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Reviewed by:
  • Why We Fight
  • Jill Kozeluh (bio)
Why We Fight DIRECTED BY Eugene Jarecki Sony Pictures Classics, 2005

In its exploration of the forces that have determined U.S. foreign policy since World War II, Eugene Jarecki's latest documentary, Why We Fight, takes a closer look at the increasingly influential role of the military-industrial complex. In light of recent reports indicating that the United States government will spend close to two trillion dollars on the Iraq War, this film is a necessary meditation on the profitable nature of war as well as the public's conception of freedom and democracy.1 Guided by two important pieces of archival footage—President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1961 farewell address, in which he discusses how the military-industrial complex could compromise democratic liberties, and Frank Capra's Why We Fight film series, which explores America's reasons for entering World War II—Jarecki's film asks, why do we, Americans, fight?

When considering contemporary social commentary pertaining to U.S. foreign policy, the film's argument is quite familiar. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 provides a scorching criticism of President George Bush's policies following the September 11 attacks. And in The Fog of War, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara discusses the important lessons he learned about foreign policy and modern war, lessons that are certainly relevant today. Although Why We Fight is firmly situated in the most recent cycle of political documentaries intended to stimulate serious debate, the film differentiates itself in the way it appropriates archival footage to denounce the many forces that have pushed the United States in the direction of war since World War II. Jarecki invokes Capra's footage to serve partly as a historical document as well as to contrast the attitudes U.S. citizens expressed in World War II with those today expressed about the Iraq War. The archival footage is not mere supplementary material but rather plays a vital role in linking the past to the present.

Furthermore, the film does not, as Roger Ebert writes, tell "us nothing we haven't heard before."2 Yes, we have heard similar arguments [End Page 150] about U.S. politics before, but unlike many political documentaries that vilify one individual or institution, Why We Fight reveals a complicated, multitextured machine of great magnitude that includes people at all levels of society. Changes in government and foreign policy, the film argues, demand more than plucking one individual from this system; removing the current U.S. president will not, unfortunately, eliminate the problem. U.S. militarism has been and is a system in progress; it is a mosaic composed of many parts and pieces. And contrary to Ebert's view, this is something most American citizens do not know. Many people who do not have time to connect the dots and thoroughly explore relations between government, military, and business may perhaps rely on someone else to do such probing. This is not to say that everything in Jarecki's film—or any documentary for that matter—is completely accurate; however, documentaries of this nature are effective in asking the right questions and invoking further discussion on such issues.

Why We Fight opens with archival footage of President Eisenhower's farewell address, in which he cautions U.S. citizens of the perils of the military-industrial complex, a term that was first used publicly by Eisenhower in this speech.3 Although he believed in sustaining a solid military base, Eisenhower warned of the increasingly influential role of the military-industrial establishment:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous...


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pp. 150-153
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