The Fog of War

Last year, a documentary by Errol Morris called The Fog of War, received an Oscar for Best Documentary.

It's an interview with Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968. The movie talks about both World War 2 and VietNam.

What made me think of this movie was our discussion about November 22, 1963.
McNamara talked about that day. His sentences get short, he's clearly emotional. He almost breaks down when he talks about walking the acreage at Arlington to pick the President's gravesite, and how he picked the most beautiful place he could find.

This man was Secretary of Defense when 50,000 Americans died in VietNam and during the bombing campaign that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. It's clear he regrets this, but only the death of JFK that, even 40 years later, moves him to tears.

For people of a certain age, it's the death of FDR. For others, the explosion of the Challenger.

What's the no-need-to-explain iconic moment for you?


Anonymous said...

Easily September 11th, because of my age. That was my senior year of high school.
That's strangely beautiful, him walking across Arlington to pick the site. Terrible, but beautiful. I'm sure there are loads of personality studies that could be done on what might move a person to tears over one death instead of hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Anonymous said...

9/11 supplanted Challenger as that moment for me.

Gina Black said...

December 8, 1980

Anonymous said...

9/11. I think that would be everyone's.

Ballpoint Wren said...

September 11.

Remodeling Repartee said...

For me and a number of folks I've spoken with in the very small generation that is X, it was watching the television movie, The Day After, about the survivors of an all-too-believable nuclear attack on the heartland. I've met Brits my age who remember it too.

The cold war was still hot, the Berlin wall up, Sting was asking if The Russians Love Their Children Too, Reagan was shouting about Evil Empires and getting shot at (by an American). There was no pretense of "duck and cover." No one I knew who was 13 (who wasn't a nitwit) thought we would live to get our drivers licenses.

Douglas Coupland has a piece in his 1991 breakout novel, Generation X, about this generation's archtypal fantasy of where we'll be and what we'll do when the Bomb is on it's way.

This is a great thread, Miss Snark. When you develop a character, you need to know these kinds of things; what generation does she belong to and what shaped that generation as well as the generation of those who raised her.

Sandra Ruttan said...

There are three moments in time burned in my mind I suspect forever. When the Berlin Wall fell, especially poignant because I was there to see it. When Princess Diana died...one of those people you expected to hear about in the news forever.

And 9/11. We had the news on and watched the second plane live. At that stage it was so early, and my husband and I actually talked about "could you imagine if this was a deliberate attack?" That's almost like a snapshot of an innocence that can never be reclaimed, the world has changed so much since then.

Nicole said...

What's the no-need-to-explain iconic moment for you? 9/11. Without a doubt. I was in high school when Challenger exploded, and when President Reagan was shot. But being a new mother and signing onto the Internet to see a headline reading "America Under Attack" is something I will never, ever forget.

Cornelia Read said...

June 8, 1972:


Anonymous said...

December 12, 2000.

Anonymous said...


Matt Forbeck said...


Darlene Marshall said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I too, remember where I was when I heard that JFK had been shot.

I was watching TV, when they announced the Challenger explosion and Princess Diana's death...

But the one that is seared into my memory is the morning I was sipping coffee and reading the morning paper in front of the TV...9/11/01.

Darlene Marshall said...

I'm old enough to remember the Kennedy assassination, but I have to believe for this generation it's going to be 9/11. I vividly remember walking my dog on that sunny September morning. A neighbor rushed out of her house and said to me, "Go home and turn on your TV. An airplane just flew into the World Trade Center."

When my husband came home a couple hours later I was sitting in front of the TV with tears running down my face. I turned to him and said, "They're gone. The buildings are gone. All those people are dead."

It was one of those defining moments.

pinch said...

I am from New Orleans. My iconic moment was the death of JFK; I was sitting in my third grade classroom, all had become silent as we waited, our teacher had put her head in her hands;then the statement "he is dead" came over the intercom. But what made it more painful, if that were possible, was that the boy next to me laughed when the announcement came and stated "well that n_ _ _ _ _-lover is dead." The boy, only a child. There are many days when I think of that boy, where he is, and if his soul is still black and how it had become blackened in the first place. I have completed a novel and the place is New Orleans. I have been fortunate to get a very good agent, but not three weeks after Katrina I received an e-mail from another agent who stated that "New Orleans was now no more than a period piece." Again, the memory of the boy reared it's ugly head, again an instance when iconic moments live in the writer's heart forever. I wanted to reply to that agent and ask if Dresden or Peking or Constantinople or New York were also period pieces. Of course I didn't.

