Robert McNamara‘s death a couple of days ago reminded me of the must-see Errol Morris documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. In the documentary, McNamara discusses his experiences and lessons learned during his tenure as Secretary of Defense under John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, focusing on his involvement in the Vietnam war.
McNamara’s career is an excellent example of how an extremely bright man can make horrendous mistakes when operating without questioning the underlying logic, assumptions and ideology of his environment, and in this particular case, the leadership of the country he serves. When you get caught up in details and tactics, it’s extremely hard to re-evaluate your beliefs and presumptions and gain a better context of your actions. I see that happen in Israeli politics, I see that happen in companies I ran or worked for, and more than once I’ve noticed that in my own behavior. This documentary is an alarming example of the consequences of such a mistake.