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Facing a deadline, I’m at a loss for how to write a coherent review of Why We Fight. It’s not because I have nothing to say. On the contrary, I have about eight pages of notes from two viewings of the film, not to mention four pages of notes from a 30-minute interview with director Eugene Jarecki. My problem is where to stop.

So Why Do We Fight?

Most of the subjects interviewed are a little more knowledgeable than your average American
Most of the subjects interviewed are a little more knowledgeable than your average American

Why We Fight is a dense documentary that explores why America is at war in Iraq, and why we’ve been at war every decade since Eisenhower left office.

Jarecki does the obvious by asking everyday Americans why we fight. “Freedom” is an easy response that many people give. But Jarecki shows us that there’s something more to the answer than that, and even persons-on-the-street will give you a more thoughtful answer if you give them time.

Thankfully, most of the subjects interviewed in Why We Fight are a little more knowledgeable than your average American. Chalmers Johnson, formerly of the CIA and author of several books on foreign policy comes across as the most informed and informative of the bunch. Thinkers like Richard Perle and William Kristol of the Project for a New American Century add their weight to the documentary. A former Pentagon employee, the secretary of the air force, Senator John McCain, and a host of others add their point of view to the question of why America fights.

Running the length of the film are the words of President Eisenhower, whom Jarecki says was prescient in warning America about a “military-industrial complex” that could easily grow too big for Democracy.

Balancing the Wonks

Balancing the wonkiness of political thinkers are some “human interest” stories. The best is that of a former NYC police sergeant, Wilton Sekzer, who lost a son in the September 11 attacks. Sekzer was a strong supporter of the Bush administration for years, and he believed that the war in Iraq was a just retaliation for September 11. When Bush was finally forced to admit, in 2003, that Iraq had nothing to do with September 11, Sekzer woke up to reality. His sense of betrayal by the president is as strong a statement against the war as any on film.

Jarecki also introduces us to William Solomon, a 23-year-old New Yorker who has recently lost his mother. He’s looking for structure, support, and direction, and the Army is only too happy to provide all three.

We also meet the two pilots who “fired the first shots” of the war in Iraq. Both B-2 bomber pilots go on camera to tell how exciting it was to be the first to use their smart weapons against America’s newest enemy.

Blood Pressure Rising

Perhaps the strongest scenes in Why We Fight come when Jarecki shows us what happened after the B-2s dropped their laser-guided bombs. Footage from the ground in Iraq shows that the “smart” bombs weren’t so smart after all. American TV news show that “one weapon clearly missed,” while the other landed just outside of the target area. Iraqi hospitals show that only 1 in 10 of the wounded were military personnel. The other 90% were civilians.

Americans so rarely get to hear the damage being done in our name in Iraq. Finding out just how badly our “smart” weapons perform and just how much damage we’re doing to civilians is a maddening, frustrating exercise in futility.

A kinder film might end with a soothing balm, something that would assure audiences that all is well and that our government, though it has made mistakes in the past, is finally on the right track. Instead, audiences will have to settle for accepting some responsibility for what our government is doing in our names.

If there is a silver lining, it is that the average American is smarter than politicians and pundits think — in fact, the average American is as smart as you are. Being an informed citizen is patriotic. Watching Why We Fight is a good first step.

  • Floyd Blue: "Why we Fight" The answer to that is rather easy, we lust for oil, and control of all global energy resources so we instigate and fight wars of aggression, under other pretexts such as democracy and freedom bullshit, which the ignorant people buy into. We are a criminal and bullying nation just like Nazi Germany, our end will be the same. Americans by and large are a stupid people. 9/11 I believe was an inside job, a false flag operation they created it to dupe the people into supporting their planned wars of aggression. The documentary "why we Fight" on a scale of 1 to 10 I would give it a 3 or 4. We need people that will make hard hitting documentaries. I believe Aaron Russo's documentary to be released in September may help, the title is "America: From Freedom to Fascism" at least his title tells the truth. I thought "Why we Fight" was somewhat silly. I have been trying to warn every one I can as to the Neo Con plan, I have been laughed at called a conspiricy theorist and all kinds of names I don't give a shit what they call me I will speak the truth as I see it. I am 82 years of age I remember the rise of Hitler and I saw with my own eyes the destruction of what Hitler and his henchmen did to Europe. I hate to see that happen to America, but it will happen, Bush and his thugs are the same just different skin suits but the same personalities. Sleep on America, thats about all you can say. August 28, 2006 reply
  • constance old: how do i get to see entire film on my computor thank you constance old June 28, 2008 reply