And when I interviewed him, I
guess you know, all my instincts were, ask him why he hasn’t apologized
if he knew all this in advance. Ask him if he thinks he owes America an
apology or an explanation. And I you know, I haven't listened back to
the interview, but I think that's where I kept...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...where I kept heading. And I’m wondering if your instinct was
ever to do that yourself because the movie isn’t that. You're not
saying, well then apologize, you know? You're letting him speak. You're
letting him tell his story and a lot of interesting things emerge and
those things are very lively and attention-getting. I mean, you want to,
you want to hear it. And whether you end up completely believing it or
not you want to hear it. But was there ever an instinct in you saying,
get him to apologize?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You know?

Mr. MORRIS: Sure. Absolutely.

GROSS: And, but did you kind of suppress that and just, like, let him
talk, or did you keep kind of getting back to that?

Mr. MORRIS: Did I kind of suppress it? I like the idea of suppressing
it. Maybe. It’s interesting because when you say there’s something
missing - if people say, well, McNamara didn’t go as far as I would
like, or, McNamara really didn’t apologize, or, McNamara didn’t really
confess, I would ask myself, what is it that they want to hear? What
exactly are they looking for? And I ask myself, do I want to hear
McNamara apologize for the war? And here’s my answer, not really.

GROSS: Mm-hmmm. Why not?

Mr. MORRIS: Because I don’t think there is any apology for the war in
this sense, how do you apologize for the death of 58,000 Americans and
two to three million Vietnamese? I think he’s done something far more
interesting. He has gone back over the history of the war. Don’t forget,
this is the man who ordered the Pentagon Papers to be created. If you
like, it’s that same instinct to go back over the past, to look at it,
to try to understand it. For the totally unsympathetic, the people who
will hate McNamara no matter what, they will look at this attempt to go
back over the past as excuse-making, oh yeah, sure, he’s going back over
the past. But he’s going over the past just to provide a gloss on the
past, to make himself look better.

My answer is no. When he suggests that he and LeMay were war criminals
in World War II, and he tells a story that is so different from any
other story I’ve heard about that period, I don’t look at it as an
attempt to whitewash the past but as a sincere attempt to go back over
the past, to think abut the past.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Your interview with McNamara as it is in the movie "The
Fog of War," starts with him having to pick up where he left off. I
guess because, like, the tape or the film had run out and he has to like
pick up in the middle of a sentence. In fact, let me just play this
little exert.

Mr. MCNAMARA: Now I remembered exactly the sentence I left off on. I
remember how it started and I was cut off in the middle, but you can fix
it up someway. I don’t want to go back - introduce the sentence because
I know exactly what I wanted to say.

Mr. MORRIS: Go ahead.

Mr. MCNAMARA: Okay. Any military commander who is honest with himself or
with those he's speaking to will admit that he has made mistakes in the
application of military power. He's killed people unnecessarily, his own
troops or other troops through mistakes, through errors of judgment, a
hundred or thousands or tens of thousands, maybe even a hundred
thousand. But he hasn't destroyed nations. And the conventional wisdom
is, don't make the same mistake twice. Learn from your mistakes. And we
all do. Maybe we make the same mistake three times, but hopefully not
four or five. They'll be no learning period with nuclear weapons. You
make one mistake and you're going to destroy nations.

GROSS: That's Robert McNamara in the very opening of "The Fog of War."
And my guest is the filmmaker Errol Morris. You know how I was talking
about how I had two reactions to a lot of the movie? I had two reactions
to seeing this part of the interview, especially at the very beginning.
Part of me said, wow, he's being kind of manipulative here. He knows
exactly what he's going to say. He's saying it. He's so kind of
conscious of himself as an interviewee. But then the other part of me
said, yeah, he should be. He has something really important to say here
about, you know, lessons about nuclear weapons and being - you know,
being in a position of power in the nuclear era. This is really
important. I’m glad he remembered what he wanted to say. Tell me why you
wanted to lead with this, in a way, very self-conscious moment of him
saying, I’m going to pick up exactly where I left off. I know what I
want to say.

