Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, WHY WE FIGHT is an unflinching look at the anatomy of American war-making. Granted unparalleled Pentagon access, the film launches a nonpartisan inquiry into the forces -- political, economic, and ideological -- that drive America to fight. Inspired by President Dwight Eisenhower's 1961 Farewell Address in which he warned Americans about the dangers of the "military-industrial complex," filmmaker Jarecki ("The Trials of Henry Kissinger") weaves unforgettable stories of everyday Americans touched by war with commentary by a "who's who" of military and Washington insiders. Featuring John McCain, Gore Vidal, Richard Perle and others, WHY WE FIGHT explores a half-century of U.S. foreign policy from World War II to the Iraq War, revealing how, as Eisenhower warned, political and corporate interests have become alarmingly entangled in the business of war. On a deeper level, what emerges is a portrait of a nation in transition --
Fans of Oliver Stone's J.F.K.
will recognize the opening moments of writer-director Eugene Jarecki's Why We Fight
, in which outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower warns of the pernicious and growing influence of what he called the "military-industrial complex." But Stone's movie, which uses the same footage, was a work of fiction. While those who disagree with the decidedly leftist point of view in this documentary will probably consider it the product of paranoid liberal fantasy as well, there's enough credible material, much of it supplied by the targets of Jarecki's criticisms, to make Eisenhower look like a prophet and everyone else uneasy about the dark confluence of politics, money, and war that controls the country's fortunes. The message here is that while there may be some who sincerely believe that America's various military engagements (in Iraq, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, and elsewhere) since World War II are the product of our God-given duty to spread freedom and halt the influence of evil ideologies around the world, the real reason we fight is that war is good business. This is hardly a bulletin; anyone who is surprised by allegations that politicians pander to defense contractors, or that Vice President Dick Cheney helped secure huge deals for Halliburton, the company he formerly headed, simply hasn't been paying attention (Politicians lie? How shocking!). In fact, the principal drawback to Jarecki's film is simply that there's nothing particularly revelatory or compelling about it. Only when he takes a personal approach does he go beyond the obvious; the story of a retired New York policeman and former Vietnam veteran whose son died in the World Trade Center, who wanted revenge, but who became seriously disillusioned when Bush admitted that the war in Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, adds some much needed human interest. Still, Why We Fight
, which includes a director's audio commentary track and a few other bonus features, serves as a grim reminder that the world's most powerful nation has strayed far from the principles of our founding fathers, a development that does not bode well for America's future. --Sam Graham