In his provocative documentary Why
We Fight, director Eugene Jarecki asks whether Washington's foreign
policy is overly preoccupied with the idea of military supremacy, and if the
military has become too important in U.S. life.
Jarecki interviews subjects from across the political spectrum, including Wilton
Sekzer, a retired New York police officer whose son died in the Sept. 11 attack
on the World Trade Center; Bill Kristol, editor of the neoconservative Weekly
Standard; Gore Vidal, a prominent author and liberal commentator; James
Roche, secretary of the U.S. Air Force; and U.S. pilots identified as Fuji and
Tooms, who dropped the first bombs over Baghdad when the Iraq war broke in 2003.
Following are excerpts from a recent interview IPS conducted with the award-winning
Q: Tell us why you chose this title for your film.
A: Actually, this is the title of a series of films made during World War II
by the legendary director Frank Capra. It seems to me that in the past 60 years,
the reasons for American war have changed and become far more complicated for
everyday people to understand.
The film asks the question, why we fight. I cannot say that it provides an
answer, because it wasn't really my goal to provide a single answer. It was
my goal to bring together voices from a wide range of experts and the insiders,
people touched by American war who could become a kind of chorus of concern
looking more deeply at the issues involved and the stakes implied than customarily
happens in our shallow news media outlets.
It looks at today's critical situation in Iraq and it's impossible to look
at the history of American war over the past half century without naturally
being reminded of the crisis in which we now find ourselves.
Q: Have you faced any problems in terms of distribution?
A: If you are a filmmaker trying to cover a politically sensitive subject in
the United States, America has suffered such a degradation of our open media
system in recent years, such a shift away from the values of a democratic society,
that problems arise long before the distribution phase. At the very start, the
struggle to get financing for a film like this in the United States would have
proved immediately prohibitive. So we moved overseas to the BBC, to Canada,
to France and Germany, to countries whose media systems are far more open than
ours, and in many ways shame ours.
Q: Has the movie been shown in Iraq?
A: It has not been shown in Iraq. There has been a movement by the British
forces television to show the film to their own troops serving in Iraq, but
it has not been shown in Iraq.
Q: In the movie, you have interviews with U.S. weapon manufacturers and
footage of weapons manufacturing sites. How did you manage to get access to
A: Well, you know, I worked very hard to reach out to people all across the
spectrum, and when you are making a film about war, you are dealing with people
at all levels. And in order to secure access to these people, in general one
had to go through the Pentagon. We were involved in a very serious inquiry and
not in an ambush, a kind of tough love for America and the American story.
Q: You highlighted the speech of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
in which he expresses his deep concern over the "military-industrial complex."
Do you agree with those who would rather describe this phenomenon as "military-industrial-prison-media
A: Yes, unfortunately, what Eisenhower is talking about is the concern that
the interests of corporations have been placed ahead of the interests of the
people. That can take many forms, whether it's military-industrial or pharmaceutical
or media. There are so many industries in America that can have undue, unwarranted
influences on the affairs of the state.
In many ways, Eisenhower is simply noting the rise of special interests in
the United States. [But] the military-industrial complex has a special distinction
as a special interest. The enormity of its business and the way in which it
operates it makes more difficult in times of threats [when] you can insulate
military-industrial special interests from the kind of oversight and review
that others feel might be needed. So the military-industrial complex is a sort
of favored nation among special interests.
Q: You focused on the invasion of Iraq. How do you view the recent developments
regarding Iran's nuclear program and the threats Tehran is facing?
A: I think the concern of course is to what extent the conflict with Iran is
another very unfortunate side effect of the calamitous decision on the war in
Iraq. You may remember that U.S. policymakers asserted from the start that it
would be what they called a "cakewalk." Having gotten rid of Saddam
[Hussein], upbeat people would be dancing in the streets, and the country would
immediately take a new shape. All of those dreams, of course, have collapsed.
What we now face is a situation of intense chaos. By unseating [Hussein], the
United States in many ways liberated the Shia in Iraq and the fundamentalists
in Iran who have far more in common with each other.
Q: It is very interesting that in the film you used the footage of [current
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld's meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1983,
when he was the special envoy of President Ronald Reagan.
A: You can't study the history of the current war without following the roots
all the way back to the overthrow of Mossadegh  in the interests of British
Petroleum. But along the way, there is no way to ignore Ayatollah Khomeini [in
Iran]. Along the way, there is no way to ignore Saddam Hussein. No way to ignore
that the United States and Saddam Hussein had reasons to ally with each other.
The question is, what is it about U.S. foreign policy that makes us these kinds
of bedfellows, such that we have to conduct war to unseat them?
Q: Are you hopeful about the realization of these dreams and aspirations
for taking back the republic?
A: I don't know, but I think the hope for America to be a democratic republic
is the founding hope. That has always been a work in progress. And there always
come challenges. [The communist-hunting Senator Joseph] McCarthy was a challenge,
today is a challenge, slavery was a challenge, the death of the Native Americans
was a challenge, the eugenics movement before the Second World War was a challenge,
the Depression was a challenge.
There have been so many challenges. We have a nation of leaders who cared deeply
about this country. But now we face a situation where the stakes are so high
that what I would hope to see is that Americans would look into the streets
of New Orleans, into the streets of Fallujah, and they would see a world that
really is not viable. They would see a platform of ideas that are shortsighted,
not holistic in nature. These are platforms of ideas that do not meet the needs
of everyday people in the shrinking world. And so the question is: Will Americans
come to see that with sufficient vigor to have the kind of impact that people
need to have on policy and democracy?
(Inter Press Service)