Friday, March 11, 2011

Review: Documentary Film, "Why We Fight," Answers the Question

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 177 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Why We Fight (2005)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA/France/UK/Canada/Denmark
Running time: 98 minutes (1 hour, 38 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for disturbing war images and brief language
PRODUCERS: Susannah Shipman and Eugene Jarecki
CINEMATOGRAPHERS: Sam Cullman, Joe Di Gennaro, Christopher Li, Etienne Sauret (director of photography), May Ying Welsh, Brett Wiley, and Foster Wiley
EDITOR: Nancy Kennedy


Starring: Joseph Cirincione, Gwynne Dyer, Dwight D. Eisenhower (archival), John S.D. Eisenhower, Susan Eisenhower, Chalmers Johnson, Donna Ellington, Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, Wilton Sekser, Franklin Spinney, William Kristol, Sen. John McCain, Richard Perle, Dan Rather, Wally Saeger, and Gore Vidal

It begins with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961, then, the documentary that was a hit at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, Why We Fight, begins its examination of the American military machine – the military industrial complex and asks the question "Why does American wage war?"

Along the way, this documentary becomes an unflinching look at the rise of the American Empire. Much of it filmed during the war in Iraq, Why We Fight also surveys and dissects a half-century of American military adventures. Using archival footage and interviews with peace activists, scholars, soldiers, government officials, journalists, and even a grieving father, Why We Fight scrutinizes and analyzes the political interests (Congress and the Presidency), economic interests (manufacturers of military vehicles, armament, equipment, etc.), and ideological factors (think tanks) that are behind American militarism – the relatively small group of people that really control a government that is supposedly of, by, and for the people.

Directed by Edward Jarecki (The Trials of Henry Kissinger), Why We Fight is both sober and compelling. It’s sober because it reveals that much of our military actions and campaigns going back to the atomic bombing of Japan were as much about the U.S. flexing its muscles and establishing itself as the dominate nation on earth as they were about self-defense. In some cases, it was more about imperialism than it was about defending the nation from enemies, as Jarecki’s film claims. Why We Fight is compelling because the interview subjects come from a broad spectrum of people who have worked in the upper echelons of the Department of Defense or are actively involved in covering the government as scholars or journalists. There’s even a former CIA operative.

When trying to answer the question of “Why do we fight?” much of the discussion uses the war in Iraq – from the build up to the beginning of the invasion of the country – as the frame of reference. At times, Why We Fight comes across as another one-sided documentary/screed against the war in Iraq. However, it has the grace to present the interviews, film footage (archival and recent), and history in a manner that allows the viewer to think for himself. There are a lot of people in this film, and they have a lot to say. There’s enough information from which the viewer can draw his own conclusions.

Sometimes, even good documentaries are compelling, but they’re like fast food. They are as forgettable as many regular non-documentary films. Why We Fight, however, seeks to educate and inform, and it wants to stay with you. Why We Fight has the audacity to feel that it is important and actually attempt to be an important movie. Jarecki offers us the opportunity to take him at his word, or simply watch, listen, and think. His own mind seems made up, but he presents things in a fashion that isn’t necessarily didactic. Just the facts, Jarecki tells us. This is how it is, but in the end, he doesn’t offer a pat conclusion. Why We Fight simply fades away with words of warning – a little something to take root in your mind.

8 of 10

Monday, August 14, 2006


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