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Why We Fight

(2006) *** Unrated
99 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: Eugene Jarecki. Cast: John S.D. Eisenhower, Chalmers Johnson, William Kristol, John McCain.

Eugene Jarecki's Why We Fight ironically reclaims the title of Frank Capra's WWII propaganda shorts. According to Jarecki, we fight in primal but wrongheadedly wanton retaliation, and we fight out of thoughtless patriotism. Mostly, though, we fight to build empire and because it's good business, loss of life taking a back seat to the propagation of "the military-industrial complex." Taking that famous term as the crux of his film, Jarecki begins by recalling the parting shot of lame-duck president Eisenhower: WWII mobilization had justified a new war industry that would be dangerous if unchecked.

Jarecki talks with current and former government officials and policy experts, including Senator John McCain, whistleblower Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski (US Dept. of Defense, retired), and former U.S. Navy officer Chalmers Johnson, who describes our cavalier national attitude to "blowback." Susan Eisenhower represents for her grandfather, whose premonition gives the film its spine, and Gore Vidal shows up—with an expression on his face that says, "What took you so long?"—to name-check the notion of "The United States of Amnesia."

Where intellect leaves off, the filmmaker also engages emotion in his choice of human-interest subjects. Wilton Sekzer, father of a 9/11 victim, is twice outraged: first at the unseen enemy and then at a government that lied to him, exploiting his hurt while beating the drum for war. Sekzer serves as a vehicle to examine the opportunity for war following 9/11; the distraught father requested a bomb be inscribed with his son's name, but now questions the righteousness of the gesture.

Jarecki talks to both the men who dropped the first salvo on Iraq ("We do what we're told") and Iraqi civilians who bemoan errant bombs. The filmmaker also tours a defense-contractor expo, talks with Defense Scientist Anh Duong (who presents workaday weapons-building facilities), and examines recruiting efforts, partly by profiling twenty-three-year-old Army recruit William Sullivan.

Jarecki's subjects don't mince words, talking of "lying" as a matter of policy over a half-century of US wars, "economic colonialism," and "legal corruption" ("a government contractor as Vice President"). Jarecki mocks the idea of "exit strategy" by pointing out the erection of fourteen permanent military bases in Iraq, and notes that none of the fifty "precision" strikes in the first six months of the war hit its intended target. Kwiatkowski says, "Our Congress failed us miserably....If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of America—you are helping certain policymakers pursue an imperial agenda."

Though Why We Fight is unequivocally anti-Bush, Jarecki's resistance to the prevaricated predications for a century of U.S. armed conflict hardly excuses Democrats or, regardless of partisanship, the average American citizen. At first, Why We Fight evokes a response of "Tell me something I don't know," but ultimately Jarecki formulates a cogent, compelling reminder of Eisenhower's explicit warning.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Street date: 6/27/2006

Distributor: Sony Home Entertainment

Sony's lovingly constructed special edition, obviously created with the enthusiastic participation of director Jarecki, begins with an impeccable hi-def transfer and thoughtful feature-length commentary with Jarecki and Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. The disc collates a trove of extra scenes—"Ike's Evolution" (9:52), "The Missing 'C'" (4:41), "Frank Capra's original Why We Fight" (5:16), "The Dangerous Illusion" (5:41), "What You Can Do" (4:34)—and extended featurettes of The Characters—"Wilton Remembers Jason" (1:18), "William and YO-TV" (5:18), "Karen's Story" (3:16), "Franklin 'Chuck' Spinney" (2:14), and "Chalmers' Evolution" (1:43).

The "Talking About Why We Fight" section includes highlights from Jarecki's post-screening Audience Q&As—"What do you hope to achieve?" (2:21), "Doesn't America need defense?" (03:23), "How did you meet Wilton?" (2:24), and "What do high school kids think?" (05:17)—and appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (7:05) and Charlie Rose (9:01). Also on the disc: the Theatrical Trailer (1:56), encouragement to "Learn More" at the film's website, and previews for Sketches of Frank Gehry, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Joyeux Noël, The White Countess, The Passenger, The Fog of War, and Lightning in a Bottle. The nicely packed special edition of Why We Fight leaves viewers with plenty on which to chew.
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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