Robert S. McNamara is an almost universally a vilified character. He served under General Curtis LeMay, and helped plan and support the carpet bombing and burning of Japan. He was the first non-Ford family president of Ford. He served as the Secretary of Defense under two presidents, Kennedy and Johnson. He was JFK's right hand man during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He ran the Vietnam war. He was the president of the World Bank. There is simply no way you can have done that much, and not be vilified.
In this documentary by Errol Morris, he attempts to share some of the lessons of his life, and does so in a completely non-apologetic or remorseful way. Unlike a Michael Moore movie, this stays focused on McNamara and what he wants to share.
At this time, more then any other, this is a very important film. I was familiar with much of what this movie covered, but hearing it from the perspective of McNamara was extremely interesting. I found myself admiring the man. There is a side to him that is not seen, through the mistakes of Vietnam and the horror of the burning of Tokyo, that can be seen through this documentary.
Some of the most important lessons can be learned from someone who has failed, and McNamara does not seem to have any illusions about the places where there were failures, both on his part and others. His telling of the Cuban Missile Crisis shows the elements of human nature at play. His analysis of Vietnam is sobering and clear. And while completely unremorseful for the burning of Japan, his lessons clearly resonate to the horror of the situation.
There are many questions he refuses to answer outright, in particular about Vietnam. As he explains, he is "damned if he does and damned if he doesn't", and he would rather be "damned if he doesn't". However, there is plenty of room to read between the lines.