12.20.2006

why

We saw "Why We Fight" last night, the incredible movie by Eugene Jarecki. I know this ran on CBC recently, and I hope many of you watched the whole thing. If not, rent it. Don't miss it. It is stunning.

"Why We Fight" is about the US military-industrial complex: where it comes from, what it does, how it dictates policy, how it works in the world.

Jarecki follows the thread of three lives: a young man who enlists in the military to escape his empty life and his grief over his mother's death, a high-level female officer who retired from the military, and, most movingly to me, a New York City cop who lost a son on 9/11. (I always think I can't cry any more about September 11th, and I'm always wrong.)

Jarecki masterfully weaves these threads with interviews with knowledgeable people on all points of the political spectrum: William Kristol, Chalmers Johnson, John McCain, Gore Vidal, and the son and granddaughter of Dwight Eisenhower, among others.

There are some brilliant bits of history, that, unless you have really studied US history, are likely to be revelatory. For example, you may know that Eisenhower coined the phrase "military-industrial complex," and you may be familiar with the quote the expression comes from. But you may never have heard the full quote - just what the prescient Eisenhower was warning against. Chalmers Johnson offers a stunning capsule history of the US's involvement in Iraq - which dates back to the 1950s - and explains the real meaning of "blowback". On the other side of the information coin, average Americans try to articulate what their country is fighting for.

For me, this film is important because it speaks to my view of war and of the US military, and helps me gather more facts and language to support it. I don't subscribe to the war in Iraq as "Bush's holy war"; I never thought he was out to avenge his father. You may notice I seldom write about Bush at all, as I regard him as a completely irrelevant figurehead.

I was dumbfounded when, early on, progressive Americans called the unprovoked invasion of Iraq "unprecedented". Which war in our lifetime was not pre-emptive? When did - just pick any example here - when did Vietnam attack the US?

To me the US's invasion and occupation of Iraq can only be understood in the context of all its other military adventurism. In the context of imperialism, and of corporate neocolonialism. In the context of Guatemala, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Panama, Grenada, Iran, and many more, until we finally get to Iraq, and until the next one. To me, US war is for profit. If war wasn't so profitable, there wouldn't be any. And when war is so very profitable, its beneficiaries will find a way to make some.

I would add only one other thread to think about while you watch this film. When you see the part about why people "volunteer" for the US military, put it in context of a failed economy - especially the collapse of the manufacturing sector, where people with limited education traditionally found decent jobs. In a country where there are no jobs, the military looks increasingly attractive. For most of the recruits, it's this or Wal-Mart.

This was one of the best documentaries on the US and recent US history that I've ever seen. Talking about it afterwards, Allan and I both had the same thought: it could have been called "Why We Moved To Canada".

Movie website; Amy Goodman interview with filmmaker Eugene Jarecki.

14 comments:

Lone Primate said...

It really is a movie apart. I bought a copy of it when it came out on DVD, but I saw it in the theatres. You have to be amazed that things turned out the way that they did. When a man with an almost unparalleled military background like Ike Eisenhower names the military-industrial complex and suggests it might pose a threat to liberty, you ought to listen. Nobody did.

Officer Sekzer (I think I'm spelling that right, but I'm not sure) was the other figure who most moved me. I found it inspiring that anyone, especially a small-c conservative as he clearly is, could see past the pain of losing his son and the quick-fix satisfaction of striking back, to seeing that he was lied to and that the people of his country and other countries have been played. That he would so openly, so bravely share his experience and impressions with the world is remarkable, and I feel grateful to him for doing so.

It really is an amazing movie, one of the first rank like An Inconvenient Truth, Supersize Me!, and Fahrenheit 9/11.

Jere said...

I saw this when it was in the theater. This was a big deal at my blog, as a Yankee fan was able to agree with me on something. Check the comments:
http://letsgosox.blogspot.com/2006/02/son-of-bush.html

L-girl said...

I was also deeply moved by the officer's story. And of course I identified more with him, describing how he was on the 7 train that morning, saw the skyline from the "el" - it's easy for me to go back there.

It really is an amazing movie, one of the first rank like An Inconvenient Truth, Supersize Me!, and Fahrenheit 9/11.

I agree - although I still haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth, because Zip.ca hasn't sent it to us yet. But from everything I've read, I expect to be blown away.

I think I'll buy Why We Fight as well.

L-girl said...

Also (for newer readers), I didn't see this in the theatre because I don't see movies in theatres at all, I only watch at home on DVD.

Nigel Patel said...

I see soldiers a lot lately. And they're me. Working class people taking a big gamble on finding something better.
I've never tried it but I'm a little unnerved that I'm no longer too old to join the Army.
As Guinnevere Turner said "I'm not waiting for a man but I feel like a man's waiting for me".

Lone Primate said...