Unknown said...

For me, it was the explosion of the Challenger shuttle. I was in 6th grade, we'd just come in from recess, and our teacher was in tears. She'd gone home for lunch to watch, and when she came back, they brought all the students into one room to show on tv and to watch what had happened. At twelve, I didn't quite grasp what I saw, but I knew it was very important. Not until about a year later, did I fully understand what happened, and how much it changed the way I wanted to view the world. (I had loved the idea of being an astronaut, and not until I put the reality of what happened to Challenger into my desire to be an astronaut did it click over.) I spent about two days in tears over it.

Rick said...

Kennedy assassination, Challenger, and 9/11. (I don't know the date of the Challenger explosion and wouldn't recognize it, but "the Challenger" says enough.)

Anonymous said...


Cassie said...

Oklahoma City bombing certainly has left a mark; it was my first tragic national event that I remember. I was in class and we watched in on the TV.
9/11 though has to be what my most memorable. We were in London, we'd just landed that morning and it was evening there, so about middle of the day in America. We heard about it over the radio in a grocery store and I spent the rest of the night glued to CNN. We couldn't call my brother or dad back in the states for a few days and everywhere we went people would tell us how sorry they were and share their stories. We didn't know anyone in NYC, but everyone over there seemed to know someone. Also, everywhere we went there were signs up about air traffic and every headline held up dates.

The most morbid and sinking in moment though, was when we found a post card that showed the twin towers and skyline, and said "Decided to skip London and went to New York City instead." With an arrow to the towers. We got that post card, just because it was such an odd moment and morbidly funny. Bet nobody will be finding any more of that one.

9/11 also is such an easy day to remember number wise.

Anonymous said...

Bay of Pigs. This event helped to define our foreign policy for the next forty years.

Sal said...

November 22d? Seventh grade. I was at school. I remember Miss Kawazoe telling us that JFK'd been shot. Later she had a call on her intercom phone and she was quiet for the longest time. Then she told us that he had died.

I remember the aftermath, watching TV, Jack Ruby's surprise, the funeral.

Challenger? I couldn't give you the date (I had to look it up), but I remember being in my car, driving our sons to their in-home daycare that morning when the word came over the news. I'd been so excited about Christa McAuliffe and what she was doing. I was crying as I dropped them off.

9-11? We had just arrived in Bhutan. We'd come downstairs for breakfast at the hotel in Paro. Bhutan at that time had just had Internet access and TV connections for eighteen months.

The TV (the only TV in the hotel) was on in the bar. Some of the folks I was travelling with were in the bar clustered around the TV. How weird was that?

I just thought, "How weird is that?" and settled down for breakfast. At breakfast, someone at the next table said that two planes had whacked into the twin towers and the towers had collapsed. Unbelievable, wasn't it? Is this a joke? Not funny.

We went to the bar, where they were replaying the footage of the planes and the towers' collapse. We were numb. We headed to Thimpu that day. The Queen had arrange a separate remembrance ceremony at the main temple for us. The country had already had a remembrance ceremony earlier in the day for all the ex-pats and others to gather together and ache.

I don't remember anything about Lennon or Diana or exactly where I was when Columbia blew up.

JFK, Challenger, and 9/11 are my only "I remember exactly where I was when I heard ..." events.

Feemus said...

Oddly enough, it is 11/22/63 for me, although I wasn't born for another couple of years. There is something about the pervasiveness of media--the endless simulacral echoings of the event--and the striking ability of the boomers to continue to dominate our cultural consciousness. Their experience is my experience even if I toddled through the summer of love in diapers.

Mindy Tarquini said...

I was very small when Kennedy died. I remember my mother crying. They interrupted my cartoons to announce the assasination of Martin Luther King. They did it again to announce the assasination of Robert Kennedy. I watched the moon landing with family, in black and white. I was at my grandmother's house when they rang the bell in January of 1973 to announce the 'end' of the Vietnam War/ I watched the real end of the war, the fall of Saigon, again in black and white everyday after school at a friend's house when I was in high school - all those helicoptors, all those desperate people. I was ironing a blouse and chatting with my mother when the Challenger exploded. I was on a sofa in my second apartment in New York when the first missiles were fired in the Gulf War. I had an atlas open, and was screaming for my husband to join me because I was scared to death. I turned on PBS for my kids on Tuesday, September 11 and got myself a cup of coffee. My husband ran back inside after starting his car and said, 'Turn on the TV, something's happening at the World Trade Center.' I left the kids to teletubbies in one room and turned on the TV in the other. We're a few hours behind New York and it took a long time for me to understand that a plane had crashed into the first tower. I thought, 'What a fluke. What an awful flukey accident.' Then I saw the second plane approach.

