Monday, July 6, 2009

Fog and death

Robert McNamara is dead. I hated him once. While he was Secretary of Defense, 16,000 American servicemen and women died in a terrible, purposeless war. Another 42,000 Americans would die before it was all over. Somebody knows how many Vietnamese people died in that war, but I don't.

John Kennedy called him the smartest man he ever met. A master of systems analysis, McNamara crunched numbers both from the Pentagon's organization and from the bloody data he got from Southeast Asia to figure the smartest solutions to problems posed by both. I'm reminded of the finance systems modelers whose far-too-smart "products" precipitated the current recession. Apparently he came to agree with this assessment:
“War is so complex it’s beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend,” Mr. McNamara concluded. “Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate. And we kill people unnecessarily.”
If you haven't seen the documentary The Fog of War, see it soon. Here's an excerpt:

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