Friday, June 22, 2007

Fog of War

Robert McNamara is former US Secretary of Defense. He has served under both Kennedy as well as Johnson administration. In essence, this makes him a key player in two very important events in the Cold War era - the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. BBC produced a documentary "Fog of War" (2004) in which Robert McNamara narrates "11 lessons" he has learnt through his experiences by living the Cold War 24 X 7 for 7 years (1961 - 68) of his life. McNamara is attributed by some to be a "war-monger" responsible for causing heavy losses by not reducing US involvement in Vietnam. However, his these insights should be taken from viewpoint of a skilled manager rather than a war hero. Here is my own interpretation of these "11 lessons" coupled with the facts narrated in the documentary.

1. Empathize with your enemy

One must understand the mental state of the enemy. Every person, especially if he is leading others, wants to walk away from a conflict feeling vindicated. If the situation is clearly understood, one may actually afford to let the enemy "feel" victorious (or at least vindicated) to have more fruitful outcomes in one's own favor. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy let Khrushchev tell Russians that the Commies were successful in "preventing" an American invasion on Cuba; while at the other hand, Americans were able to get the nuclear warheads dismantled from Cuba without having to shed a single drop of blood. Khrushchev got something to give back to his countrymen out of the conflict he had chosen to escalate and Americans were happy to let the Commies believe that they had bullied USA while achieving the real purpose of diffusing the impending nuclear war.

2. Rationality will not save us

The belief in Game Theory that all actors are "rational" does not work in when human beings are under pressure. One cannot trust "enemy's rationality" to plan out his/her moves. The following snippet of conversation proves this by revealing how scaringly close the world had reached the brink of a nuclear war because of "unexpected irrational" behavior.

When Fidel Castro was asked by McNamara almost 20 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis:

  1. Did he know the nuclear warheads were already fitted into the Russian missiles (i.e. missiles were "launch ready")?
  2. If you knew that, would you have recommended to Khrushchev to use them in face of an US attack?
  3. If he had used them, what would have happened to Cuba?

Castro replied:

  1. I knew they were there.
  2. I would not *have* recommended it to Khrushchev, I *did* recommend that to Khrushchev.
  3. We would have been totally destroyed.

3. There's something beyond one's self

One has to observe and adhere to the values which are extrinsic to the conflict situation. The war may tend to make one weak, immoral or deceitful; but how much one succumbs is a matter of strength of personal will-power as well as the gravity of situation. Also, beyond the high adrenaline action, one should be (in an ideal situation) able to love his family and cherish the happy moments spent with them.

(to be contd..)

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