This is a Great Film. I don’t mean that in a “wow, this is cool!” kind of way. Nor do I mean it has great acting, or is likely to win an academy award, or anything like that. I mean “Great Film” in that this is what a documentary is supposed to be like. This is a riveting, 98 minute tour through history, democracy, and war. Although if you need awards to help convince you, well, it did win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005.
I bought this movie on DVD without having seen it before, or really even knowing what it’s about. I had read some snippets here and there, and I had gathered that it was some sort of historical piece about Dwight Eisenhower. I remember that Eisenhower had warned about the military industrial complex, and I knew this movie was more or less about that.
Why We Fight is indeed about that, but it’s also about much more. The film begins and ends with Eisenhower’s farewell address, presented a week before he left office, on January 17, 1961. It is a powerful speech, and presented on-camera by a man who obviously speaks from the heart about what he knows. If I’m not mistaken, Eisenhower was the last career military man to serve as President of the United States – it has been 45 years now that we have had a civilian commander-in-chief.
Here is the key part of Eisenhower’s speech, where he coined the phrase “military industrial complex”:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
The rest of the speech is just as good. I highly recommend reading the speech in its entirety.
Why We Fight then goes back and forth in history, using “talking heads” from the military, the CIA, students of history, and everyday people. The premise is relatively simple: For each of the various wars (or engagements, or police actions, etc) that we have fought since World War II – why did we fight? What was the reason? What did we win or lose? Were we in the right, the wrong, or unknown?
Each expert has a slightly different answer, but surprisingly, they all equate to the same thing: We fight because it is part of our culture. It is The American Way. We don’t negotiate, we don’t see subtleties, and most of all, we don’t worry about what will happen in the future because of our actions today.
In fact, as testimony from CIA officials and military students both confirm, every single engagement we’ve been involved in since 1945 – including Iraq – has been of our own making. We created Iran, by deposing its democratically elected leader in the 1950’s and replacing him with the despotic Shah. We created Iraq, by backing Saddam Hussein and supply him with money and weapons to fight Iran. Each time, we have ignored the “blowback” that will be caused in the future by our actions today.
We fight because it’s business. Money. Huge corporations like Boeing, Halliburton, and KBR exist almost solely to supply the government. They have business involvement in each and every one of the 50 states. Jobs depend on it, lots of jobs. Although the film never comes out and says so, I think it’s very interesting that this whole scheme – put in place to fight communism – is the closest thing we’ve got to actual communism today. After all, what is communism? State-sponsored, state-subsidized business. And just what are Halliburton and all the other military contractors? They exist, and they employ thousands of people, solely based on taxpayer money. We pay our taxes to the government, the government uses that money to pay the contractors, and the contractors pay their employees who pay the taxes… and around it goes.
I’ve seen some comments around the internet that liken this film to Fahrenheit 9/11. I don’t see it myself. I thought Fahrenheit 9/11 was just shrill anti-war propaganda, pure and simple. (As a side note, I also think Michael Moore is an A #1 asshole… but that’s a different point, I suppose). Whereas Fahrenheit 9/11 is smug, sarcastic, and snide, Why We Fight is engrossing, human, and intelligent. Both films make a point – but Moore’s film is a crudely disguised campaign commercial, and Jarecki’s is a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking.
Buy, rent, or watch this film. It’s very, very good. The stories intertwine in a seamless, almost organic fashion. If for nothing else, watch the story of retired firefighter Wilton Sekser, whose son died in one of the Twin Towers on 9/11, and how his support for the “war on terror” eroded as the lies and corruption behind it were exposed.
The film ends with a statement from Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski (retired). Col. Kwiatkowski resigned from the Army, and left her post as an analyst at the Pentagon, because she could no longer stomach supporting the intelligence lies that were necessary to sell the war in Iraq to the Amercian people:
I think we fight because basically not enough people are standing up saying, “I’m not doing this anymore.
Let’s all stand up and say… we’re not doing this anymore. There are better ways to make a living. And there are better ways to live.