Eugene Jarecki's documentary "Why We Fight" explores the cause and effects of the "military-industrial complex."
In his farewell address, George Washington warned the American people against large standing armies. In his last speech as president, Dwight Eisenhower underscored the threat posed by the nation's "military-industrial complex," through which corporations shape defense policy.
What either of these former generals would make of the head of a giant military contractor being elected vice president, and of 2007 U.S. defense spending (conservatively measured) reaching $439 billion, one-eighth of the federal budget, can scarcely be imagined.
Eugene Jarecki's important documentary "Why We Fight" borrows its title from a series of morale-boosting World War II indoctrination films that explained U.S. policies and objectives to the hastily assembled troops. Jarecki probes the degree to which our motives have changed over the past half-century, interviewing the decision-making elite and the private citizens who bear the economic burdens and spill the blood in times of conflict.
We know more or less what to expect from William Kristol and John McCain, or Dan Rather and Gore Vidal. The more interesting subjects are those without an ideological agenda to push.
There's Wilton Sekzer, a Vietnam helicopter gunner and retired NYPD officer who lost a son in the World Trade Center attacks but learns the dangers of misdirected vengeance.
There's 23-year-old William Solomon, who becomes an Army recruit after his mother's death leaves him unable to support himself in the civilian world.
There's Ahn Duong, a Vietnamese refugee who has become a Navy bomb expert, one of the designers of the "bunker-buster" bombs dropped at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
And there are nationwide man-on-the-street interviews with people who hope that we fight for freedom, but even the Main Street patriots seem to have some uncertainty.
Jarecki ("The Trials of Henry Kissinger") is clearly aiming his film at those who would rather see more spending on butter and less on guns, but it's not a shrill polemic. Kristol says he believes "we fight because it's necessary and it's right." Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, a Pentagon analyst turned war dissenter, says, "I think we fight because basically not enough people are standing up saying, 'I'm not doing this anymore.' "
Whichever truth you hold to be self-evident, "Why We Fight" will encourage you to reassess your beliefs and reconsider the meaning of national security.
Why We Fight
***½ out of four stars
The setup: A look at the effects of interlocking political, military and corporate interests on U.S. defense policy.
What works: A good blend of human interest stories that personalize the issue with pundits' commentaries from across the ideological spectrum.
What doesn't: Fans of Michael Moore's razzle-dazzle shenanigans may find the presentation a bit dry.
Great line: "What's the big fuss about pre-emption?" asks former Defense Department official Richard Perle. "You'd shoot first if someone was planning to shoot you, right?"
Rating: PG-13 for disturbing war images and brief language.
Where: Uptown Theater.