Why We Fight (2005) / Documentary

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for disturbing war images and brief language
Running Time: 98 min.

Cast: Wilton Sekzer, Karen Kwiatowski, John McCain, Richard Perle, William Kristol, William Solomon, Charles Lewis, Charles Johnson, John S.D. Eisenhower, Gwynne Dyer, Anh Duong, Gore Vidal, Dan Rather, Joseph Cirincione
Director: Eugene Jarecki
Screenplay: Eugene Jarecki
Review published August 4, 2006

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.

The above words were first delivered in a speech by outgoing President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his farewell address to the American people on January 17, 1961.  This speech is featured as the opening clip of the documentary, Why We Fight, which serves to set up every clip that follows.  Eisenhower's words were a bit nebulous to the American people of the time, but as presented by Eugene Jarecki (The Trials of Henry Kissinger, The Opponent) in his documentary on how the current American regime operates its military strategy, they proved to be eminently prescient. 

Why We Fight derives its name from the series of propaganda newsreels (some which were directed by Frank Capra) released during World War II, partially serving as a message to American soldiers about to engage in combat as to the reasons for their participation in the war effort of the time, as well as why the United States could no longer maintain its status as an isolationist country.  Very unlike those films, this documentary takes its title much more literally, giving a more pragmatic account as to the nature of the business of war today.  I say "business" in several senses, not only as in the pursuit of war, but also as to the profitability of it. 

In a straightforward fashion, through the use of interviews from learned historians, politicians, and affected civilians, Why We Fight colligates the reasons behind the various wars and conflicts which occurred after the formation of the military/industrial complex during the World War II era, and how it has effected the way in which the United States makes military decisions today.  Although many of the participants in the interviews have no ostensible bias, the documentary definitely has a decided point of view that our current military agenda is a dangerous one, not only for the rest of the world, but also to the potential survival of America itself.  It portends that by adopting the policy of showing might and dominance over the rest of the world, we risk losing control of our own ability to function, resulting in the kind of fracturing of the foundations of the nation that eventually led to the demise of the once-mighty Roman Empire.

However, perhaps more specifically, Why We Fight is really about the current (as of this writing) military policy to invade Iraq, and how the American public has been continuously deceived by President Bush and his formidably influential advisors into entering into a war that had been in the planning stages long before the events of 9/11.  It ties the decisions of the powers-that be in with corporate interests, painting a picture that our reasons for invading Iraq did not have anything to do with what happened on 9/11.  Rather, it emanated from a philosophy produced by Conservative think tanks and multibillion dollar companies seeking growth markets, whereby the thinking is that the only way that the United States can continue to maintain its role as the world's sole dominant superpower is to constantly flex its military muscle, utilizing a two-pronged approach of forcing our way into countries, and then building up their core economic system to emulate our own.

The corporations pump millions into the government and its many politicians to secure lucrative military contracts, effectively commandeering them into wars against countries where they will be able to "set up shop" by allowing many other mega-billion dollar companies to start building up these countries at ground zero.  In this way, the industrial (i.e., the corporations) can continue to thrive and grow, while the armed forces (the military) assert the dominance of the country from which most of these corporations stem from. 

Why We Fight succeeds in nearly every respect because it presents its facts in a way that doesn't try to assert that all war is always wrong all of the time.  What it's saying is that the current reason for the United States in entering into wars is not due to trying to give oppressed people a freer way of life through democracy and liberty.  Rather, it's so that we can continue to assert our dominance over them through preemptively destroying them as possible threats, while also making sure that the governments in these areas are choked by the same stranglehold that the U.S. is currently suffering from in terms of the dependence on economic stability afforded by the corporations for jobs, supplies, food, and nearly every other necessity to thrive as nations. 

For a film that might be accused of having a subtle left-wing bent, it's quite an irony that conservative Presidential advisor Richard Perle would deliver the film's most pessimistic, unintentionally anti-establishment message that the United States has become too rooted in to this way of conducting our military policies to ever be able to go back to how we were before the military/industrial complex took over the government in every respect.  Unfortunately, what this all really means is that when American men and women are called upon to give their lives preserving ideals and values, they really are preserving corporate ideals and elitist values much more so than those of democracy, freedom, and human rights.  Of course, the government officials still spin their military agendas as the latter to the unsuspecting American public -- which is why we fight.

The tagline for Why We Fight states, "It is nowhere written that the American empire goes on forever".  While many will feel that this is an anti-American statement, if you step back from knee-jerk feelings of patriotism and chauvinism, you will see that Jarecki is actually trying to wake us up to saving the America that we all grew up believing in, before it is forever lost to corporate greed and potential totalitarian world policies that will most likely result in our demise.  They say that "that which does not kill us only makes us stronger", but Why We Fight shows that Eisenhower's prophetic message to us almost 50 years ago might be the correct one -- our continued pursuit of making ourselves stronger might actually be what kills us after all.    

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo