Given all the advance publicity and considering the importance of its primary subject, the dominant role of the military-industrial complex in the American economy and worldview, Why We Fight is surprisingly disappointing. It has such a heavy-handed propaganda tone that it is unlikely to be taken seriously by anyone who is not already part of the anti-war movement. More importantly, it raises important questions without bothering to answer them.
The documentary is organized around President Dwight Eisenhowers famous farewell address to the nation. On his last day in office, the former five-star general warned, We have been compelled to create a permanent armament industry of vast proportions The total influence, economic, political, even spiritual, is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development, yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.
Jarecki interviewed Eisenhowers son, John, who remembers his dads concern, God help the United States when someone is elected President, who doesnt know how to deal with [the military-industrial complex]. Of course, since Eisenhower, no military professional has been president. The implication is clear: the military-industrial complex has out maneuvered every President since Ike and, in the process, turned America into a permanent war economy, to our great detriment. The film hints at this conclusion but doesnt make it clear. Or, say what citizens should do about it.
Jarecki followed this story to its conclusion. He interviewed two F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter pilots who bombed supposedly key Iraqi military facilities in two Baghdad locations early in the morning of March 20, 2003. The pilots explained how sophisticated their planes were and the accuracy of their EGBU-27 laser-guided bunker-busters, which had added satellite and inertial navigation. Theyre convinced that in the opening salvo of the invasion they pummeled a major military facility, possibly killing key Iraqi leaders.
The documentary follows up on their attack and reports that the bombs missed the intended targets and, instead, hit nearby civilian residences. Jarecki interviews a grandfather whose son and two grandchildren were killed in the attack. While the audience gets the point, the director misses the irony that a bomb sent to avenge one grieving father caused another to suffer.
What happened? Was the technology faulty? Was Rumsfeld deliberately lying? Was the military actually targeting civilians? Was the intelligence bad? Was it all of the above? Jarecki doesnt provide answers. He followed a provocative thread but didnt tie off the end. The writer-director failed to provide what seems to be the obvious conclusion: Americas military-industrial complex tricked the Department of Defense into paying zillions of dollars for weapons that dont work.
Thats illustrative of the general problem with Why We Fight. It asks important questions, but doesnt provide substantive answers. Most of the probable audience for the film already knows that the military-industrial complex is bad for America; they just dont know what to do about it. Nor, apparently, does Eugene Jarecki.