Dwight D. Eisenhower
Senator John McCain
John S. D. Eisenhower
James G. Roche
While much of the information in this political doc will already be known to anyone who knows American history or who watches CNN, Jarecki does a good job assembling it into a cohesive film with a very human side supplied by personal stories of those affected by war.
This documentary attempts to answer the question of the title about why our country goes to war, mixing historical facts and information with testimonials from those affected by the current war in Iraq.
Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki bases his follow-up to “The Trials of Henry Kissinger” on a simple question, taking the title from a series of WWII propaganda films directed by Frank Capra, and grounding most of his research with a speech made by President Dwight D. Eisenhower warning Congress of the “military industrial complex” getting out of control. Considering that large corporations continue to jockey for contracts to make weapons and rockets, Ike’s words obviously have fallen on deaf ears, but that’s only a part of Jarecki’s dissertation on the subject of war and the questions and conflicts that arise from it.
It begins with an exploration of the most obvious reason why countries go to war, comparing America’s imperialistic nature to that of ancient Rome, and showing how a few well-placed wars have solidified America’s position as the predominant world power in the latter half of the 20th Century. The country’s leader at the time and a former general, Eisenhower saw where things were leading and tried to warn those who followed him, but it didn’t take long for corporate greed to replace the earlier reasonings behind going to war. Essentially, Jarecki is continuing what Michael Moore and Owen Morris started, although he veers more towards the latter, trying to stay balanced and not making it a bipartisan issue. For instance, he never outright accuses or blames our government for the current war, but he raises many questions about whether the reasons are sound.
The vast amount of historic information is intercut with footage of the March 19, 2003 bombings that began the current war in Iraq along with interviews with two of the stealh pilots who did the actual bombing, a true testament to Jarecki’s impressive access for this film. The implications of war are made more personal via testimonials from individuals who have been affected by the events of 9/11 and by war. Some of these stories are more effective than others, the strongest being that of Wilton Sekzer, whose son lost his life in the World Trade Center. The upset father asked to have his son’s name written on a bomb dropped on Iraq, only to feel remorse later when he learned that Iraq wasn’t responsible for the 9/11 attacks after all. By comparison, the scenes with William Solomon, a naïve young man ready to join the Army to fight for his country in Iraq don’t really go anywhere, and it’s quickly forgotten until the end. More interesting stories include that of Anh Duong, a Vietnam War survivor who runs the Navy’s Indianhead Explosive Center in hopes of paying back her adopted country, and Karen Kwiatkowski, who was working at the Pentagon’s Iraq Desk when she started seeing the signs of the impending war and retired because she didn’t agree with the reasons.
While all of the subjects have interesting stories, the interviews are a bit dry, and the intense seriousness of how the subject matter is handled does weigh things down. Jarecki also includes a number of enlightening “man on the street” interviews with average people who give all sorts of answers why they think we’re at war, giving you a good idea how many people really have no clue what is going on. That was probably Jarecki’s point. While everyone has their own theories, Jarecki’s veer more towards the liberal side, which means he’s mostly going to be preaching to the converted with this film.
Unfortunately, a lot of the ideas Jarecki tries to bring to light with this doc have already come out in the wash in the year since the film first debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. Because of this, Jarecki would have done better by his subject matter, if he used that year to update the documentary with newer information, such as follow-ups with the interview subjects. Because he doesn’t, the film already feels a bit dated.
The Bottom Line:
“Why We Fight” is an accomplished documentary, more in the vein of Owen Morris’ “The Fog of War” than Michael Moore’s more humorous diatribes. Although much of the information will already be known, the film’s strengths lie in the way it mixes facts with more personal stories to show both the reasons and the effects of war.
Why We Fight opens in New York and L.A. on Friday with a wider release on February 10.