The documentary Why We Fight works best as a primer in the dangers of the military-industrial complex; if you're already well aware of what that peculiar beast can do, you'll be tempted to chalk it up it as a missed opportunity.
Taking its cue from Eisenhower's legendary warning/farewell, the movie traces the ways in which the American government's urge to protect its own interests has combined with the profitability of arms manufacturing to keep our nation more at less at war since the A-bombs were dropped on Japan. The trend is followed through to present-day manifestations like the Project for the New American Century, the '90s exercise in foreign-policy hawkthink that influenced much of what we now know as the Bush Doctrine.
Unlike a lot of anti-war docs, the movie pulls opinions from both sides of the political fence: Bill Kristol and Richard Perle get their licks in, countering lefties like Gore Vidal. And filmmaker Eugene Jarecki is smart enough to trot out concerned GOP-ers like John McCain to reinforce the point that fear of the defense establishment isn't just a liberal-milquetoast trait.
There are poignant visits with a New York cop vet who lost his son on Sept. 11 and first supported a "retributive" attack on Hussein, only to become horribly disillusioned when Dubya admitted there was no connection between the two. Significantly funnier is a running portrait of the world's most naive recruit, who enlists in the armed services certain that he'll emerge with not a financial care in the world.
Then it all starts to unravel. The focus wanders the way some people think Michael Moore's movies do, finally permitting an interviewee to assert that the enemy of peace is capitalism in its every form a fine thesis for a doc, perhaps, but not the one we've been watching. Before you've fully recovered from that breathtaking bit of overreaching, Bob Dylan starts to whine away on the soundtrack, cementing the association with hippiedom and reducing to zero the chances that any impartial observer will be genuinely swayed by this cinematic position paper. Maybe we peaceniks should expend less energy wondering why we fight and start pondering how.
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