I'm a little unnerved that I'm no longer too old to join the Army.

Yeah, that psyched me too. I'm Canadian, but still... I grew too "old" to enlist in the United States Army (assuming I'm even eligible, as a non-citizen)... but they moved the bar past me, and now I'm "young" enough again. Isn't that something? And I read just yesterday that President Bush wants to expand the size of the US Armed Forces. Truly... can this be accomplished without resort to Selective Service? I can't really picture guys my age joining up. I mean, if you're in your late 30s and you still don't have a better option than the Army... the Army probably has better options than you. :)

RoseCovered Glasses said...

There are good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armaments”

http://www.rosecoveredglasses.blogspot.com

The Pentagon is a giant, incredibly complex establishment, budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Administrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the new Sec. Def.Mr. Gates, understand such complexity, particularly if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

Answer- he can’t. Therefore he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

This situation is unfortunate but it is absolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen until it hits a brick wall at high speed.

We will then have to run a Volkswagen instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.

orc said...

«I was dumbfounded when, early on, progressive Americans called the unprovoked invasion of Iraq "unprecedented". Which war in our lifetime was not pre-emptive? When did - just pick any example here - when did Vietnam attack the US?»

Well, the USA spent a lot of time faking up reasons for going into that war. The Gulf of Tonkin incident springs immediately to mind, as does some of the negotiations that happened around the time the French realized the jig was up and tried to get out with their military intact.

GW2, on the other hand, was an unadorned "I don't like your face" invasion, where the dictator didn't even try to pretend that there was a reason for going to war.

L-girl said...

Well, the USA spent a lot of time faking up reasons for going into that war. The Gulf of Tonkin incident springs immediately to mind, as does some of the negotiations that happened around the time the French realized the jig was up and tried to get out with their military intact.

GW2, on the other hand, was an unadorned "I don't like your face" invasion, where the dictator didn't even try to pretend that there was a reason for going to war.


But the end result is the same. Whether it's Remember the Maine, Gulf of Tonkin or WMDs - excuses for a war that has already been planned and is going to be executed.

To us it was "I don't like your face" but to many Americans it was Condi's mushroom cloud. I don't see a lot of difference between that and the Gulf of Tonkin.

L-girl said...

The Rumsfelds, the Administrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

That's why I couldn't celebrate over Rumsfeld's departure.

That's for your comments, RoseCoveredGlasses. Come back and visit again if you like.

L-girl said...

We will then have to run a Volkswagen instead of a Caddy and get along somehow.

But most people driving SUVs will never do that, even when most of the world can't afford to run a car at all. People will fight harder for scarcer and scarcer resources before they'll adapt. That's generally been the way, historically.

orc said...

«But the end result is the same. Whether it's Remember the Maine, Gulf of Tonkin or WMDs - excuses for a war that has already been planned and is going to be executed.»

I don't disagree with you on that, but the Maine, (part of) Tonkin, and the alleged poor helpless medical students on Granada were at least _something_, no matter whether . The lies for GW2 were pretty special in that they weren't even claiming something happened, but that something _might_ happen (Chile was pretty close to the same boat, but Kissinger found a proxy fascist instead of the new and improved war of the big lie.)

The American Imperium has provoked a pretty amazing number of wars, so it's possible I'm missing the details of a central american "intervention", but the closest relation to the WofBL were some of the indian massacres in the midwest and the west.

You are right that the "this is the first time the USA has attacked anyone without cause!" story is a crock.

L-girl said...

I don't disagree with you on that, but the Maine, (part of) Tonkin, and the alleged poor helpless medical students on Granada were at least _something_, no matter whether . The lies for GW2 were pretty special in that they weren't even claiming something happened, but that something _might_ happen

I see what you're saying. And I don't disagree with you, either.

I guess to me it seems a fine distinction that amounts to the same thing.

It certainly speaks to the increased arrogance of the Empire. And maybe also to the change in the media that makes it even easier to manipulate the public into a war frenzy.

It still amazes me how easy that is to do, always. It shouldn't amaze me - but it does.

James said...

I guess to me it seems a fine distinction that amounts to the same thing.

It's a subtle distinction, but it's an important one. It reminds me of an old Dilbert cartoon:

Dilbert: Ted, why didn't you come to our meeting?
Ted: Rabid squirrels kidnapped me and killed me last week.
Wally: He doesn't even respect us enough to give us a plausible lie!
Dilbert: Yeah! We demand a plausible lie!
Ted: Ok, well, maybe they didn't kill me, but the kept me prisoner in their secret squirrel lair.
Wally: We have to accept that. We can't show it's false.
Dilbert: Yeah, he did say it was a secret lair.

The US gov't doesn't feel constrained to using plausible lies anymore; now they can get away with vague hypotheticals as an excuse for war.