Director Eugene Jerecki takes documentaries and turns them into detective stories. His last film The Trials of Henry Kissinger pursued Richard Nixon’s right-hand man of foreign policy, who’s been accused of (but, not yet tried for) war crimes for his role in American polices in Central America. His new film Why We Fight, this year’s Grand Jury Prize-winner at Sundance, explores a maze of neoconservative think tanks, weapons trade shows, corporate power, the Pentagon, politicians—and their critics. Jerecki’s inspiration was Republican President Dwight D. Esienhower, whose 1960 farewell speech,(shown in the film) gravely and presciently warned of a “military-industrial complex”.
“Eisenhower had extraordinary courage on that last night. No American
president, before or since, has spoken as honestly on any subject to the American people—let alone on war,” Jerecki observed with obvious
admiration. “Eisenhower was a general in WWII and was feeling, as
president, forces had been unleashed that were eroding the heart of our
democracy.Forces he called the ‘military-industrial-complex represented
a new unwarranted influence in American policy that had to be watched
Jerecki interviews people in the know from military historian Gwynne
Dyer to a retired officer from the Office of Special Plans, which “fixed intelligence” to sell the war in Iraq. He puts two worldviews side-by-side:
neo-conservatives Richard Perl of the Project for a New American
Century and Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative magazine
Commentary) with critics like the irrascible Gore Vidal and Chalmers
Johnson, author of Blowback the New York Times bestseller that exposed American support for Osama bin Laden in the 1980s.
Jarecki visited the Twin Cities in late January, just as negotiations
with the Ford truck plant concluded, providing a parallel to the
corporate might his film exposes.
“I saw politicans running to talk to Ford about those jobs and those jobs aren’t going to be cut in this state—for now. Think of the incredible panic that swept through that place! That’s the degree of power these corporations have over our lives. I saw it in Washington,”Jarecki said. “Our Founding Fathers did not forsee that kind of control over our political leaders . . that political leaders would please corporate interests because of the power of money.”
This is no “talking head” movie. Jerecki artfully, with wit or deep feeling, interweaves archival footage from WWII and the Cold War, weapons manufacturers promotional films and 4th of July parades,goes to weapons factories and documents the U.S. military budget, to create a horrifying realization: War is good for Big Business. ‘Ordinary citizens”—small town parents, youth, the blue-collar workers who build missiles—ponder the question the film’s title presents. We see their patriotism and loyalty to our troops, fears and confusion that is then manipulated to support the military slaughter that continues, through pork-barrel politics for huge profits.
“The term the defense companies use is ‘political engineering,'” Jerecki
said, explaining how the B2 bomber has at least one part made in all 50 states. “You want to make sure everyone is in on the action. It’s legalized
While Jerecki is a tenacious investigator, Why We Fight is most powerful for the human portraits he presents. Two elite Stealth bomber fighter pilots describe their pre-invasion mission to assasinate Saddam Hussein. Even though we know the mission failed, it’s still suspenseful. Closer to home, Jarecki shows us William Solomon, a 20 year-old joining the U.S. Army.
“William’s thoughts are very dramatic and gripping—and very familiar to
underprivileged Americans who are being subjected to a backdoor draft.
As for providing employment, William will do better in the military than
he would eleswhere—if he survives it,” Jerecki pauses, as if wondering
how Solomon is doing,now deployed to Iraq. “This is a dark, dark statement in any society when the best job young people can get is a job in which they may have to die themselves or kill someone.”
Most searing is William Sekzer, a Vietnam veteran, retired New York City police officer and grieving father who lost his son in the WTC on September 11.
“I heard a quote. A woman loses a husband, she’s a widow. A man loses
his wife, he’s a widower. A child loses their parents is an orphan. But,
we have no word for a parent who’s lost a child. It’s indescriable. That
always struck me with William Sekzer.” Jarecki is sober. “He represents
the journey Americans are making in their understanding how to
participate in love of their country and holding on to what we hold dear.”
This father’s journey is so profound and takes such unexpected turns,
this writer won’t reveal more, except to say, experiencing William
Sekzer alone makes Why We Fight worth the price of admission.
Why We Fight is a primer on American corporate militarism that should be required viewing. From almost 50 invasions—overt and covet—since WWII through the current ‘war on terror,” Jerecki eviscerates the “patriotic” sloganeering that keeps recruitng more young people to be cannon fodder. With Lockheed Martin (who makes fighter jets) now a corporate underwriter for PBS, this may be your only chance to see this urgent film.
Classic movie fans and WWII history buffs will recognize that Why We Fight shares its title with Frank Capra’s WWII-booster series, which
Jerecki says have been “undersold” as “propaganda.”
“Capra always defended the little guy. It’s A Wonderful Life is
basically George Bailey protecting his town from Wal-Mart! He made Mr.
Smith Goes To Washington, where Jefferson Smith vows to stand until
his feet drop from under him to save his little creek from special interests,” Jerecki declares. “Capra’s WWII films took his concern for democracy, global. He asked Americans to stand up and defend democracy
as it was imperiled at that time.”
“Likewise, in my film, I’m asking Americans to stand up and fight because our democracy is in peril here at home, by forces degrading the heart of what we hold dear,” Jerecki concludes.”These are the forces we were warned about by Eisenhower. Big business could trump ideals we should
live by. I take seriously warnings from the grave of history.”
Why We Fight, opens Friday, Feb. 24 for one week only at the Uptown Theatre, at Hennepin Ave. and Lagoon, in Uptown MInneapolis (612) 825-6006.