Eugene Jareck’s 2005 documentary, Why We Fight, available at Netflix, is still a relevant film to watch, even though the motivating force behind it was the Bush-Cheney engineered invasion of Iraq that is sooo old history by now.  It is relevant because all the major players are more major now than they were then: The Military-Industrial-Congressional complex, as warned about by outgoing President Dwight D Eisenhower in his farewell address of January 17, 1961.  Yes, Congressional.  Eisenhower dropped the reference in his final draft of the speech.  He opted for only 2/3 of a warning.

The reception to his previous award winning film, the Trials of Henry Kissinger, motivated Jarecki to write Why We Fight.  People concentrated too much on Kissinger the man, he wrote, and not on the larger forces driving American foreign policy. As he said in an interview with William Coles of the Brooklyn Rail, December 2005 after the release of the movie:

The atrophying of our democratic life in America is of course related to the burgeoning power of a corporate-political alliance, that each world needs the other, the corporations need policies from politicians that are corporate-friendly amid competitive times and the politicians need money to separate themselves from the competition for office. So, that is a perverting element and I think Eisenhower saw that in the defense sector of his time. Eisenhower’s warning applies to both parties, it applies to all of us, because we’re all caught in a matrix driven by money, away from principles. It’s simple. What’s not simple is how to solve it because we are not living in a time where there are vibrant new ideas put in the mainstream from systemic inward-looking tough love. The Jefferson-Madison tradition of asking oneself “is this the way we should govern?”—that tradition is not driving.

Jarecki has done a good, though perhaps not award winning,  job of pulling together visuals and repeated assertions from the Bush cabinet, think-tank enablers, defense industry officials and those who opposed, or came to oppose, the invasion and the war that followed. Warning, seeing Rumsfeld (declaring vehemently and mockingly that there is no doubt there are WMD in Iraq,) Kristol and Perle, among others, will make your blood boil

Jarecki’s point of departure, to which he returns often, is Eisenhower’s speech.  We see that the oft referred to warning was not a single throw-away line, but the center of his concern.

“The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist… We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.  Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of this huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals.”

When Congress voted in October, 2002 to hand over to the President their constitutionally mandated power to declare war, Eisenhower’s warning went unheeded, not even acknowledged or remembered except by a brave few.

The most powerful voice in the film is from one of the few unknown people in the film, Wilton Sekzer, retired police sergeant, New York City Police Department and Vietnam veteran who lost his son in the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City.  Expressive and anguished he tells how he wrote every branch of the military asking that his son’s name be written on a bomb that would be dropped on Iraq, convinced as he was by the Administration’s linking of Iraq & Saddam Hussein to the September attacks.  His incredulity and anger on hearing President Bush ‘clarify’ much later that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on American soil, should be required watching for all who celebrated so loudly and often at the military shock and awe over Baghdad.

The other person to make an impression is Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who worked at NSA and resigned her commission, she says in the film, because of the disinformation she witnessed about the war. Though I’d known her name and had read some of her articles previously, mostly in Conservative publications, I’d not heard her talking, nor knew the motivation for her resignation.  She apparently travels in political circles where ideology too often trumps careful analysis (read Rand Paul) but her own courage in raising her voice while within the defense establishment makes a mark.

I was surprised to hear Eisenhower’s son, John, himself a retired Brigadier General and noted military historian, articulate and second his father’s concerns, as well as his daughter, Susan Eisenhower, in her capacity as chair of the Eisenhower Institute, who several times brings the voice of the ‘alert and knowledgeable citizenry’ her grandfather called for.

Jaerecki took the title for his movie from the WW II, Frank Capra, propaganda series, also called Why We Fight, which was done in response to the chilling  Leni Riefenstahl paean to Naziism, Triumph of the Will. He doesn’t attempt to duplicate the stirring, patriotic fervor created by these directors but does take direct aim at the continuing repetition of the duty-honor-country meme which, however necessary in 1943, has not reflected reality since at least the massive 1965 US invasion of Vietnam.

Don’t let the age of the film put you off.  Even when the events and facts are known, re-seeing them in a 90 minute package will make them new.  If the Iraq war seems to be long ago and far away, you will know the conditions that brought it about are strong and present in our lives today.

[It is interesting to read, the day after I saw the film, that the biggest winner of the oil-sweepstakes in Iraq, following the US Invasion, is China — grabbing 1/2 the oil now produced there, 1.5 million barrels a day. NY Times — Arango/Krauss ]

Here’s the Sony Pictures site for Why We Fight, and a perhaps over-studious study guide.  It is available at Netflix

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