The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons

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Errol Morris and the Film Festival

I've gone and seen several films at the Film Festival each year for a while now, but this year I just haven't made the effort. Preparing and going to Worldcon, not to mention everything involved with finding a venue for Anime North (more on that soon) ate up all the time I usually use to prepare for the Festival (getting a coupon book, reading up on all the films, standing in lineups, etc.) so I found that I didn't mind the though of giving it a miss this year.

That said, Jason called me Sunday and ask if I wanted a ticket to see the new Errol Morris documentary The Fog of War, as his fiance couldn't make it. Since all the legwork had been done for me, I accepted.

Errol Morris is one of the greatest documentarians we've got, and this movie didn't let me down. It consists of an interview with Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense for the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations about his life and the Vietnam war. McNamara is a controversial figure from that time, often portrayed as something of an arrogant egghead.

In the movie, McNamara says that when military and government leaders make mistakes, which they do all the time, people die, and the most you can do is try to learn from those mistakes so they don't happen again. Morris began work on the film pre the 9/11 attacks and everything that followed subsequently, and the current political situation is never mentioned, yet the parallels between US mistakes in Vietnam and Iraq are astounding.

Also astounding are the sequences dealing with the Cuban missile crisis, during which McNamara says nuclear war was avoided by "pure luck". At the time they didn't think nuclear warheads had arrived in Cuba yet, and the military was strongly urging an invasion of the island. Much later it was learned that there were over 100 tactical warheads available in Cuba during the crisis.

In 1992 McNamara met with Castro and asked him 1) Did he know the warheads were there, 2) Would he have recommend to Moscow that they be used if an invasion occurred, and 3) What would the result to Cuba have been?

Castro answered that 1) He did know, 2) He actually DID recommend to Moscow that the warheads be used, and 3) as a result Cuba would have been destroyed.

McNamara then asked how then could he have recommended that nukes be used? Castro answered because if the US had been in a similar situation they would have done exactly the same thing.

Morris was there at the end for a question and answer session. He's an extremely well-spoken, although very pessimistic individual, and it was one of the best Q&As I've seen.

If I only see one film in the Festival this year, I'm glad it was this one.


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