During the late years of WWII, Frank Capra directed a series of propaganda films which asked a seemingly simple question and the answers were obvious. Now, in the wake of 9/11, writer/director Eugene Jarecki ("The Trials of Henry Kissinger") thinks it is high time the question get asked again and finds that Americans have either many or no ideas as to "Why We Fight."
There's probably little in "Why We Fight" that an informed citizen would not already know or at least intuit, but Jarecki (and editor Nancy Kennedy) stitches his information together so compellingly that his document acts as a wakeup call to a complacent nation. As in "Good Night, and Good Luck," a stern and portentous warning from a historical figure of the 1950s, in this case President Dwight D. Eisenhower, has gone unheeded. Just as Clooney's film begins with David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow sharing his views on the state of journalism in a 1958 speech, so Jarecki kicks off his film with Eisenhower's televised 1961 farewell, which he used to warn against the 'grave implications' of the buildup of the United States' war machine, coining the phrase 'military industrial complex.'
Jarecki interviews a wide range of experts, from the ultra-liberal Gore Vidal (who accuses Truman of ignoring Japanese signals of capitulation and dropping his bombs anyway to 'show off,' scare Stalin and change the balance of world power) to the pro-Bush administration Pentagon advisor Richard Perle. Wisely he looks to Republican Senator John McCain to echo Eisenhower's sentiments, with McCain questioning when 'the force of good' teeters into imperialism. High-level CIA veteran Chalmers Johnson describes the CIA term 'blowback,' the retaliation suffered by a nation when it takes covert action, with 9/11 being the most obvious example after decades of U.S. global interventions. Chalmers goes on to cite similarities with the Roman Empire.
Woven in amongst the public figures are three more personal sagas which Jarecki uses as story arcs. There's retired NYC policeman Wilton Sekzer, who lost his son on 9/11 and wants revenge against the perpetrators. He's inspired to request his son's name be emblazoned on a missile targeted for Iraq, but ends up disillusioned when he discovers his president lied to the American people about our reasons for fighting this war. The two Stealth bomber pilots, Fuji and Tooms, who delivered the initial strike on Baghdad in March of 2003, are awed by their place in history and the technological accuracy of their weapons, but later discover that none of their targets were hit, their bombs falling in civilian territory (in fact, not one of the first fifty strikes hit its target). Perhaps most striking is the testimony of retired Lt. Gen. Karen Kwiatkowski (who also appeared in "Uncovered: The War on Iraq") who is introduced talking about the experience of being in the Pentagon building on 9/11, but gradually reveals a sense of betrayal in the media manipulation she was instructed to partake in. Kwiatkowski goes so far as to declare that enlisting in the military today is 'not defending the freedom of this country.'
The man on the street has a wide variety of answers as to "Why We Fight," with most women responding that they wish we weren't. Children invariably answer 'freedom' and Jarecki cannily makes a point by juxtaposing these answers with footage of George W. talking about 'enemies of freedom,' an innocent idea spoon fed to a nation. But more than Bush, it is his Vice President, Dick Cheney, who goes under the microscope. As people like Perle poo-poo the idea that Cheney has had influence over the Halliburton contracts procured during the Iraq War, the Veep's influence on the entire turn of events is pinpointed back to 1992, when as head of the Department of Defense he ordered a study on the potential outsourcing of pieces of the war machine. Kellogg Brown & Root reported that it would be a very good idea indeed, then went on to scoop up several of the contracts it had recommended. Meanwhile, Cheney's net worth blossomed from about 1 to 60 million dollars over the intervening years. He also worked up a foreign policy plan which 9/11 made possible to implement - ten years later.
And then, of course, there's Congress, who play along with these military contractors to keep their monies with their constituents. The general contractors really know how to play this game as evidenced by the B52 bomber, made up of parts manufactured in all fifty states. As Kwiatkowski says, 'follow the money' and it is easy to see why we have an ingrown 'willingness to go to war.'
Jarecki's film is never simply a string of talking heads, but a visually inventive piece of work that editor Kennedy keeps moving along at a steady clip with archival footage, still photographs and various graphics. Unlike Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," "Why We Fight" always feels more balanced, a long, hard look at a system which has grown over time rather than an inflammatory blame game. One is as apt to see Lyndon B. Johnson or Bill Clinton adding fuel to the fire as Richard Nixon. One weakness which the director repeats from his last doc, however, is the failure to adequately identify his subjects. While Eisenhower's son John and granddaughter Susan rarely appear without a caption, if you don't catch the identifying blurb under Perle or Johnston the first time, you're unlikely to get a second chance. Original music by Robert Miller has echoes of Philip Glass, recalling, perhaps intentionally, the more finely crafted "Fog of War."