Mr. MORRIS: Well, among other things he was a control freak.

GROSS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: And it’s interesting to be reminded of that fact at the very
beginning of the movie.

GROSS: At the very beginning. Yeah…

Mr. MORRIS: In fact, we see - at the very beginning of the movie, we see
him in 1964 doing pretty much the same thing that he’s doing in 2001.

GROSS: Well, Errol Morris, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. MORRIS: Thank you for having me.

GROSS: Errol Morris recorded in 2004. His film about Robert McNamara is
called “The Fog of War.” McNamara died today at the age of 93. Coming
up, Shakespeare on DVD. This is FRESH AIR.
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'Playing Shakespeare' The Way The Pros Do It

TERRY GROSS, host:

Whether it’s in Central Park, Stratford-upon-Avon, Stafford, Ontario, or
the open-air Globe Theater in London, productions of Shakespeare are
among the most popular summer events. But our classical music critic,
Lloyd Schwartz, says, you don’t have to leave your house to see great
Shakespearean acting and learn something about acting at the same time.

(Soundbite of music)

LLOYD SCHWARTZ: Nearly 25 years ago, I got a call from an old friend who
was very excited about a British TV series called “Playing Shakespeare”
that was airing in New York. It didn’t make it to Boston, and probably
not to most other places. But my friend recorded one of the episodes and
sent me the tape. I was blown away. The host was director John Barton,

co-founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the performers on that
episode included Judi Dench. Nearly an hour was taken up with Barton
going over a short scene line by line, showing how crucial an
understanding of Shakespeare’s language and versification were to
conveying the meaning and power of the scene.

How rare it was to hear an intelligent discussion of literature and
drama on television. Finally, a new label called Athena has just
released a set of all nine episodes of that 1984 series and every one of
them is a revelation. Among the actors participating in Barton’s
exploration of Shakespeare are Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Ben
Kingsley, David Suchet, who’s probably more famous in this country as
Agatha Christie’s “Hercule Poirot” than as a Shakespearean actor, and
Dame Peggy Ashcroft in a rare television appearance. In each episode,
they perform or recite a variety of scenes or passages from a
Shakespeare play or poem.

These British actors have honey tongues and impeccable diction. But then
Barton starts asking them to think about what Shakespeare actually
wrote, down to his meter and line breaks. Since the plays are written in
verse in a heightened language, should an actor make the performance
more stylized or more naturalistic? What if one speech ends in the
middle of a line of iambic pentameter and another character continues
where that line left off? Does that indicate a pause, or a rush forward?

It’s also fascinating to watch two actors approach the same character.
There’s a memorable sequence in which both Patrick Stewart and David
Suchet play Shylock. Suchet, who mentions that he is Jewish, feels that
Shylock's Jewishness is central to the part. He plays the moneylender
with a slightly Jewish inflection. Stewart, who isn't Jewish, feels the
center of Shylock's character is his greed, and downplays his
Jewishness. Here’s Stewart.

(Soundbite of TV show, “Performing Shakespeare”)

Mr. PATRICK STEWART (Actor): (as Shylock) Well then, it now appears you
need my help: Go to, then, you come to me, and you say 'Shylock, we
would have moneys: you say so. You, that did void your rheum upon my
beard. And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur over your threshold:
moneys is your suit. What should I say to you? Should I not say hath a
dog money? Is it possible a cur can lend three thousand ducats? Or
should I bend low and in a bondman's key, with bated breath and
whispering humbleness, say this: fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday
last. You spurn'd me such a day. Another time you call'd me dog and for
these courtesies I'll lend you thus much moneys'?

(Soundbite of laughing)

SCHWARTZ: And here’s Suchet.

