by Lydia Howell
Director Eugene Jarecki takes documentaries ana turns them into detective stories. His last film, “The Trials of Henry Kissinger,” pursued Richard Nixon’s right-hand man of foreign policy, who’s been accused of (but not yet tried for) war crimes for his role in American policies in Central America. Jarecki’s new film, “Why We Fight,” this year’s Grand Jury Prize-winner at Sundance, explores a maze of neoconservative think tanks, weapons ‘trade shows,’ corporate power, the Pentagon, politicians and their critics. Jarecki’s inspiration was Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose 1960 farewell speech, shown in the film, gravely and presciently warned of a “military-industrial complex.”
had extraordinary courage on that last night. No American president, before
or since, has spoken as honestly on ANY subject to the American people—let
alone on war,” Jarecki observes with obvious admiration. “Eisenhower
was a general in WWII and was feeling, as president, forces had been unleashed
that were eroding the heart of our democracy. Forces he called the ‘military-industrial-complex’
represented a new, unwarranted influence in American policy that had to be watched
Jarecki interviews people in the know from military historian Gwynne Dyer to
a retired officer from the Office of Special Plans, the entity that “fixed
intelligence” in order to sell the war in Iraq. He puts two worldviews
side-by-side: that of neoconservatives such as Richard Perl (of the Project
for a New American Century) and Bill Kristol (editor of the conservative magazine
Commentary) and critics like the irascible Gore Vidal and Chalmers Johnson,
author of “Blowback,” the New York Times bestseller that exposed
American support for Osama bin Laden in the 1980s.
Jarecki visited the Twin Cities in late January, just as negotiations with the
Ford truck plant concluded, providing a parallel to the corporate might his
saw politicans running to talk to Ford about those jobs and those jobs aren’t
going to be cut in this state—for now. Think of the incredible panic that
swept through that place! That’s the degree of power these corporations
have over our lives. I saw it in Washington,” Jarecki says. “Our
Founding Fathers did not foresee that kind of control over our political leaders
... that political leaders would please corporate interests because of the power
This is no “talking head” movie. Jarecki, with wit and deep feeling,
artfully interweaves archival footage from WWII and the Cold War, weapons manufacturers
promotional films and 4th of July parades. He goes to weapons factories and
documents the U.S. military budget to create a horrifying realization: War is
good for Big Business. “Ordinary citizens”—small town parents,
youth, the blue-collar workers who build missiles—ponder the question
the film’s title presents. We see how their patriotism, loyalty to our
troops, fear and confusion is manipulated to support the military slaughter
that continues, through pork barrel politics, to produce huge profits.
“The term the defense companies use is ‘political engineering,’”
Jarecki explains when discussing how the B2 bomber has at least one part made
in all 50 states. “You want to make sure everyone is in on the action.
It’s legalized bribery.”
While Jarecki is a tenacious investigator, “Why We Fight” is most
powerful for the human portraits he presents. Two elite Stealth bomber fighter
pilots describe their pre-invasion mission to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Even
though we know the mission failed, it’s still suspenseful. Closer to home,
Jarecki shows us William Solomon, a 20-year-old joining the U.S. Army.
“William’s thoughts are very dramatic and gripping—and very
familiar to underprivileged Americans who are being subjected to a backdoor
draft. As for providing employment, William will do BETTER in the military than
he would elsewhere—if he survives it,” Jarecki pauses, as if wondering
how Solomon is doing, now deployed to Iraq. “This is a dark, dark statement
for any society when the best job young people can get is a job when they may
have to die themselves or kill someone.”
searing is Wilton Sekzer, a Vietnam veteran, retired New York City police officer
and grieving father who lost his son in the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11.
“I heard a quote. A woman loses a husband, she’s a widow. A man
loses his wife, he’s a widower. A child who loses their parents is an
orphan. But we have no word for a parent who’s lost a child. It’s
indescribable. That always struck me with Wilton Sekzer.” Jarecki is sober.
“He represents the journey Americans are making in their understanding:
how to participate in love of their country and holding on to what we hold dear.”
This father’s journey is so profound and takes such unexpected turns,
this writer won’t reveal more, except to say that experiencing Wilton
Sekzer alone makes “Why We Fight” worth the price of admission.
“Why We Fight” is a primer on American corporate militarism that
should be required viewing. From almost 50 invasions—overt and covert—since
WWII through the current “war on terror,” Jarecki eviscerates the
“patriotic” sloganeering that keeps recruiting more young people
to be cannon fodder. With Lockheed Martin (which makes fighter jets) now a corporate
underwriter for PBS, this may be your only chance to see this urgent film.
Classic movie fans and WWII history buffs will recognize that “Why We
Fight” shares its title with Frank Capra’s WWII-booster series,
which Jarecki says have been “undersold” as “propaganda.”
always defended the little guy. ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is
basically George Bailey protecting his town from Wal-Mart! He made ‘Mr.
Smith Goes To Washington,’ where Jefferson Smith vows to stand until his
feet drop from under him to save his little creek from special interests,”
Jarecki declares. “Capra’s WWII films took his concern for democracy
global. He asked Americans to stand up and defend democracy as it was imperiled
at that time.”
“Likewise, in my film, I’m asking Americans to stand up and fight
because our democracy is in peril here at home from forces degrading the heart
of what we hold dear,” Jarecki concludes. “These are the forces
we were warned about by Eisenhower. Big business could trump ideals we should
live by. I take seriously warnings from the grave of history.” ||
“Why We Fight” opens Fri., Feb. 24 at the
Uptown Theatre for a one week engagement. 2906 Hennepin Ave., Mpls. 612-825-6006.