I agree with the politics of "Why We Fight" and I concede it is a skillful assembly of its materials, but as a documentary it's less than compelling. Few people are likely to see this film unless they already agree with its conclusions, and few of those will learn anything new from it. All political documentaries face that dilemma to one degree or another; when one of its distributors said Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" would defeat George Bush in 2004, he miscalculated, because there was little overlap between those planning to vote for Bush and those planning to see the movie.
The most effective recent political documentaries have been those that focused on reporting rather than opinion. Movies like "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," which blames the California energy crisis on deliberate Enron policy, or "Gunner Palace," which recorded the day- to-day life of American troops in Iraq, added to our knowledge without lecturing us what to think. The fictional drama "Jarhead" was also effective, because it recorded the daily military routine in the first Gulf War without providing an artificial action structure. I got e-mails from people frustrated that the movie had no payoff -- but the payoff for the first Gulf War was, of course, our intervention in Iraq.
"Why We Fight" compiles archival footage and intercuts it with recent interviews, many conducted for the film, but the movie tells us nothing we haven't heard before. It opens with Dwight Eisenhower warning, in the farewell address of his presidency, of a "vast military-industrial complex" that was placing the nation on permanent war footing. His prophecy was correct. It is no longer even possible to arouse much indignation when the executives of war industries move freely between their board rooms and government offices. Yes, Vice President Cheney headed a major war supplier and now, in office, backs policies that enrich that supplier; he might have made Ike indignant, but today conflicts of interest are forgiven as a convergence of interests.
"Why We Fight" is devoted to proving Eisenhower correct. It says, essentially, that we fight because we have constructed a military-industrial complex that needs business. Declaring war opens up markets; from a purely financial point of view, it's like signing free trade agreements or negotiating tariffs. The documentary, directed by Eugene Jarecki, quotes sources from both sides -- conservatives like Richard Perle, liberals like Gore Vidal, disillusioned military experts like Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, and the descendants of President Eisenhower. But after Ike makes his point in the opening minutes, the film itself essentially just elaborates it.
There is one story thread that stands apart, and is compelling. It involves a retired New York cop named Wilton Sekzer. His son died in the 9/11 attacks, and he successfully lobbied the government to put his son's name on one of the first bombs that was dropped in Iraq. He wanted revenge, and to a degree, he felt like he got it. That was before President Bush observed (some felt rather belatedly) that Iraq and Saddam Hussein had no direct involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Now Sekzer is bitter: He feels that Bush lied to him, and that his patriotism was manipulated and misused. The story of Sekzer is new, and suited to film. Much of the rest of "Why We Fight" says things that can be said as well or better in print, and have been. This doesn't need to be a film.
There are other disillusioned people in the documentary, in particular Lt. Gen. Kwiatkowski, who resigned from the Pentagon because she witnessed military officers being vetoed by outside consultants whose loyalty was to the defense contractors who employed them. One watches "Why We Fight," and nods, and sighs, and leaves.
What it says should concern us, but apparently it does not. The film observes that some defense contracts are cleverly planned to spread the government wealth among as many states as possible; some weapons systems have suppliers in all 50 states, and woe to the elected official of either party who votes against them. Shouldn't it be obvious that a legislator who votes against government spending in his own district must have given the matter a lot of thought, and be courageous, and perhaps even correct? That's a useful thought. But it's not news, and when documentaries like "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" contain fresh and shocking information, a film like "Why We Fight" is not very necessary.
by Gaetana Caldwell-Smith / March 2006 issue of Socialist Action newspaper
In the documentary film “Why We Fight,” writer-director Eugene Jarecki uses rare,
incriminating film footage, declassified files, and interviews with ordinary people as well as government and corporate luminaries.
Jarecki has created a sweeping, controversial, factual account of America’s rise as a military power whose government leaders and advisors, in general, are bent on world domination. One interviewee admits, “If there’s something we don’t like about another country, we invade them.”
The film points out that immediately after World War II, the U.S. devised detailed plans to dominate the world. In one clip, we are shown the published, bound reports imprinted with the name if each country to be targeted, lying on a desk.
Included also is an eye-opening account of the U.S. drive for global imperialism, starting with Guatemala in 1954 and on up to Iraq in 2003. This is graphically illustrated by a map of the world, with the countries that we messed with—overtly or covertly—highlighted in red.
The film’s main thesis is that the U.S. economy is based on what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex” in his 1961 farewell speech when he left office. Eisenhower warned of “grave implications” should this become its foundation.
Evidence in the film reveals that dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was largely aimed at scaring the Soviet Union. Since then, regardless of its ability to obliterate perceived enemies with the bomb, the U.S. continues to increase its military spending and awards huge military contracts to favored private corporations with strong government ties—e.g. Dick Cheney.
Jarecki employs a technique used by Michael Moore in his film, “Fahrenheit 9-11.” Rather than stringing a bunch of facts and interviews together, he engages us by introducing a human perspective.
He interviews some ordinary people and follows them throughout the film—a retired New York cop whose son died in the WTC disaster and a baby-faced guy just out of high-school whose only hope is the military. Another interview is with two proud, emotionally disconnected Air Force pilots, before and after dropping the first bombs on Baghdad.
Neocon William Kristol, interviewed by the filmmaker, says that well before 9-11 Cheney asked him and Wolfowitz to devise a plan for the U.S. to become the number-one superpower in the world. They came up with the Project for the New American Century (published in
2000, available on-line, and scary!). Kristol says, “If we don’t police the world, who will?” Which begs the question: Why does the world need policing, and who gave the U.S. the right?
Made evident in the film is the fact that the U.S. plans to maintain a presence in Iraq. It is building 14 permanent bases there.
Retired Lt. Col. Karen Kwaitkawski, a former Pentagon official who quit when she no longer wanted to be a part of the lies and deceit, was asked, “Why are we allowing our country to continue on this path?” She replied, “Not enough people are stepping up, saying, ‘we’re not doing this anymore.’” Of course, millions around the world have demonstrated in protest of U.S. war policies in Iraq and elsewhere.
There’s a clip of former President Reagan giving a speech in which he states that our military might is a “force for peace.” Following Reagan, the Bush administration has utilized George Orwell’s “newspeak” and “doublethink” quite effectively. One interviewee says, “It’s not so difficult to get a country to go to war. Since Vietnam, the government shapes what it wants its people to know about the war.”
The government now spends up to $1.2 billion on military propaganda in the United States. Most people don’t even realize they are being brainwashed. This is evident by the answers the filmmaker gets when he asks ordinary people on the street: “Why do we fight?”