(Soundbite of TV show, “Performing Shakespeare”)

Mr. DAVID SUCHET (Actor): (as Shylock) Well then, it now appears you
need my help: Go to, then, you come to me, and you say Shylock, we would
have moneys: you say so. You, that did void your rheum upon my beard.
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur over your threshold: moneys is
your suit. What should I say to you? Should I not say hath a dog money?
Is it possible a cur can lend three thousand ducats? Or shall I bend low
and in a bondman's key, with bated breath and whispering humbleness, say
this: fair sir, you spat on me on Wednesday last. You spurn'd me such a
day. Another time you call'd me dog and for these courtesies I'll lend
you thus much moneys?

Unidentified Man: Good.

(Soundbite of applause)

SCHWARTZ: Both actors resist the common temptation to sentimentalize
Shylock, maybe because Barton has directed both of them in this part
before. They couldn't be more different, yet both of them still convey
the same hurt, anger and irony that are at the heart of this role.

My favorite episode remains the one my friend sent me. It's a brief
scene from “Twelfth Night,” with Judi Dench as Viola, who is in love
with the Duke Orsino, played by Richard Pasco, but who has to hide her
love because she's disguised as a boy. John Barton stops the actors at
almost every line, and after every interruption, the characters and
their motivations take on another new dimension. When we finally watch
the scene all the way through, we're no longer watching acting. The
actors have become almost transparent and through them it's the
characters, the story, the action, the play that compel us. Here’s a
clip of the radiant final take of that scene from “Twelfth Night.”

(Soundbite of TV show, “Performing Shakespeare”)

Ms. JUDI DENCH (Actor): (as Viola) My father had a daughter loved a man.
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, I should your lordship.

Mr. RICHARD PASCO: (as Duke Orsino) And what's her history?

Ms. DENCH: (as Viola) A blank, my lord. She never told her love, but let
concealment, like a worm i' the bud, feed on her damask cheek: she pined
in thought. And with a green and yellow melancholy, she sat like
patience on a monument, smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed? We
men may say more, swear more: but indeed our shows are more than will,
for still we prove much in our vows, but little in our love.

Mr. PASCO: (as Duke Orsino) But died thy sister of her love, my boy?

Ms. DENCH: (as Viola) I am all the daughters of my father's house, and
all the brothers too: and yet I know not.

SCHWARTZ: If you’re interested in Shakespeare, in poetry or in theater,
I think you'll be completely mesmerized by this series. And I'll leave
the last wise, sensible words to John Barton.

Mr. JOHN BARTON (Director; Co-founder, Royal Shakespeare Company):
Shakespeare is his text and the way he uses it is just that. So if you
want to do him justice, you’ll have to look for and follow the clues he
offers. If an actor does that, then you find that Shakespeare himself
starts to direct you.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix
and teaches English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He
reviewed the four DVD set called “Playing Shakespeare” on the Athena
Label. You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site
freshair.npr.org. I’m Terry Gross. We'll close with Rebecca Kilgore
singing a song from South Pacific from a new album she recorded with the
Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet. Becky and Dave Frishberg will soon record
a FRESH AIR centennial tribute to Johnny Mercer.

(Soundbite of song, “I’m In Love With a Wonderful Guy”)

Ms. MITZI GAYNOR (Singer): (Singing) I expect everyone of my crowd to
make fun of my proud protestations of faith in romance. And they'll say
I'm naive as a babe to believe, every fable I hear from a person in
pants. Fearlessly I'll face them and argue their doubts away, loudly
I'll sing about flowers in spring. Flatly I'll stand on my little flat
feet and say, love is a grand and a beautiful thing. I'm not ashamed to
reveal, the world famous feeling I feel. I'm as corny as Kansas in
August, I'm as normal as blueberry pie. No more a smart little girl with
no heart. I have found me a wonderful guy, I am in a conventional dither
with a conventional star in my eye. And you will note there's a lump in
my throat when I speak of that wonderful guy.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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