Why We Fight (2006)
Starring: Wilton Sekzer, Chalmers Johnson, William Solomon, Charles Lewis, Karen Kwiatkowski, Anh Duong, John McCain, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Gore Vidal, John S.D. Eisenhower, Susan Eisenhower, Joseph Cirincione
Directed by: Eugene Jarecki
Why We Fight is a left-leaning anti-war polemic, focused on the consequences of the Iraq War and how America’s leaders brought them there under false pretenses. If it sounds like you’ve already seen this movie, well, in many ways you already have. There are plenty of instances in Eugene Jarecki‘s film that feel similar to Michael Moore‘s Fahrenheit 9/11, complete with an interview with a grieving parent, a bit on military recruitment for the war, and a visit to Iraq to see the very real human cost of the war.
What the movie doesn’t have is Moore’s self-aggrandising style, sneak attack interviews, or imbalanced presentation of opinions. Both sides of the debate are allowed to give their point of view, with Gore Vidal commenting from the far left and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol commenting on the right, and others in-between. Jarecki manages to present these points of view without demonising the conservative side of the argument, while still making it clear which side this movie agrees with.
However, while the film lacks some of the negative aspects of Moore’s earlier film, it also lacks its power. Say what you want about Fahrenheit 9/11, but it did get people talking. Part of why this film lacks the same impact is that it’s less emotionally-manipulative, which is a positive in the long run, but the other reason is that much of it seems like a replay.
Where the film is at its best is when it moves away from the Fahrenheit 9/11 playbook, and focuses on its answer to the question posed in its title (taken from the Frank Capra WWII propaganda filmstrips). It’s here where the film has more interesting and important things to say than simply the war in Iraq is wrong, and the American people were lied to. Instead, the film offers America’s military-industrial complex as an explanation, and makes some interesting claims and presents some fascinating evidence to back it up.
The strongest part of the film is its bookending with a speech by President Dwight Eisenhower‘s farewell address, where the soon-to-be former president coins the term “military-industrial” complex. Ike’s warnings about the amassing of power in a standing army and how this could lead to power being held by those who don’t have America’s best interests at hand if they go unchecked are as haunting as they are prophetic. It’s particularly telling that these words came from the man who built the peacetime army of the United States, a two-term Republican president who might be the greatest military leader the country has ever seen, saying things that would get him labeled as an enemy of freedom by Fox News.
The film’s dissection of how deeply ingrained the military-industrial complex is in American life is powerful and thought-provoking. Jarecki takes us to trade shows for military equipment, where representatives of Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, and Halliburton ply their weapons systems like vacuum salesman showing off the new models (one guy even did card tricks). The film profiles Karen Kwiatkowski, a former Pentagon desk officer and NSA officer, who left her post over disagreements over her country’s rush to war. It reveals the myth of “smart” weapons, how Congress is forced to vote for increased military spending to keep military jobs intact in their districts, and how the business of warfare demands that wars be fought.
It is these discussions that make the film important, and where it holds its power. Its an important discussion, one that has been missed by previous films and arguments. While the film drags and loses focus at times when it moves away from this discussion, the message it ultimately produces is as worthwhile as it is fascinating.