Note: The Reviewer agrees with the filmmaker's basic premise and this review expresses political opinions.
At the midpoint of the great 1983 docu The Atomic Café, President Dwight Eisenhower appears in an excerpt from his farewell speech, warning America about the growing threat of something he called "The Military Industrial Complex." Eugene Jarecki's rational and convincing advocative documentary Why We Fight returns to Eisenhower's address and tells us that the Eisenhower's feared militarized nation has come to pass. There's no denying that The United States of America is now fully engaged in using influence, coercion, economic pressure and military force to impose its will everywhere on the globe. In short, we're "spreading Freedom" everwhere.
The docu is called Why We Fight in honor of Frank Capra's WW2 Signal Corps propaganda films. They spelled out for the American public a clear argument why Hitler and Tojo had to be opposed by force of arms. This new Why We Fight says that we are acting like the Roman Empire or Alexander the Great, not any specific administration or political party. Although the present administration has launched the plan to 'stabilize' the Middle East through military intervention, Why We Fight stresses that the push toward war is systemic at its base. The corporate manufacturers of arms that profit from war exchange personnel with our military establishment, and our elected officials answer not to their constituencies but to the arms manufacturers that can bring work to their districts. In a way, our entire government has become an adjunct of private, undemocratic business interests.
Writer-director of Jarecki (maker of the superior The Trial of Henry Kissinger) is definitely against our present administration's usurpation of power and arrogant use of the 9/11 attack to launch the Iraqi war on a carpet of lies and deceit. We're shown that the Neocon plan to invade Iraq was conceived long before 9/11 and is completely unrelated. We're shown film clips of Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein together in happier times while a narrator reminds us of how America happily supported him in the war against Iran.
The history-lesson part of Why We Fight tells the same truths about the 20th Century that Americans often refuse to acknowledge, that our government invaded most of the countries of Latin America and subverted elected governments to 'influence' the political climate. Now, with no superpower of equal strength to oppose us, we've assumed the right to do the same thing worldwide.
Why We Fight has some effective and persuasive material that either 'brings the issue home' or 'propagandizes', depending on one's point of view. We spend plenty of time with a retired New York policeman who lost a son in the World Trade Center. When President Bush reported that Al Caida was in cahoots with Baghdad, this fellow was so Gung Ho for retaliation that he asked to have his son's name written on a bomb being dropped in Iraq. We see the rage in the policeman redoubled when Bush blithely reverses his rationale for the war and announces that, no, there is no connection between 9/11 and Iraq. There's a major disconnect here -- a complete rift between our policies as a nation and the truth.
The docu identifies a new constituent in the 'system' that runs our foreign policy, the government Think Tanks. They practically write policy for the administration. Even when our CIA gets good intelligence, it is overridden by expert input that invariably agrees with the Neocons. A think tank executive comes on camera (rather unflatteringly filmed, I should add) and shows himself to be a supremely arrogant man who takes pride in the fact that he (and not some elected official) is charting the direction of the nation. With the Think Tanks providing deniability for the executive ("I'm just following the advice of my experts") it's clear that Eisenhower's Military Industrial Complex has come unto its own. Our biggest national export is Freedom, or, for short, War.
Why We Fight is a smooth piece of work and one of the more persuasive efforts yet, even though its mostly depressing message makes the struggle for truth and justice appear to be already lost. There are no Noam Chomskys in sight to trigger outright dismissal from the Right. Gore Vidal comes close, but as he's even more persuasive in person than in print, he's an asset. Eisenhower's daughter Susan puts in an appearance. Plenty of experts and ex-government officials testify on their immediate range of expertise.
But the biggest star is John McCain, a politician who has some appeal for all sides. He's a conservative but has sharp attitudes about the abuse of power, as he has shown on the issue of Torture. He's also a thinking man that can field an intelligent answer to a pointed question. His trust factor is substantially higher than the majority of weasels in the administration, and he seems to be in agreement with some of the issues in author-director Jarecki's thesis.
Sony's DVD of Why We Fight is a class presentation from a top studio; most political docus (read: Counter-Government Advocacy Arguments) come from smaller outfits or are released independently. Viewers keen to demonize this kind of political opinion as Anti-American (just as the Nazis tarred opponents as Anti-German) will note that the financing for the film comes from a multitude of sources, many outside the United States: England, Denmark, and that known Enemy of Freedom, Canada. What an axis of Evil. Get the Think Tanks working on that one.
The extras include deleted scenes and extended material with the top interview personalities. Eugene Jarecki provides a commentary with Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson and is seen in several speaking engagements and television appearances (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) talking about his film. A Trailer is included as well.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Why We Fight rates: