Morris's Oscar: Thanking Robert S. McNamara Academy Award Scenarios
February 29, 2004: Mark the date. That night, at the 76th
Annual Academy Awards, we'll finally know the answer to
the question on every Academy member's lips: During Errol Morris’ Oscar
acceptance speech for his film The
Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, will
Morris thank McNamara?
of course, has yet to be nominated. But on January 27th, when
the nominees are announced at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, that
will change. (It
did.) Morris is due. The fact that he's never been nominated
before, will be a plus. After all, the Academy is always a little
behind the curve when it comes to recognizing artistic genius
and Morris has already directed a string of masterpieces, including Thin
Blue Line, A
Brief History of Time, Fast,
Cheap and Out of Control, and Mr.
Death. The nomination will be a breeze. The award: a
of out of control, “McNamara’s story is about things
slipping out of control,” Morris said in an interview
on Weekly Signals — a
KUCI radio show I co-host with Mike Kaspar.
go to a movie like Thirteen
Days,” Morris continued, “and it tells
the story of the Cuban missile crisis very simply. The Kennedys
saved the world. Hip hip hooray. You listen to McNamara telling
the story of the Cuban missile crisis and it’s a story
of the world teeter-tottering out of control. And in the end
what’s McNamara’s line from the film? ’We
will be on McNamara’s side again at the Oscars. I wonder,
will he be in the crowd at the Kodak Theatre? Will he stand
and acknowledge Morris? Will he be at the post-awards press
conference? Will he tell the reporters, “There is no room
for error in the nuclear age?”
what clip will
they show the Kodak Theatre audience that night? Will we see
McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the Cuban missile
crisis and the Vietnam War, pinching his fingers as close together
as possible without touching and saying, “We were this
close to what?" Billy Crystal, our host might ask.
nuclear annihilation, of course.
remember don't you? Weapons of Mass Destruction aren't new.
them and McNamara came "this close" to using them. The
fact that he was
one of the best and brightest of his generation — President
of Ford Motor Company and Secretary of Defense under Presidents
Kennedy and Johnson — didn't matter. According to McNamara
himself, the only thing that prevented the unspeakable from happening
(not only the end of the world, but no Oscar for Lawrence
of Arabia) — was pure dumb luck.
a word you don't often hear in the telling of history. So how
did Morris tell McNamara's story?
wanted to create – whether I was successful or not — a
different kind of history,“ Morris said. “People
think they know how history should be told. There’s a certain
boilerplate, a certain formula, for historical story telling — the
yin and yang of various commentators, for and against, explaining
how you’re supposed to look at the material…endlessly
conceptualizing it…explaining it. I chose to do away with
so he did. McNamara is essentially the only voice in the film,
teaching us lessons summarized in a Tao de Ching-like litany.
Empathize with your enemy.
2. Rationality will not save us.
3. There’s something beyond one’s self.
4. Maximize efficiency.
5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
6. Get the data.
7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
8. Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning.
9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
10. Never say never.
11. You can’t change human nature.
started this before 911,” Morris said. “And what
horrifies me is that every month we continued to work on the
movie, it seemed to become more and more relevant to the present
time. It was as if we were re-enacting the mistakes of fifty
years ago all over again. And that’s not very encouraging.
me, one of the truly depressing things in recent history is
watching Colin Powell at the United Nations arguing that he
had incontrovertible proof about the existence of Weapons of
Mass Destruction in Iraq.”
wonder, will Morris drop Colin Powell’s name at the awards
ceremony? Will he do "Michael Moore" and draw a parallel
between McNamara’s Vietnam and Powell’s Iraq? Will
he hold Oscar over his head and say “Rationality will
not save us?” Or will Morris, an anti-war protestor in
the 1960s, ask Powell and McNamara for an apology? Probably
a certain point I ask myself, 'Do I want to hear McNamara apologize?’” Morris
said. “What would it mean? 58,000 Americans died in the
war in Vietnam — between 2 and 3 million Vietnamese. What
does it mean for a man to say 'I'm sorry this happened?' Perhaps
his enterprise of trying to figure out how it happened
is a more valuable one — a more important one. I'm not
am I. If we all get vaporized in a mushroom cloud what would
it mean for someone to say "I'm sorry this happened?"
enough existential dread. Let’s get back to more important
Morris thank McNamara when
he accepts the Oscar?
If we're all still around.
— Nathan Callahan,
January 14, 2004