Dummy me.

Yep, that's the defining moment. And thank God for Public Television. They kept Mr. Rogers and Arthur and Teletubbies and Zaboomafoo and Reading Rainbow and Sesame Street on all day - their normal programming - so the kids could watch something safe while their mother fell apart in the next room.

Desperate Writer said...

The OKC bombing, Challenger, Columbia (Rick Husband, Commander, is from my town, and the shuttle went down over my Uncle's home in East Texas. They found the body of the Indian astronaught 2 mi from his house.) 9/11, Princess Di . . . but most of all:

June 9, 1983, my grandpa died.
January 9, 2001, my Daddy died.

the chocolatier said...

Not a specific date, but the genocide in Rwanda. Everytime I hear about that, I cry. Rwanda to me is sadder than even the Holocaust, because it proves that the world never learns.

Anonymous said...

I was 15 when John Lennon was murdered and it devastated me. I heard about the Challenger explosion while standing in line at the cafeteria in my college dorm. 9/11/01 was spent at my office but no one was actually working because we all had radios and TVs on.

Bernita said...

Sept 11.
The day I re-learned anonymous hate - and love.

Shadow said...

Even as I agree with the overarching sentiment that 9/11 is the most recent defining moment for those of us now living (save perhaps Katrina), I find it sobering to realize that 60 years from now the emotion of it will be remembered only in rhetoric. How do I know this? Remember this quote:

"December 7th, 1941, a date that will live in infamy..." (BTW, I had to google it to get the year right; I thought it was 1942 at first.)

I daresay the emotion of that event was consummate with that of 9/11. (Notice how we don't even bother including the year anymore? Also, does anyone else recall the discussions within those first few months of "what are we going to call it?" and how "9/11" won that unspoken contest.) Now it is but a quote to be played with. To wit:

My son got his driver's license on Wednesday, December 7th, a day that will now live in more infamy than ever. (That was my email to my family about my son, btw.)

Amazingly, life goes on. Generations are defined and redefined. Do we -- humanity, that is -- really ever learn anything from these defining moments that survives longer than those who lived through them? And I don't mean that as a rhetorical question.

David Isaak said...

In response to Jack--yes, I agree, it is interesting that McNamara was so moved by the death of one as opposed to many.

On the other hand, a cynic would point out that Hitler was moved to tears by the deaths of pets.

And, a seldom-quoted fact: Hitler was a vegetarian. This was widely remarked upon in the 1930s, but largely forgotten today.

Anonymous said...

It was Challenger until 9/11

Anonymous said...

When I was 11, the Cuban Missile Crisis was going on. I remember standing in church for a silent prayer and grown men, hulking farmers, businessmen, neighbors, crying softly, scared to death, not knowing if they would see another sunset.
Taking my own 11 year old into the back yard, trying to explain the seriousness of 9-11, looking to the sky for jet trails, and how those empty skies had never happened in our lifetimes and, hopefully, that we'll never live to see it again.

Shesawriter said...


Princess Di's death. It was strange because I never really paid attention to her. I wasn't a royal watcher. I didn't catch the wedding. I gave the sordid snippets about Camilla, as well as Di's supposed mental issues an eyeroll, at most. But when she was killed, I broke down and cried buckets. Strange, because I never realized how much she (a complete stranger) meant to me until then.


June 1st, the day my 51-year-old Father died. I was 25 and old enough to know better, but I *swear* I thought he was Superman. So his death was a literal shock to the system.


Anonymous said...

9-11. I was stuck in gridlock traffic on my way to work. For some reason, that morning, I switched from the CD player to the radio and could hardly believe what I was hearing. I looked around me, surrounded by a sea of cars, and in those closest to me I could see the drivers' faces. Expressions of shock, horror, disbelief - just like mine.

harridan said...

JFK, Challenger, Oklahoma City bombing, and 9/11

JFK - I was only a bit older than little John-John, but I distinctly remember not the assasination, but the funeral procession. As a mere babe I sat in front of the television and bawled. I didn't understand what was going on, only that everyone was very very sad. And that all the adults I knew were crying.

