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Friday, February 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Why We Fight": A sobering look at the military-industrial complex

Special to The Seattle Times

The title of Eugene Jarecki's compelling documentary "Why We Fight" stokes memories of Frank Capra's 1940s film series with the same title.

Helping the U.S. War Department's effort to build morale for America's battle against Axis powers — while rebutting isolationist calls to stay out of World War II — Capra made a cinematic case that Japan and Germany had caught America off-guard with plans for global conquest.

A little more than six decades later, Jarecki's own "Why We Fight" is also a forceful wake-up call about what he sees as a profound danger to America's way of life and democracy.

Movie review 4 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Why We Fight," a documentary with John McCain, Richard Perle, Chalmers Johnson. Directed by Eugene Jarecki. 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 for disturbing war images and brief language. Neptune.

This time, however, Jarecki — who co-directed the scathing 2002 documentary "The Trials of Henry Kissinger," about war-crime accusations against the former secretary of state — sees the threat against the U.S. from within.

Jarecki's "Why We Fight" takes its inspiration from Dwight D. Eisenhower's final — in some ways startling — presidential address to the nation, in which the former supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe warned that a growing "military-industrial complex" in the U.S. was outpacing the republic's ability to control it.

Building on extraordinary interviews and a wealth of research, Jarecki says what Eisenhower was describing in 1960 is far worse today. According to "Why We Fight," the virtues of American democracy — liberty, self-governance — have been overwhelmed by insatiable military spending, the fantastic profits of military contractors and the willingness of elected representatives to look the other way in exchange for campaign donations from those contractors.

Driving this symbiosis, the film says, is an ever-growing lust for global security and empire-building in the executive branch of our government, accelerated in recent years by ideologues in the Bush administration. But even if one disagrees vehemently with Jarecki's interpretations of events and history, it's hard not to be impressed by the rigorousness with which he gathers his arguments.

Eschewing the ambush tactics of Michael Moore, Jarecki conducts civilized interviews with an array of public figures, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; former Bush official Richard Perle; Chalmers Johnson, author and critic of American militarism; and many others.

Jarecki makes some effort toward inclusiveness and a balance of diverse opinion. But there can be no doubt — especially when the film focuses, as it frequently does, on the war in Iraq — that Jarecki believes America has expanded the reach of its empire with a callous indifference to innocent Iraqi civilians.

One of the film's most powerful devices is the use of lengthy interviews with a retired New York City policeman who lost a son on Sept. 11 and a couple of bomber pilots who played a key role in Iraq in 2003. The twists and turns in their stories give "Why We Fight" narrative form and reflection, and underscore its contention that U.S. foreign policy has been hijacked beyond our control.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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