Reviews of:

A film by Eugene Jarecki

Directed by Jonathan Demme

As our nation lurches sickeningly toward outright fascism, it's both liberating and disturbing to see a complete, coherent take on the core of the problem.

WHY WE FIGHT is a deeply clarifying and profoundly saddening summing up of the domination of the United States by what Dwight Eisenhower called "the military-industrial complex."

Eisenhower himself was hardly without blame for its rise. He was a great general who defeated the Nazis in Europe. He also raised serious questions about the use of the atomic bombs on Japan. And at the end of his eight-year presidency (1953-1961) he famously warned of the power of the armed services in combination with the pull of the huge corporations that profit from them.

This is the cornerstone of the film and the widespread reviews about it. They have been justly favorable. This is a quintessential quality documentary, an art form that has been rising in importance in our society. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a good documentary can come in at a few million, and this one does so.

WHY WE FIGHT uses Ike as bookends to a piece that bares the utterly loathsome manipulations that were used to sink America into Iraq. It covers the necessary bases in linking these deceptions to the ones that got us into Vietnam. It reminds us that there are innocent children and people of worth and intelligence who are being unconscionably slaughtered there for absolutely no defensible reason.

WHY WE FIGHT builds on the anger of a Vietnam Vet whose son died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. We see the transformation of his demand for revenge into disillusionment and disorientation when he realizes he has been lied to about Iraq.

We also see the enlistment of a lonely young New Yorker from a child who has lost his mother to cannon fodder turning to the Army for love and support. We can only shudder at what will happen to him next---and what he might DO next.

We also see the utter cowardice and complicity of the US Congress in failing to stop any of this. With a single speech by Senator Robert Byrd, we are shown the moral and spiritual bankruptcy that was once our representative government.

Surprisingly, the film goes into little detail about Halliburton and the colossol thievery it has perpetrated in Iraq. An interview with Bill Moyers might have filled that hole.

It also doesn't delve into Eisenhower's own complicity. He gave that great speech, but he gave it on his way out. While in office, he did as much as anyone to build the post-war power of the war machine. He overthrew Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemala. He let his lunatic Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, sink the US irrevocably into the insanities of the Cold War. He did nothing to prevent the military ascendancy against which he warned. He did get us out of Korea. But then he took over from the French in Vietnam and set the stage for that horrific, senseless war.

We can like Ike. But we might have liked him much better if he gave that military-industrial warning at the beginning of his term, and then acted on it.

There may be only so much a single film can say, and WHY WE FIGHT does its job remarkably well. An unlikely but appropriate companion may be THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. This slick, high-budget thriller has been with us for a while. But its penetrating political attack on the military-industrial complex should make it a classic. It is in many ways as effective as WHY WE FIGHT.

The original MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE was a powerful cult favorite in the 1960s. Headlining Frank Sinatra, it portrayed a Communist brainwashing scenario designed to put a Soviet plant in the White House. Its many twists and turns finally centered on a hellish, manipulative MommyDearest memorably played by Angela Lansbury.

The remake is brilliantly directed by Jonathan Demme. As only she could, Meryl Streep turns Mommy Dearest into Barbara Bush, in all her horror. The complex, riveting script does a masterful reshaping of the original story into a searing attack on the power of the warmongering corporation. Where the Commies were once the enemy within, now its Manchurian/Halliburton, for all the world to see.

With Demme's deft hand and fine acting jobs by Streep, Denzel Washington and Liev Schrieber, the MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE balances the demands of a high-tech thriller with an updated, in-your-face send-up of the military-industrial complex. There's no Ike in this one, but it's a fine Hollywood soulmate to WHY WE FIGHT.