Finally, I got around to watching the The Fog of War, the 2003 documentary film based on an extended interview with Robert S. McNamara.
It has been criticised for not pushing the technocrat McNamara to confront his culpability in letting the Vietnam War continue. He argues that a) it was the president's decision, and that b) as ex-defense secretary and head of the World Bank he could not interfere or express himself even after leaving/being ejected from office.
It does, however, provide some -- at least for me -- interesting insights in to the relationships between JFK (and later LBJ) and McNamara and other key advisors. I was particularly interested to hear recordings of JFK's ExComm talking about the Cuban crisis and the fact that former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, Llewellyn (Tommy) Thompson, was able to sway JFK's thinking on Khrushchev's motives.
McNamara frankly admits that this "empathy with the enemy", one of the 11 lessons which film maker Errol Morris extracts from McNamara's recollections, was lacking in Vietnam.
-- Quoting Khrushchev on Cuba: "We and you ought not to pull on the ends of a rope which you have tied the knots of war. Because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied."
-- "There will be no learning period with nuclear weapons; you make one mistake and you destroyed a nation."
-- "We saw Vietnam as an element of the Cold War and not what they saw it as: a civil war. We did not know them well enough to empathise with them."
And finally, this one:
Describing how his wife-to-be needed to order stationery before their wedding day and asked him what his middle initial S stood for:
McNamara: "It's Strange."
Wife: "I know it's strange. But what is it?"