Challenger - I was working in an office at a bank. The minute the news came over the radio, everyone went silent. The silence lasted the entire day.

Oklahoma City bombing - I was working in a quality control office at a plant. Someone came running in with news they'd heard on the radio. I went home that night, saw the sketches of the alleged bombers, and while many people on the internet said it was the act of foreigners, I saw that one face and knew without a doubt one of our own had committed the attrocity. Sadly I was right.

9/11 - I was working in another plant and was heading through the plant to one of the main offices. (Where the coffee maker was.)

I stopped to talk to one of the young lathe operators (late twenties) and he told me he'd just heard on the radio that a plane had hit one of the towers. Our first thoughts, a private plane with a pilot who was either ill/dying or a student pilot.

But I had to know more. So I stepped into my bosses office and asked if I could use his faster computer. He was curious too, so he said okay.

As I was searching the net for info, the radio in his office said another plane had hit the second tower. We froze. No accident here.

I took a moment to go out to the lathe operator to tell him about the second plane. But he'd already heard the info. From there, the news traveled around the shop like wildfire. Then in seconds, the towers were down.

But you know what was really scary? Except for a few people, everyone was nonchalant about the thing. I mean, totally "Well it's a good thing we live in the country instead of some big old city."

I was mortified. I'm looking at all these guys and judging there ages. Why? Because all I could think of was that this was an attack and that the real possibility of a war draft loomed in the future. I pictured there kids, I pictured them having to go to battle, and I was freaking heartsick.

Then I heard that all planes were being grounded and I stepped through one of our big freight doors. The wires said that not all planes were accounted for yet. I stared up at the sky which seemed so peaceful on that fall day. I kept thinking "Where are those missing planes?"

Truth be told, my real worry was that we live about sixty miles from a nuclear power plant along the Great Lakes. What would happen if a plane flew into it.

Not 15-20 minutes later we heard of a jet that crashed in Pennsylvania. And when all was said and done, that same plane had turned its course to head back to Washington somewhere close to my very own position on the ground.

I will always remember looking to the skies for that silent killer. It truly enlightened me on the many brutal facets of war and hate.


September 11th, 2001. Before that, Reagan being shot.

Anonymous said...

I'm canadian.
So December 6th, 1989 - The Montreal Massacre. A man shot and killed 11 women at a Montreal university because they were women, and had gotten into a school he thought he had more right to go to as a man.
As a teenage girl that shocked me to the core. And the boy sitting next to me in math class made some comment about how it was only eleven women, that we couldn't even do mass murder as well as the Americans.

Stacy said...

Definitely Challenger. I was in Sixth Form - roughly the equivalent of American Grade 12 - going to the school office on some forgotten errand when I heard the news on the radion that the secretaries had playing as they worked. I remember that I was 16 years old and I stood in the schoolyard and cried, not sure why I needed to cry.

This supercedes 9/11 for me, not because my heart is cold, but because at 16 something was growing in me, a belief in humanity reaching the stars literally and figuratively, and the explosion of the shuttle and the death of the austronauts and the civilian, teacher Christa McAuliffe broke my heart in a way that nothing has been able to do since. I think that my cynicism really took root then.

I've said too much, I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

August 17, 1977 - It was about eight-thirty in the morning, and I was in the back seat of my aunt's car. We were driving along a back road to get to my grandmother's house where my brother and I spent the summer weekdays while our mother was at work. The radio was playing "Love Me Tender" and as the song finished, the DJ came on the air and announced that Elvis had died.

My aunt pulled the car over and shut off the motor and we sat on the dusty road, surrounded by quiet forest as she and my mother cried, holding each other as their bodies shook with sobs and they searched the glovebox furiously for tissues.

I was only nine and hadn't really experienced death yet; I didn't really understand what had happened, especially why my mother and Auntie Bea were so upset. To see these two serious grown-ups so distraught over the death of someone they had never met both moved and frightened me.

I was more in tune for the other examples people have given; 9/11, the Challenger, the Berlin Wall, Princess Di, but the death of Elvis Presley is the defining moment most etched on my brain.

Sela Carsen said...

Oklahoma City was the first. An act of terrorism at home and the targets were children. He knew what was in that building and he murdered those babies.

After that, the bombing of the USS Cole on Oct 12, 2000. I had lived in the UAE as a child and was surrounded by acts of terrorism. We came home when my dad visited Bahrain on business and the building across the street from him blew up. But this was the first time I felt like a target just because I was American.

