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the fog of war

And last night, aside from looking at DNA databases, I watched The Fog of War, a documentary-interview-mix with Robert S. McNamara, former US Secretary of Defense, in which he speaks candidly about tactics, strategy, logistics, World War Two, and, of course, Vietnam. Quite good, if sometimes a little lost in aesthetics rather than substance. There are many good quotes and interesting moments (I'll watch it again soon, I'm sure). One of the things that I found striking was that he quite plainly confirms that Kennedy wanted to "get out" of Vietnam (also mentioned in Oliver Stone's JFK), a notion that, as I understand it, was disputed for a long time after the war ended. He also talks about the Cuban Missile crisis, and the fire-bombing campaign over mainland Japan in early 1945, a campaign that wiped out large areas of Japan's major cities and killed thousands of civilians --the fire-bombing of Tokyo alone caused 100,000 civilian casualties (and that was before Hiroshima and Nagasaki), discussing the "mindset of warfare" and tactical and strategic considerations. And the section of Vietnam inevitably made me think of some recent events.

Something that I didn't know was that McNamara met, during the 90s, with both Fidel Castro and Leaders of the Vietnamese army that was fighting the US, and how that helped him re-examine the situation in hindsight, knowing the facts as seen from the other side. McNamara says that he basically asked Castro whether he would have recommended that the Soviet Union get into a nuclear war with the US over Cuba, to which Castro answered, more or less, "yes, in fact I did recommend that" clearly disregarding the fact that such a conflict would have also destroyed Cuba itself. (McNamara himself says, and it isn't hard to believe, that nuclear holocaust was avoided because of "luck"). With Vietnam, McNamara talks about the basic misunderstanding between the US and the Vietnamese as to each other's motives--the US was fighting a local war in the context of the larger cold war conflict, while the Vietnamese were fighting (in their view) a civil war for independence, and how this lack of understanding ("empathizing with the enemy"), which had proven in his mind crucial to solving the 1962 crisis, quite probably prolonged the war unnecessarily.

Sometimes he refuses to go into more detail, fearing, as he calls it, "controversy." I'd say that what's there already is controversial enough, but it makes me wonder what he isn't saying.

Anyway, not self-contained by any means, but a good addition to history books and other documentaries. Recommended.

Posted by diego on June 25, 2004 at 12:37 PM


I spent a bit of time last night going through the our DNA information as mapped by the Human Genome Project. Aside from learning some things, there were two things that caught my eye. First is that the genome has "builds", and as of today they stand as "build 34 version 3" which sounded like a meld of technology and our humanity in interesting if subtle ways (did they every have a beta? Will we have genomic procedures only compatible with certain builds? Okay, that's in jest, but you know what I mean).

The other was that they've got XML dialects for the genetic information: witness this sequence which is part of our first chromosome. For some reason I can't quite explain, I also find this fascinating. They have different XML dialects which show more information too, with names like TinySeq XML, GBSeq XML, and just "XML" (is this one the standard?), all with DTDs. I imagine they had similar fights as in other fields (such as syndication) over which tags to use, formats, and such--I wonder if there's a mailing list where we can find geneticists and molecular biologists arguing over which tag is best...

Categories: science
Posted by diego on June 25, 2004 at 12:09 PM

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