It will be seen by many as another case of preaching to the choir. And to some extent that’s true, but that’s also true of most documentaries. Let’s face it, folks who were planning on voting for George W. Bush were not the ones lining up around the block to see Fahrenheit 9/11. Similarly, the prime candidates for Eugene Jarecki’s Why We Fight‘s audience are fairly predetermined — despite the fact that Jarecki himself has gone out of his way to claim that the film is not political in the sense of Democrats vs. Republicans.
Taking its title from the Why We Fight series of WW II propaganda films, Jarecki’s film is immediately ironic, since it posits a very different reason for why we fight. What is apt to surprise the viewer is the statement, at the movie’s onset, by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which provides the cornerstone of Jarecki’s argument. Eisenhower is hardly a darling of the left, but his warning about the growing influence of “the military industrial complex” does come from his farewell speech.
The movie has certainly raised some hackles on the other side of the aisle, producing a great outcry from neocons that Jarecki has twisted Eisenhower’s meaning. The problem with this is that Eisenhower’s son, John S.D. Eisenhower, and granddaughter Susan Eisenhower both appear in the documentary and not only endorse Jarecki’s view of what the elder Eisenhower meant, but expand on the former president’s remarks with personal memories that only strengthen it.
The strange side-effect of this is to make it impossible for a liberal to watch the film and not have to rethink long-held sentiments about Eisenhower. The film may similarly affect certain beliefs about Democratic icon Harry S. Truman, who is pictured as having realized that Japan was defeated before bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but going ahead with the bombing to show the Soviet Union that the U.S. was not to be trifled with. The film’s strength is that it isn’t hesitant to name names on either end of the political spectrum.
In an age with a vice president who comes into office straight from the corporate world of the military industrial complex, the film is certainly timely, as are its questions of who exactly profits from war — and just how far down the influence of this goes. (Surely, I cannot be the only one who knows people whose votes are predicated entirely on electing leaders likely to keep up defense spending because their personal income depends on it.)
It’s strong stuff, sobering stuff, and it ought to be seen. But it’s also upsetting and depressing as it offers no easy answers, leaving you to ponder all the implications of the case it effectively lays out without much in the way of a cushion. It may enlighten, but it’s not likely to uplift. That’s not its point, of course. Its point is to shake the viewer out of the apathy of malaise. Rated PG-13 for disturbing war images and brief language.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke