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‘Why We Fight’ tackles intriguing questions

Film suggests that economics, not ideology, may be behind our need for war
/ Source: The Associated Press

“Why We Fight”: The title seeks an answer to a question that is all too timely, as fighting in Iraq continues with seemingly no end in sight. But as Eugene Jarecki shows in his documentary with often sobering insight, such a discussion would have been relevant at any time over the past half-century.

His theory springs from President Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech, which included the phrase “military-industrial complex.” That phrase, and the film as a whole, suggest that war happens not for ideological reasons but for economic ones: War benefits certain corporate interests, regardless of the enemy or the political affiliation of the president in office.

It’s an intriguing concept, and as Jarecki moves from current and former military officers to a father who lost his son on Sept. 11, his film unfolds as a calmer, more thoughtful version of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

You’ll find no snarky voiceover here, no ironic use of music. If scenes from a defense contractors’ trade show come off as uncomfortably upbeat, it is solely the responsibility of the participants involved.

That same approach, though, too often renders the documentary dry and didactic. At times it feels like just a litany of talking heads — Gore Vidal, Sen. John McCain, Richard Perle, even Eisenhower’s son John, who looks strikingly like Ike — interspersed with maps and footage of high-tech military machinery.

Not surprisingly, Jarecki’s movie is most compelling when it focuses on the human element of why we fight.

He introduces us to Wilton Sekzer, who was a New York City policeman for 35 years and whose son, Jason, died in the World Trade Center. (Sekzer recalls being above ground on a train, heading into Manhattan, when he and his fellow passengers saw the building fall. That he tells this story matter-of-factly makes it that much more effective.)

Professing himself to be “old school,” Sekzer says he was raised to believe what the president of the United States says. So he believed President Bush when he said Saddam Hussein was responsible for Sept. 11, and he believed in the necessity of a war in Iraq — so much so that Sekzer, himself a Vietnam veteran, asked to have his son’s name written on a bomb.

So Sekzer was understandably angry when Bush later said he never suggested any connection between Saddam and 9/11.

“Was I wrong to write my son’s name on the bomb?” he asks rhetorically, and his sense of disillusionment stirringly permeates the whole film.

So we do we fight then?

Jarecki poses that question to a series of children attending an air show, several of whom respond, “freedom.”

Clearly it isn’t that simple now, as it wasn’t that simple when Eisenhower issued his farewell warning 45 years ago.

“God help the country when somebody sits at this desk who doesn’t know as much about the military as I do,” the World War II commanding general said as he left office.