Failure is the Only Option

Issue section: 

Nigel Davey is right about Errol Morris's film Fog of War (April SR) - it gives fascinating insights into the logic of war and the resulting twisted psychology of the imperialists. But it also provides important lessons for today.

McNamara reveals that as early as the mid-1960s he and President Johnson realised Vietnam was a disastrous quagmire for the US. Some 23,000 US troops were dead, there was growing unease at home and they wanted out. The paradox was that politically they could only get out if they delivered a decisive blow against the enemy. So they escalated, and every escalation of course only increased the resistance and the radicalisation.

This is the situation the US and British establishments face today. Even as some of them begin to realise the trouble they are in, their inclination is to dig in deeper. Even the less hawkish sections of the ruling class know once they are committed Bush is right to say 'failure is not an option'. The result can only be growing opposition in the Middle East and growing outrage round the world.

This is why the war is likely to continue to dominate the political scene. It is also, I suspect, the main reason McNamara laments at one point that 'humanity needs to find a way to avoid war'. The man who helped plan the firebombing of Tokyo and the carpet bombing of Vietnam has not developed a love of humanity late in life. He has just learned from experience that the spiral of war leads to instability and insurrection.

Chris Nineham