Why We Fight
|Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski|
|Directed by||Eugene Jarecki|
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.?
Dwight Eisenhower, Farewell Address, January 17, 1961
Why We Fight is earnest, sensible, and informative. It?s a good documentary about the forces at work behind the frightening regularity with which we roll out the war wagons and send our young men and women and our awesome machines off to fight in foreign lands. It is thoughtful, and factual, and has the ring of truth. What it doesn?t have a great deal of is flair.
The selling of ideas is a demanding business. Honesty and truth are no guarantees of widespread acceptance. We saw that in the last presidential election, when swift-boating entered the national vocabulary as a synonym for cynical smears, and both sides trafficked in distortion. We saw it in the run-up to the war in Iraq, where a large percentage of this country engaged in a passively patriotic willing suspension of disbelief, accepting assurances that Saddam Hussein had WMD (?We know where they are,? Donald Rumsfeld told us,) and implications that Iraq was behind the attacks on September 11th.
Writer-director Eugene Jarecki (who previously made The Trials of Henry Kissinger, and whose brother Andrew made 2003?s Capturing the Friedmans) has borrowed the title of the WWII series of short films written by the Epstein twins (Casablanca) and directed by Frank Capra. But where Capra?s use of the phrase was motivational, Jarecki?s is cautionary. We fight, Jarecki, makes plain, because that?s where the money is. But of course we can?t put it that way, or Americans, who still retain a self-image of idealism, wouldn?t buy it.
?Why do we fight?? the filmmaker asks some children in a playground. ?For freedom,? they unhesitatingly reply. A man on the street offers ?for ideals, and what we believe in.? And a woman says apologetically, ?The government has more knowledge than I have.?
The government may have that knowledge, but it doesn?t always share it. In a news clip recorded shortly after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution plunged us whole hog into Vietnam, President Johnson declares "We fight for the principle of self-determination." The purported attacks which drove that war resolution were later revealed to have been fabricated for that purpose.
One of the more powerful story lines of Why We Fight belongs to a retired New York City cop and Vietnam vet named Wilton Sekser. His son was killed in the 9/11 carnage at the World Trade Center. Sekzer was heartbroken. When he saw the President with his bullhorn atop the rubble, and later became convinced that Iraq was responsible for the attack, Sekzer wanted revenge. He successfully petitioned to have his son?s name inscribed on a bomb to be dropped on Baghdad. When he later heard George W. Bush acknowledge in an interview that there was no evidence of a link between 9/11 and Iraq, he felt stunned and betrayed. "The government exploited my feelings of patriotism, of a deep desire for revenge for what happened to my son," he says. "I was so insane with wanting to get even, I was willing to believe anything."
Jarecki talks to both sides. He interviews, without obvious prejudice, people as diverse as conservative pundits Richard Perle and Bill Kristol ("We fight because it's necessary, and because it's right,") and Gore Vidal (?We should be called the United States of Amnesia.?) He interviews John McCain, until the senator has to break away to take a call from Dick Cheney. He spends time with Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski (ret.), a former Pentagon officer who has become a disillusioned and outspoken critic of the administration?s war policies, with Ahn Duong, who came here with her family as a refugee from Vietnam and who now builds ?bunker-buster? bombs for the U.S. Navy, with a young man enlisting in the Army, and with a couple of pilots who dropped the first bombs on Iraq at the beginning of the war. Why do they fight? ?We do what we?re told.?
He talks to John Eisenhower, the son of the former president. Eisenhower, who attracted attention in 2004 by supporting John Kerry and denouncing ?the current administration?s decision to invade Iraq unilaterally,? expresses deep concern over how far this country has gone down the road against which his father warned almost half a century ago.
This movie suggests that it is no accident that our current vice-president is a retired executive whose former companies are getting richer than ever as a result of this war. When billions of dollars are at stake, and while politics and the arms industry remain fervently engagd beneath the sheets, the possibilities of relief from the endless cycle of war are not very hopeful. That unwarranted influence Ike worried about is solidly entrenched in the halls of government. Peace makes good political rhetoric; but watch what we do, not what we say.
Jarecki?s case is substantial, but it is not particularly original, and it does preach to the choir. Still, the choir will be energized, which in the end is what Why We Fight is aiming for.
© Text 2006 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be