This Grand Jury prize of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival (it was disqualified for Oscar consideration due to a BBC airing before its theatrical run) should be mandatory viewing for any voting citizen. Eisenhower was not the first President to warn us against the downfalls of unimpeded military buildup. Another military man, George Washington, warned against the same thing.
The title of this latest documentary by Eugene Jarecki (“The Trial of Henry Kissinger”) comes from the pro-democracy propaganda films made during World War Two to educate the American public in supporting the fight against fascism. The documaker turns his camera to the new millennium to try to get some answers about why the war in Iraq in “Why We Fight.”
Eugene Jarecki had two primary influences in making his scathing indictment on government and industry plotting to perpetuate war, the current Iraqi war in particular, for the sake of huge profits. The film is named after the World War Two propaganda film compendium, Frank Capra’s “Why We Fight” series, that answered the question via a series of motion pictures that explored such subjects on the war against Hitler as “The Battle of Britain,” “The Nazi Strike” and “War Comes to America.” Jarecki uses the same title in a 21st century context to examine the questionable war being waged in Iraq.
The other influence is President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1960 television-broadcast farewell speech where he identified one of the greatest dangers facing the future world: the joint cooperation between the US government and Big Business that he dubbed the military-industrial complex.” Jarecki takes the former president’s very real fears and documents just how real they were then and are, even more, now.
Jarecki uses the usual talking head interview with such bi-partisan notables as Senator John McCain, author Gore Vidal, political analyst Richard Perle, political scientist Chalmers Johnson and Secretary of the Air Force James Roche to get the varied views from these movers and shakers on what is happening in America. The historical perspective – the dire warnings by Dwight Eisenhower – is filled in by the former president’s son, historian John S.D. Eisenhower, and his granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower.
But, the director also gets down to a personal level with people like retired NYPD officer Wilton Selker, who lost his son in Tower One of the World Trade Center, and, because his government told him that Iraq was responsible, wanted revenge; retired Air Force Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who left the service when she learned, following 9/11, that the war in Iraq had nothing to do with the war on terrorism; 23-year old William Solomon, after losing his mother, turns to the military as his savior; Fuji and Tooms, the US Air Force stealth fighter pilots who dropped the first bombs that ignite the new Gulf War in 2003. They were proud of their jobs and the precision delivery of their smart bombs onto the “head of the snake.” They are shaken, months later, to learn that their weapons weren’t as precise as they were led to believe and many innocents died at their hands.
One side of “Why We Fight” works to prove to the viewer that war is hell. But, Jarecki also shows the case, from the view of the military and industrial leaders, that war is money, big money. A state of perpetual armed conflict is needed to sustain the huge profits now being garnered by the big corporations. As Eisenhower and George Washington feared, maintaining an empire requires a standing army and a standing army can endanger democracy, “destroying from within that which you are trying to protect from without.”
Eugene Jarecki creates an eye-opening document that informs the viewer without beating you over the head a la Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” “Why We Fight” is a little scattershot as it tries to cover all of the docu bases – the price tag of the Iraq war (which recently topped the two trillion dollar mark with over two thousand Americans killed – both figures are steadily rising), the personal costs to individuals, and the huge profits being made by the corporations.
Much time is spent on Wilton Selker who, after his president said Iraq was responsible for 9/11, started an email campaign with the US military to get his son’s name on a bomb to be dropped on Iraq. The mail recipients range from privates to generals and Selker finally gets the reply, “Can do! Semper Fi!” A bomb, inscribed with “In loving memory of Jason Selker,” is dropped in Iraq. Later, that same president tells Selker and the rest of us that the government never believed that Iraq was responsible for 9/11. The blatant, well-documented web of lies by our government is jaw dropping in its hypocrisy.
Probably the most poignant information comes from former Pentagon colonel Karen Kwiatkowski who watched aghast, following the destruction of the Trade Towers, as American foreign policy and its imperialistic designs were being defined by government bureaucrats who were once corporate insiders. Their job is to make a case for war whether or not that case is genuine (which, in Iraq, is doubtful). Kwiatkowski boldly comes out and states that any young person joining the US military will be doing so for corporate profits, not for upholding democracy.
Jarecki’s “Why We Fight” is a cynical account of the state of a world that is becoming, more and more, under the control of governments and corporations that care less and less about the average bear, like you or me. I give it a B.
Home | Reviews and Ratings Archive | Top 10 | Video | Crew | Article | Links