what i'm watching: why we fight

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.

No comments: