Why We Fight (2004)
January 20, 2006
Casting a Harshly Critical Eye on the
Business of Warfare in America
By MANOHLA DARGIS
Published: January 20, 2006
The title of Eugene Jarecki's
"Why We Fight"
sounds like both a declaration and a
question. While variations on these three words are repeated throughout the film - posed
as a question to various Joes, Janes and sometimes little Timmy - it is clear from the start
of this agitprop entertainment that Mr. Jarecki has a very good idea why America has
seemed so eager to pick up arms over the past half-century. Calvin Coolidge famously
said that the chief business of the American people is business; 80 years later, Mr. Jarecki
forcefully, if not with wholesale persuasiveness, argues that our business is specifically
Another American president is critical to that argument. On Jan. 17, 1961, Dwight D.
Eisenhower delivered his farewell address to the country. Writing in longhand - one of
the more arresting images in the film is the tablet on which he wrote his famous speech,
scratched-out words and all - Eisenhower took stock of the nation, its recent wars and its
military might. "In the councils of government," warned this president and former general
of the Army, "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether
sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous
rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this
combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
Mr. Jarecki borrowed the title "Why We Fight" from a series of films made by Frank
Capra for the military during World War II, and it's after that war that the story of the
military-industrial complex begins. It's a story Mr. Jarecki tells with appreciable energy,
using images culled from newsreels, educational and military films, and original material.
Bombs explode, wars are fought, and talking heads fill the screen. The editor of The
Weekly Standard, William Kristol, waves the flag for the right, while Gore Vidal shakes
his pompoms for the left, invoking American amnesia. Everyone sounds smart, if not
always convincing, as when Mr. Vidal states that Truman dropped atom bombs on Japan
only to frighten Stalin and declare war on Communism, even though the Japanese were
trying to surrender.
Mr. Vidal's assertion would give some historians pause and others an attack of apoplexy.
Which raises a problem with films of this type: Who's telling the truth? Crammed with
facts, or at least assertions of fact, "Why We Fight" presents a battalion of experts