"Why We Fight"
Directed by Eugene Jarecki
Running time: 98 mins.

It is mentioned in the film’s tagline that “it is nowhere written that the American empire goes on forever.” One interview subject points out the rise and fall of past empires such as the Roman Empire, Imperial Britain, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union, as a warning that the crisis of American capitalism will follow these totalitarian regimes to the grave.

Why We Fight, a documentary detailing the emergence of the military-industrial-complex, opened recently at the Drexel East Theater. The film takes its name from a series of pro-U.S. World War II propaganda films. In doing so, the film’s theme explores the symbiotic relationship involving the weapons industry, the American government, its military, and commerce, as the principal reason for constant war readiness following World War II.

The term “military-industrial-complex” is often associated with U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address, which warned of undue influence of military, political, and commercial interests. Eisenhower, himself an imperialist and fervent anticommunist, represented the less fanatical and more discerning branch of the military elite that was concerned that too much military might would impede future endeavors overseas. Why We Fight puts this into the context of recent and current affairs including 9/11 and the Iraq war. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. stands unopposed and like regimes before it, is pursuing an agenda of global hegemony.

As a persuasive tract, the film’s more successful segments include Wilton Sekzer, a retired NYPD police officer, whose son died in the 9/11 attacks. The documentary traces his evolution from patriotic vengeance to disillusionment upon discovering the Iraq war had nothing to do with 9/11. Two American pilots, who dropped the first bombs of the Iraq war, are also interviewed. While they do not regret the bombing, they were also unaware of massive collateral damage, thinking their “smart bombs” were accurate. We also learn of Lt. General Kwiatkowski, a disgruntled Pentagon superior who resigned in protest, after witnessing civilian consultants loyal to defense contractors overrule her opinions. Then there is Chalmers Johnson, who gives a more critical view of American policy from an insider’s perspective. To this end, Why We Fight effectively shows the political disorientation and divisions that pervade American society today. While these individuals still defend American political and economic institutions, they are also sincerely critical of the current U.S. policy. What this will lead to, the film doesn’t quite say, but the die is being cast.

While some interview segments are more insightful, others do not add anything significant. The segments of various politicians and media types like Arizona Senator John McCain a supporter, albeit more moderate, of American imperialism and hawkish Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, seem to be more of an intent to “get the other side,” but doesn’t really address their intentions behind their words. The more glaring weakness of the film is its glossing over of the central theme – Eisenhower’s warning of the military-industrial-complex. The film presents this, through Eisenhower’s children (now prominent military and political figures), as Eisenhower’s concerns about freedom and democracy. To the contrary, Eisenhower helped set the stage for Middle East policy with the Eisenhower Doctrine, which aimed to crush communist and socialist tendencies in the Middle East. The U.S.-backed restoration of the Shah in Iran happened during this administration. While the film does mention this event, it does so in passing. The social conditions under this repressive regime led to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism among the Iranian poor, who lacked an alternative to western imperialism, Islamism, and nationalist tendencies. All of this results in the film being ahistorical and confused regarding its anti-imperialist conclusions. Given this information, what were the reasons Eisenhower was concerned about undue military and commercial influences when he did not hesitate to use the same interests to further American hegemony? The film doesn’t really address this.

Regardless, Why We Fight is yet another film that documents discontent that is rising among the working class and dissident factions of the American establishment. Despite its historical and political omissions, the film makes for decent viewing. While not the most devastating documentary of 2005 (compared to Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or Darwin’s Nightmare), Why We Fight is another snapshot of discontent with the crimes taking place in the U.S. and abroad.