the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Why We Fight

I write film and TV reviews at Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.

In Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning masterpiece, Shindler's List, Liam Neeson shares a dance with his estranged wife in a posh club. Last she saw him, he was a struggling business man. Now he is wealthy beyond either of their wildest dreams. How, she wonders, did he amass this wealth.

“There's no way I could have known this before, but there was always something missing,” he muses. “In every business I tried, I see now it wasn’t me that was failing, it was this thing, this missing thing. Even if I’d known what it was, there’s nothing I could have done about it, because you can’t create this sort of thing. And it makes all the difference in the world between success and failure.”

“Luck?” his wife asks.

“War,” he proclaims.

* * *

On January 11th, 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his final address as President of the Untied States. Customarily a time to reflect on an administration's successes, Eisenhower instead chose to use his last minutes before the American people to pass on a grave warning:

“Beware the military-industrial complex.”

In an extraordinary clarion call, this man who rose to become the most powerful military general in the country before going on to become President, warned his fellow countrymen that they ignored the rise of militarism in America at their own peril. Eisenhower felt that the money and focus lavished on the country's fighting forces was obscene when Americans' basic needs were going unmet.

His words echo throughout the documentary, Why We Fight, a shell-shock of a film.

Director Eugene Jarecki makes the link between Eisenhower's America and George W. Bush's America with shocking ease. But don't mistake this for a partisan attack piece. Far from it. Jarecki faults Democrats and Republicans alike (after all, he holds up Eisenhower, a two-term Republican as his paradigm). Jarecki is not after parties. He is after what he and many others see as a debilitating cancer eating away at the body politic.

What, the film literally asks, is this country fighting for? Jarecki is concerned that we always dip our wars in sweet tasting words like liberty and freedom. We wrap the flag around all our actions. It's far easier to say we must vanquish the evildoers than to ask the hard questions such as, did we do anything to bring this upon ourselves?

“We have an obligation to spread democracy throughout the world,” John McCain says in an interview.

Is that what we're doing, Jarecki asks with Why We Fight? Democracy at the point of a bayonet? Save the world by taking it over? Capitalism may be winning...but is it at the price of democracy? When does America go from a force for good to a force for imperialism? Make no mistake, the film argues, while the shape may be different than those in the past, we are an empire.

In his farewell address, George Washington (noticing a theme?) warned of the danger of maintaining a standing army. He did not want the fledgling country to become like that of the Roman empire. In order to maintain what we have--the power, the clout, the prestige, the resources, the way of life--we must have standing armies and bases in foreign countries to put them on. Controlling our own land is not enough, we must be able to control the world. To do so, we must be it’s sole superpower.

We say we don’t use our military for conquest or domination. Don’t we, Jarecki asks? We have over 700 bases on every continent except Antarctica. Our garrisons encircle the planet. We currently occupy or squat in large parts of the Middle East--the lifeblood of our country’s energy.

Today, the U.S. spends more on defense than all other nations combined. The defense budget is far and away the largest portion of the national fiscal pie. This alone should be enough to give us pause. The thing that is truly disturbing, Why We Fight argues, is that our military is run, not for what benefits the country, but for what benefits defense corporations. The Military Industrial Complex is controlled by the civilian Defense Industry and the think-tanks puppet-masters. More than at any other time in our history, the people making the decisions and implementing policy have absolutely no accountability to the voter. Here’s where the film’s rubber meets the road. The Pentagon and military contractors are unquestionably in bed with one another other, Why We Fight asserts.

We live in an era of permanent militarization. When war is this profitable, you’re going to see more of it. You will, if necessary, invent reasons to go to or maintain war.

In it’s boldest, though hardly groundbreaking assertions, Why We Fight postulates that post 9/11 was used as an excuse for a very calculated and pre-developed foreign policy of world domination.

Iraqi exit strategy? What exit strategy? There’s no need for an exit strategy when you never intend on leaving.

Wake up, Why We Fight chides. We have all failed to ask the right questions or hold anyone accountable. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. And we have not and are not being vigilant.

Nowhere is it written that America will go on forever.

To read the full review, click here.


Anonymous Nate said...

Man, I loved this one too. I should say though that I don't think Jarecki's assertions (or implied assertions) are completely waterproof. After seeing it I made a point to read a few op-eds on just this point, the fact that the button pushers/policy makers always stand to benefit from war, and that all of our conflicts in the last sixty years have only been motivated by business and money. And I just don't think it's always true. It seems far fetched, but the doc makes a very sound and convincing case. It is at least a principal motivator on some vague, murky level. I urge anyone reading this blog to see this film. It's not as polemic or "liberal wild-eyed" as it sounds, trust me. I put it up next to Fog of War.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

And anything that gets you thinking, exposes some truths which otherwise had been cloaked, and broadens your mind to fit into new, previously uninhabited spaces on any given subject, is a great and powerful exercise.

1:17 PM  

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