In 1961, as two-term president Dwight Eisenhower was leaving office, he gave America a disturbing warning on war. Using his Farewell Address, he warned the nation of the dangers of the military industrial complex—he also coined the term—that was beginning to gain a strong hold on the American economy and culture after World War II.
Over 40 years later, Eugene Jarecki has taken Eisenhower’s warning and made it into a movie that is entitled, Why We Fight. In the film, Jarecki takes a look at America from WWII to present time and how the rise of the world’s strongest military has changed the country.
A military that has hundreds of billions of dollars of more funding than any other military in the world. This type of spending appears to not be slowing down.
Just last week President Bush announced his budget proposal that included a massive 11.3% increase in funding for the Pentagon.
When Jarecki looks at these sorts of occurrences he looks at them as just another part of an ongoing case study of the military industrial complex’s vast power.
“We are living out a prophecy that Dwight Eisenhower gave us in 1961,” said Jarecki.
“He was warning that if you let that kind of initial corruption become part of your national life, before long it will extort and undermine your, what he called the balance of national programs. You will end up spending an unconscious able amount of our money. At a time where you are woefully under funding other crucial parts of what makes this nation strong. So I look at the absurd and inflated budget more broadly. It’s a case study in misguided national priorities and a tragic fulfillment of, though I don’t think he could have ever imagined, of Mr. Eisenhower’s concern.”
Enter Jarecki’s film, which is by no means objective. But should it be?
“I think the word objectivity is horse shit; in any conversation about documentary or any piece of subjective art. Movies are subjective. They take a great deal of work, you don’t make them unless you’re incredibly passionate about that subject and passion does not translate into objectivity. So I reject the word objectivity. What I do though, in making my films, which are subjective, is I try to go to every distance I can to make it difficult to come to a convenient or simplistic subjective view in my films,” said Jarecki.
He does this by seeking out the best experts that he doesn’t agree with, to challenge his personal views. The reason he does this is in an effort to try to stay away from making his movies be all about taking sides.
“It’s not about sides,” said Jarecki. It’s about trying to find the best outcome to a given crisis. And sides just gets in the way. And sides is how you end up in Vietnam forever. And sides is how you end up with Republicans filibustering the vote while our young people are dying overseas. Sides is what you get when the Democrats play politics instead of being in power. Sides is just a disaster.”
This strong sense of wanting to examine an issue without an easy outcome is a lot of the reason Jarecki made this movie. In an interview with BBC Storyville, Jarecki said he felt that his previous film, The Trials of Henry Kissinger, was not received the way he had hoped for. While the film was critically acclaimed, when he met with audiences in 130 US cities during the film’s showing, he found that most viewers were most interested in Kissinger as a pop culture figure.
Meeting with even more audiences for Why We Fight, Jarecki seems to have succeeded.
“I’ve been very inspired by the way people received Why We Fight,” said Jarecki. “You know, I’m showing a movie about war at a time of war. The war does a great deal of the film’s work for it, in the sense that each day that passes in Iraq that many more audience members know somebody that has been effected by the war or have a family member that has been lost in the war. And they start to understand that what may seem like abstract matters in the movies, or an abstract idea communicated by Dwight Eisenhower in 1961, suddenly are haunting their everyday life today.”