Mizrepresent said...

It was first the Oklahoma city bombing that left me numb an in a state of depression...i cried so many tears and then i wrote a poem..9/11 was just as devastating, since i watched like so many others the two planes in the air and then in the Twin Towers, unbelievingly so...wondering if this was real...i knew it was real when an announcement over the PA said we needed to vacate the building...i work for the government....i had nightmares for months about not making it out of our building, about bombs and sniper shootings...it's sad, so many innocent, just working, nothing more...and then came Katrina, America's postcard and wakeup call...i hope.

Anonymous said...

After reading this thread, I'm reminded how much history I've lived through. The assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, the bay of pigs invasion, Kennedy telling America of the Russian bombs aimed at us 90 miles away in Cuba, the fall-out shelter market booming, watching Kennedy's killer on tv getting shot by Jack Ruby. For a kid in seventh grade actually seeing someone killed for read before my eyes, I'll never forget that.

9/11. I was home with a broken leg from a motorcycle accident, listening to Howard Stern when he said something was going on at the World Trade Center, some kind of fire. I turned on the television in time to see the second plane fly into the tower. My leg didn't seem to hurt so much after that.

Anonymous said...

I was on my Grandma's carpet on my tummy with my chin resting in my little hands watching TV. I watched JFK and his lovely wife in a motorcar prosession. I watched in horror as the smiling man was shot. Funny, I don't much care for 'live' TV.

I got a phone call on September 11, 2001.

"What are you doing?" Came an overly excited voice of a woman whose child I watched.

I was brushing my hair. New York was being attacked and I was brushing my hair...

Excerpt (From beginning)
"The black claw of death gripped our Nation,
Threatening to choke the life right out of her.
But United we stand, with our flags flying high,
Determined to defend her or die.
Dark was the day when our innocence fled, as terror overtook our skies."

Linda said...

I couldn't pick one event. There have been too many in my lifetime. I don't remember the exact dates of them all because my brain doesn't remember that stuff.

JFK's assassination was the first. RFK when I was in high school. Challenger, when my oldest was in early elementary school. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Princess Diana's death. 9/11. Those are the major ones that had enough impact on my life that they immediately pop into my mind.


Sponge Girl said...

The Boxing Day Tsunami.

Of all the times to have a natural disaster, Christmas is the cruelest.

The wall of water, the rubbish, the mass graves, the disgusting headlines saying "X number of Western tourists missing!", like the locals were an expected or unimportant casualty.

I used to live in South-East Asia. Seeing the region like that just gave my happy childhood memories a kick in the face.

Ever since then I've also been painfully aware that I'm not that far from the beach, is six stories high up enough?

Bunneh said...

When I was younger, I would have said the Challenger disaster was that iconic moment. But, like many others, 9/11 has become the day I'll never forget.

I was living about eight miles outside of DC, in my second year of grad school. I remember it was one of the first truly autumnal days we'd had, and I had the windows of my apartment open.

It was a Tuesday, which meant I didn't have to go into the District for class, but I was trying to plod through David Copperfield for 19th C Brit Lit later that week. I got up early, checked my email, made coffee, and settled back in bed with my book and a cup of java while my fiance slept (he worked from home). I remember hearing what I thought was the garbage truck slam into our Dumpster and thinking it was kind of weird, because Tuesday wasn't trash day. (Later I realized it was the plane hitting the Pentagon.)

My cell phone rang, which was odd in itself, and it was my fiance's mother, which was even stranger (I can count on one hand the times she's called me). She was insisting I stay at home and don't go into the city. Again, I didn't think much of it, because his mother is rather prone to histrionics. I assured her that, since it was Tuesday and thus one of my reading-days, I wouldn't be going anywhere. Then she said "The Pentagon's been bombed," and I stopped for a moment, sure she was overreacting, because that's what she does. Then I turned on the TV and everything seemed to freeze.

Whatever happened afterward rushed past in a blur -- frantic phone calls and emails to friends in NY and family in FL, the sonic boom of fighter jets overhead -- but everything leading up to that moment is eerily crystal-clear.

/anne... said...

I have two:

January 18, 2003, when 500 Canberra houses were destroyed in a firestorm which burnt up to my back fence. If I ever need to write about Hell, I'm set.

November 11, 1975. I was fifteen, and I thought democracy had died. I was probably right.

Maintain the Rage.