(director/writer: Eugene Jarecki; cinematographers: √Čtienne Sauret/May Ying Welsh; editor: Nancy Kennedy; music: Robert Miller; cast: Dwight Eisenhower, Sen. John McCain, Gore Vidal, Wilton Sekzer, Chalmers Johnson, Karen Kwiatkowski, William Solomon, Richard Perle, William Kristol; Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Susannah Shipman/Eugene Jarecki; Sony Pictures Classics; 2005)

“Does a good job in stating its case in a detailed and sober manner.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Eugene Jarecki follows up his hard-hitting expos√© documentary The Trials of Henry Kissinger that smears the former secretary of state for Nixon as a warmonger with Why We Fight, a look at how the American system is on a course for continual warfare due to its drive to become an empire through military might. The film was inspired by President Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address where he coined the phrase “military-industrial complex,” as he warned the country that it “must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex.” Eisenhower comes across as the sane leader who understood the dangers for peace due to such an unholy alliance among corporations, the military, the Congress and now think tanks.

It’s a no-nonsense topical film that has Jarecki look closely at the American war machine in order to analyze what makes America such a militaristic country, currently feared and hated by most of the world, by using newsreel footage and interviewing a variety of people from government insiders to ordinary joes. Jarecki poses the documentary’s title question to those he interviews and gets various responses that can be summarized from six of the following: neocon William Kristol, a founding member of the think tank called New American Century, cheerily states “We fight because it’s necessary, and because it’s right;” a misfit 23-year-old William Solomon joins the army because he can’t make it in civilian life with his mom dead and sees this as a career opportunity; author Gore Vidal cynically calls this country the United States of Amnesia, bashing the citizens for not learning anything from history; former NYPD police sergeant Wilton Sekzer, whose son died on 9/11 in the Twin Towers, wants to get back at those who did this horrible deed and backs the war on Iraq because he trusts the President, but becomes disillusioned when he learns the President lied about linking the 9/11 attack to Saddam Hussein; former CIA political consultant Chalmers Johnson lays out a scenario where our domestic economy has been structured around war since World War II and we have little choice now but to fight wars; Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired lieutenant colonel in the air force working for the Pentagon when it was hit on 9/11, comes to the conclusion that the war in Iraq had nothing to do with the war on terrorism and warns if the public is not informed about why we go to war these tragedies will only continue. She also states “We elected a defense contractor as vice-president.”

The film is worth seeing for an unguarded moment it catches on film where Senator John McCain, an early leader in the polls for the Republican nomination for prez, is shown to be talking with a forked tongue while speechifying about the war effort when he’s interrupted by a call from Vice President Cheney and can’t hide his jubilation.

Why We Fight borrows its title from the seven propaganda films Frank Capra did for the Defense Department during WWII. Though not an exciting film, it does a good job in stating its case in a detailed and sober manner. It offers reasons why Americans should be concerned about getting into unnecessary wars even if there’s no draft. We are left with the impression that our volunteer army is being used as pawns by those who have wedded politics to business and have their own monetary interests at heart and not the country’s.

Why We Fight Poster