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Posted on Nov 10, 2006 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Why We Fight – Movie Review

By Brian King

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I recently stumbled upon this movie at my local library, after I had forgotten I wanted to see it when it came out earlier in 2006. It turns out this was quite fortuitous, as this is a thought-provoking and interesting analysis of the business of war in the United States. Some will see it as propaganda to be sure, but it is nowhere as inflammatory as M. Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, and draws on a wide variety of sources to attempt to show all sides of this complex issue. It refuses to single out any one person or organization as "the bad guy," even though it would have been quite easy to point fingers.

Drawing heavily from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential farewell speech in 1961 where he coined the phrase "military-industrial complex" (and then went on to warn about the dangers of letting this powerful force become too pervasive in America), this movie tries to place the remainder of the 20th Century within this context to determine if his warning had indeed been ignored. Also titled to match the original Why We Fight series by Frank Capra created during World War II, filmmaker Eugene Jarecki looks for changes in the basic reasons we are fighting in the modern era. Is there a correlation to be made between the rise of the military-industrial complex and the reasons the US finds itself fighting wars? Do we fight for "Freedom" as most citizens seem to think, or is there something else driving us?

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Iraq is the centerpiece for the "modern" war, and is the focus of much of the movie. Most of the interviews of the "man on the street" show people who are clearly at a loss to explain "Why We Fight" in Iraq (none of this sample can give a definitive answer), and this is one of the basic principles this film uses to suggest that we as a nation have become so ready to accept the business of war – that the reasons don’t even have to made clear to us. It then goes on to show how our elected leaders are complicit in this deadly game by pointing out that weapons systems are often constructed so that a little bit is made in each state (a system built in 20 states will have 40 Senators protecting it!). Additionally, the huge contractors themselves are shown as corporations eager to make a sale, no matter if the need is truly there or not. The analogy is that weapons systems are a lot like automobiles – could we survive driving the same model year after year? Indeed, but it wouldn’t be very profitable to auto makers without the continual demand.

The film tries hard to present an unbiased view throughout the movie, interviewing a variety of people from all points within the system (defense contractors, defense workers, soldiers and airmen, John McCain, Richard Perle, a police officer who lost a son in the WTC, and relatives of Dwight D. Eisenhower). Many statements made in the movie are left hanging out there for us to ponder, although it is clear much of movie is leaning to the opinion that we have indeed become an unwilling victim of the military-industrial complex. Does this nation thrive on, and in fact NEED wars to survive? Is our defense budget, military basing throughout the globe, large standing army, as well as our system of warfighting all geared towards maintenance of a new kind of Empire? Can we, as a people, say no to this system?

While not heavy in special features, there are a few clips of Mr. Jarecki’s appearances on TV shows and at a high school. One such interview on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart was particularly interesting as he wasn’t willing to blame any one person or political party on this danger – instead submitting that we are all a part of this new paradigm. In today’s culture of blaming the President, it was somewhat refreshing to see what appears to be an honest attempt to address some tough issues in a non-partisan way. The audio commentary features Mr. Jarecki and Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson (a former aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell and a critic of the current administration) discussing the entire feature at great length. The commentary is always engaging and is worth a listen.

Why do we fight? Whether you are a Hawk or Dove, you may pause for a second the next time you are asked this question, which is what this movie is ultimately asking us all to do.

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