Military-industrial complex wants you

  • by David Lamble
  • Monday February 6, 2006
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Eugene Jarecki is going to hate me whenever he reads this, and given how fast the top spins in the age of the Internet, he'll probably read it pretty soon. Why will he hate me? I'm committing the cardinal sin of comparing his new film, Why We Fight, to one produced by his big brother, Andrew. Andrew Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans was my pick for best film of 2003 due its insights into how a sexual scandal that enveloped a middle-class Jewish family in Great Neck, New York cast a cold, clear light on the sociology of sex in the Long Island of my youth. After watching Capturing the Friedmans, I was stunned to discover that Andrew Jarecki had told me why I chose urban Texas over suburban Long Island for my own painful coming out.

Oddly enough, Eugene Jarecki's Why We Fight also teaches me about my own family's politics, why my father and mother voted twice for Dwight David Eisenhower for President. Eisenhower served during the early years of the Cold War (1953-61), was Supreme Allied Commander in WWII, one of the architects of the D-Day invasion and thus a father of modern Europe.

But the junior Senator from Massachusetts opened a charisma gap with the grandfatherly former general. John F. Kennedy then added insult to injury by accusing Ike of allowing a missile gap to develop between the US and the Soviet Union. As Jarecki is quick to point out, there was no missile gap. But the only way Ike could prove this to the media would have been to reveal that he had access to top-secret information via American U2 spy missions over Russia.

Jarecki provides large chunks of Eisenhower's farewell speech to the nation in which the wily old general warns his fellow citizens about the growth of an industrial-military complex, a potentially unholy alliance between the Pentagon and the growing domestic defense industry, that might, he feared, compromise our national freedoms along with the safety of our tiny planet.

 The Eisenhower speech and the debate it provokes would have made one hell of an hour of primetime network TV. As George Clooney reminded us in his penetrating study of Edward R. Murrow, Good Night, and Good Luck, TV used to take on the big issues. Since Jarecki is making a movie that people must pay to see, he can't afford to stick to his main thesis using only his best arguments, but must invoke everything, leaning increasingly on emotion as much as reason.

The film's most heart-tugging witness is a former New York City police officer, Wilton Sekzer, whose son perished on 9/11, who shares his immediate post-attack desire that his son's name be painted on one of the bombs to be dropped over Baghdad. By the end of Why We Fight, this tough old cop has had a change of heart, feeling that Pres. Bush lied to him about the alleged link between 9/11 and our invasion of Iraq.

Invasion evasion

Unfortunately, Jarecki is unable to stick to material that supports his indictment of the entire thrust of American foreign policy since WWII. Instead, Why We Fight is devoted to a one-sided indictment of the Bush Administration's decision to invade Iraq, arguments that have been stated more cogently in other films. Neo-conservative spokesmen Richard Perle and William Kristol are duly trotted out. Jarecki's collaborator on The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens, would have made the perfect devil's disciple for the case for war. Hitchens' politically incorrect assertions about a world in which mobs are burning Danish embassies over freedom of the press need a fuller airing.

If you're going to attack the arc of American foreign policy since WWII, then you'd better be prepared to account for some of the success stories: the thriving and democratic republics of South Korea, Germany and Japan. If you want to stick to Iraq, then Eisenhower may be out of place (Ike did put Marines in Lebanon, between July and October, 1958.)

Jarecki is a talented filmmaker who needs to find an alternative to Michael Moore's take-no-prisoners style and a medium where the message doesn't require quite such a huge time gap between its preparation and reception. If today's TV news executives had the guts of a Murrow, which they don't, Jarecki might have turned out several primetime specials in the time since Why We Fight debuted at Sundance.

To his credit, Jarecki does leave us with the sobering reminder that all wars, just or not, leave more innocent victims than vanquished opponents. See this film for the chilling contrast between Donald Rumsfeld's praise of American "smart bomb" technology and the Baghdad medical examiner's shell-shocked account of the fate of ordinary Iraqi citizens caught in the path of these "smart bombs." Opens Friday .