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Ike Was Right: Why We Fight
by Michael I. Niman
Every U.S. bomber and jet fighter kills people, even if it never leaves the ground. The people it kills are Americans. This warning, in essence, comes from Republican former president Dwight D. Eisenhower who pointed out how many hospitals or schools could be built for the cost of one plane. Today each and every missile lobbed into an Iraqi or Afghani neighborhood represents an untold number of Americans without health care, without decent schools, without housing and so on. As we vaporize “enemy” communities, we also economically decimate our own. But war is in our culture. We’re addicted to fighting. If we weren’t bogged down in Iraq, we’d be in Iran, Cuba, Venezuela or Bolivia.
Documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki confronts this pivotal question that cuts to the core of the American ethos with his latest work, Why We Fight, winner of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize. Jarecki begins and ends the film with President Eisenhower’s now classic 1961 farewell address to the nation, where he coined the phrase, “military industrial complex.”
War is a business. And it’s a profitable business, with arms manufacturing the United States’ number one export industry. This was Eisenhower’s warning. To meet the challenges of World War II, American industry re-tooled for war. The ensuing Cold War made this shift permanent: padding the pockets of weapons manufacturers who, in turn, invested heavily in American elections, helping elect leaders who, in turn, guaranteed perpetual war and an endless flow of money to war contractors who, in turn, continued to pad the pockets of warmongering politicos. By the time Eisenhower retired from politics this cycle had accelerated into a tornado.
Why We Fight examines the business of war. Jarecki interviews Beltway insiders and critics from across the political spectrum, talking to people like Republican Senator John McCain, former CIA operative Chambers Johnson, author Gore Vidal and neo-fascists Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute and William Kristol of the Project for a New American Century. Why We Fight goes beyond the question of why we are in Iraq. It asks why have we been at war for the past half century. Why do we have troops stationed in more than 120 countries? Why were we involved in attacks against Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Vietnam, Chile, Grenada, Haiti and so on. Why can’t we play nice with others?
The answer, after an hour and a half of introspection, comes back to Eisenhower’s military industrial complex. Take the B-2 bomber. It has at least one piece manufactured in every single American state. Hence, cutting the B-2 program means layoffs in every state. This translates into elected representatives having to defend themselves against charges of voting to cut jobs in their own districts if they voted to cut B-2 funding. The strategy is brilliant—and it guarantees perpetual production of military hardware. War consumes the hardware, keeping the industrial-electoral machine greased. Military industrial complex—it’s the addiction to war.
Of course, the same strategy would work with, for example, wind turbines. If the wind energy industry dominated government, and if they applied similar strategies to grease the political process, we’d have energy independence and green energy. The problem is we didn’t build up for renewable energy in the 1940s. We geared up for war. Blame Hitler if you will. The juggernaut got rolling and the rest is history.
Eisenhower warned us that the military industrial complex would eventually grow to threaten that which it ostensibly exists to defend—our increasingly fragile democracy. Why We Fight does an excellent job of following up on Eisenhower’s warning and putting it into a contemporary context. Like the recent documentary masterpiece The Corporation, