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Why We Fight

The sad fact about progressive-oriented, post-9/11 documentaries on the politics and economics of war is that they're designed less to inform mass audiences and more to preach at the already angry liberals who buy tickets to such films. As with Michael Moore's controversial Bowling for Columbine, Eugene Jarecki's Why We Fight (2005) might have reached a wider audience and had more impact had it dialed back on the liberal polemic a bit. That said, it's a far better picture than Moore's, a slickly made, affecting documentary that examines why the U.S. is in Iraq from the perspective of why the nation goes to war at all, looking primarily at the ways in which the military-industrial complex has grown since its conception during the Eisenhower administration. Much of the material here will be new to most audiences. As Gore Vidal (a must-have for any liberal docu-tainment, it seems) states early in the film, "We live in the United States of Amnesia — no one remembers anything that happened before Monday," and a recap of Eisenhower's struggles with Congress and the Pentagon during his tenure bears that out. Most college-educated Americans know that Ike coined the term "military-industrial complex" in the first place, but how many recall that the phrase was a warning about — and an indictment of — a newly minted industry that depended on government contracts to build newer, bigger weapons, and that Eisenhower was concerned that this would lead to the U.S. inciting wars to feed that industry. "This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience," he said in his farewell speech in 1961. "We recognize the imperative need for this development, yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications." With the arms business now a $500 billion concern that employs citizens in every state of the union, Jarecki makes a strong case that America's desire to be the overwhelming global superpower, and the government's contracts with Lockheed, Halliburton, and numerous others, inspires our leaders to find wars to fight, and that the many, many jobs provided by these operations make it nigh impossible for district and state representatives to vote for a cutback in arms spending.

All of which sounds dry and depressing, but Jarecki makes his documentary exceedingly watchable — the word "entertaining" seems inappropriate in the context — through his use of archive footage and well-considered interviews with progressive talking heads like Vidal, Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity, and ex-Pentagon employee Karen Kwiatkowski, as well as conservative voices like Richard Perle and William Kristol. Most affecting, though, is the time spent with New York City policeman Wilton Sekzer, whose son was killed on 9/11, as he talks about his burning desire to see the government punish someone for his loss, and his angry betrayal at having learned that the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq was based on bad intel. In the course of making his decidedly biased point, Jarecki visits a Baghdad morgue, interviews the pilots who dropped the first bombs there, and offers persuasive statistics, documents, and historical film footage. While Why We Fight is yet another stridently left-leaning polemic, it's a brilliantly made one — an intelligent, emotionally staggering film that deserved its Grand Jury win at Sundance, and a film that ought to be seen by anyone with even the slightest curiosity as to why the U.S. is so determined to wage war.

Sony Pictures Classics' DVD offers an excellent anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) of the film, in which even most of the older archive footage looks good. The DD 5.1 audio (English, with French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles) is also very good. Extras include a commentary by Jarecki and Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, deleted scenes, television appearances by Jarecki on "The Daily Show" and with Charlie Rose, an audience Q&A, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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