WASHINGTON, March 18 (UPI) -- In his new documentary, "Why We Fight," director Eugene Jarecki examines the growth of the United States' military-industrial complex from after World War II up to today's controversial war in Iraq.
"Back then, the reasons (for war) were clear -- fascism, genocide, oppression," Jarecki, who also directed 2002's "The Trials of Henry Kissinger," says on the movie's Web site. "Today, if you ask people why we are fighting in Iraq, I think the reasons are far less clear."
The movie, the Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, focuses on the topics of preemption, the industry of war and global economic colonialism by the United States. The documentary uses no real narrator; instead telling a story through interviews with bomber pilots, government employees, politicians and average American citizens in 30 states as it unveils a war-dependent U.S. culture.
The film opens with President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1961 farewell speech, in which he predicted the problems a permanently militarized United States would have.
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex," Eisenhower said in the speech, often championed by Jarecki throughout the film. "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
From there, Jarecki interviews the pilots who dropped the first bombs on Iraq in 2003, a Vietnamese war survivor turned tactical weapons expert and recounts the tale of Wilton Sekzer, a retired New York City policeman who lost his son in the Sept. 11, 2001 mega-terror attacks. After the attacks, Sekzer contacted the armed forces, and eventually got his son's name on a bomb that later fell on Iraq.
After President George W. Bush confirmed that Iraq had played no part in the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, Sekzer felt exploited for his patriotism.
"Am I sorry I asked for my son's name to be put on the bomb?" Sekzer muses. "No, because I acted under the conditions at the time. Was it wrong? Yeah, it was wrong, but I didn't know that."
Rather than using the heavy-handed approach that another documentary film-maker Michael Moore took in "Fahrenheit 9/11," Jarecki stays behind-the-scenes throughout the movie, allowing his interviewees to do the talking. Though Jarecki maintains he interviewed a conservative majority, it would be a lie to say "Why We Fight" doesn't take a liberal slant. Despite the biased angle, conservative voices receive an opportunity to comment on the film's issues, most notably military preemption.
"What's the big fuss about preemption?" says former Defense Department official and neo-conservative Richard Perle. "You'd shoot first if someone was planning to shoot you right?"
The movie separates itself from simple anti-Bush critiques by offering a broader cultural study, both historically and geographically. An especially powerful segment of the film shows a world map that is then chronologically peppered with U.S. military conflicts from World War II until the present.
The United States' support of and then subsequent hostility towards foreign nations is also a talking point, punctuated by the image of current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983.
In contrast to the critiques against preemption and the United States' economic war machine is the story of George Solomon, a 23-year-old who signs up to be an army pilot after his mother dies. Solomon represents the thousands of people who turn to the military as the answer for their life's complications.
"These three problems: my mother's death, my financial hardship and my inability to complete my education," Solomon says. "All of these problems are gonna be solved by my enlistment in the military."
If Eisenhower is the hero in "Why We Fight," the villain must be Vice President Dick Cheney, who is identified as a former weapons contractor and personifies the idea of war as a business. Cheney's economic impact on the military is thoroughly criticized by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is interrupted while panning Cheney on-camera by a phone call from the vice president himself.
While at times the movie seems to only raise more questions rather than answers, one strong message is for the United States to remember its political and military history. Scattering the film's 98 minutes are quotes from Presidents George Washington and Eisenhower that warn of the dangers of a U.S. permanent military presence. Using techniques like this, Jarecki sends a clear message the United States must avoid becoming what author Gore Vidal calls the "United States of Amnesia."