Why We Fight Persona Jon Grata
March 23, 2006

Eisenhower’s Warning Unheeded in “Why We Fight” Documentary

by Jonathan Chisdes

This afternoon I finally got to see the movie, “Why We Fight;” I had been wanting to see this for over a year, since I had first read about when it won the award for Best Documentary at Sundance, last year. It’s a shame that it took so long to finally get to Florida, but now I finally had the chance.

Usually when I see a movie in the afternoon, it is rare that there are more than a half-dozen people in the audience. And considering that this was a documentary, which is one of the less popular genres, I was expecting a private theatre. So you can imagine my surprise to walk into the theatre and see at least a dozen people already in there. Quite unusual for a matinee documentary. I guess there was more popular interest in this than I realized.

But that’s a good sign, because it was a good movie which dealt with some very important issues that should be of concern to all Americans. Like “Fahrenheit 9/11,” it’s about why we are in Iraq, but it pulls back and looks at the much larger issues of why America fights wars in the first place, in the post-Word-War-II era. Much bigger than just simply a response to 9/11, “Why We Fight” examines the relationship between the military, its political leadership, and the corporate military-industrial complex.

It starts with Eisenhower’s farewell address in 1961 in which he warns of the dangers of the military-industrial complex, and it looks at the history of how and why it’s in the best interests of these business to maintain a constant state of war, or at least war-preparedness, even though that’s not necessarily in the best interests of the nation as a whole.

It’s a well-crafted film. Interviews with policymakers like senators, think-tank heads, and generals, are intercut with anecdotal stories of military personnel, civilian victims, a young recruit, and others directly affected by US international policy. Some are very strong believers in the goodness of America and the rightness of our wars; others are not. Perhaps the most moving of these was a New York policeman whose son was killed in the WTC on 9/11 and jumped on the revenge-seeking bandwagon supporting the war against Iraq. He even went so far as to request that his son’s name be written on a missile that was dropped on Iraq. When he found out that Iraq was not responsible for 9/11, he felt terribly betrayed, hurt, used, and abused. The faith that he had had in his government all his life was crushed. I felt sorry for him as he struggled to come to terms with the fact that his government lied to him.

I also appreciated the film comparing the American empire with other empires throughout history, particularly Rome. Of course, to me, this was nothing new, since I had been comparing America to Ancient Rome going back to my college days when I was a Classics major reading the works of Caesar and the debates between Scipio and Cato and seeing parallels to what was going on in the late 1980s when the first George Bush invaded Panama.

In fact, I dare say, there wasn’t too much new for me in this movie. Speaking from a purely personal point of view, of course. But that may be because I have spent a large portion of my adult life reading about and contemplating the issues and problems of US foreign involvement. I have always felt that violence in general and war in particular was the greatest problem humanity faced and I have sought, at least in some ways, to work against that. Through protests, through writings, through casual discussions.

But even though there was not much new to me in this film, I still enjoyed it and was glad that someone was saying these things in this medium, bringing it to a larger audience. The people who don’t know, or don’t understand, what America is doing in the world and why and who is benefiting and who isn’t, need to see this film.

Not that they’ll necessarily be able to do anything about it, at least within the current system. As one of the interviewees pointed out, this corporate system is so ingrained into the US political culture that simply removing one man, and his support staff, won’t change anything. Even when the military-industrial complex was in its infancy, Eisenhower, as President of the United States, couldn’t do anything to stop them. All he could do was shout out a warning on his last day in office. But in those 45 years since, the warning has gone unheeded and now the US military-industrial complex rules the world.

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