WHY WE FIGHT

PG-13
Reviews

There are times when something, whether true or not, can be repeated too often for its own good. The military-industrial complex argument that underlies Why We Fight, the new documentary from Eugene Jarecki (The Trials of Henry Kissinger), is one such argument. According to Jarecki, he wanted to make a film not about an individual villain, but instead about "why America is systematically geared to fight wars." Given the almost constant state of near and complete conflict that this country has existed in since 1941, it's a laudable, and one could say, necessary, line of inquiry. What Jarecki ends up with instead, however, is not "Why We Fight" but really more "How We Fight."

The backbone of Jarecki's film is President Eisenhower's famous "Military-Industrial Complex" speech which he gave on leaving office in 1961. In a similar fashion to how George Clooney, for Good Night, and Good Luck, used the iconic words of Edward R. Murrow as he raged against the growing corporate profit machine, Jarecki seizes on Eisenhower's prophetic warning as a lone voice of reason, shouting into the night. To show how Eisenhower's words have come to pass, Jarecki brings on a phalanx of left-wing think-tankers and luminaries like Gore Vidal as well as Eisenhower's son John and granddaughter Susan to walk audiences through the ways in which each and every president since FDR has had some military incursion to his name, almost as if they can't help it.

To explain what the film calls the "permanent militarization" of America, it uses the defense industry, which ensures that each piece of hardware is built in as many districts as possible, spreading around the jobs-the B-2 bomber has pieces made for it in each of the 50 states-so that it will have as many elected officials as possible fighting for it during budget crunch times. Instead of getting into the nuts and bolts of this arrangement, however, Jarecki jumps right into the familiar topic of Dick Cheney's Halliburton connection. The twisted and foul-smelling ties that enmesh the White House and companies like Halliburton and other massive firms providing services to the military or with interests in Middle East oil are legion, of course, but Jarecki is too impatient to really dig into them. Michael Moore-like, he keeps trying for the cheap joke, cutting back and forth from doom-saying talking heads to ironic footage of red-state patriotism (VFW halls, flags flapping in the wind) which ostensibly are there to show how duped the American public is, but are more likely to elicit an easy laugh from the intelligentsia this film is squarely aimed at.

Although many potentially fascinating topics are danced across in Why We Fight, Jarecki brings nothing new to the table. Although it's commendable that he was able to get so many current military people to talk so candidly on camera, he doesn't seem to ever press them for the hard answers, setting them up as the straw men for the experts he agrees with to take down. Even one of the film's more notable guests, Dan Rather, who makes a few biting remarks about what he calls a certain "totalitarian" mentality in the current government's approach to the public and information, are mostly wasted, in that their statements aren't given deep enough soil to take root. When the film tries to take on a more personal element-following a young kid signing up for the Army and the sense of betrayal felt by a normally pro-government NYPD officer who lost his son on 9/11-it similarly fails to weave them together into a coherent and original argument.

Why We Fight raises more questions than it answers in a fumbled attempt to get to the bottom of America's increasingly permanent state of war, existing in a muddled middle ground between the dramatic faux-populism of Michael Moore and the astringent agitprop of recent films like The Power of Nightmares.

-Chris Barsanti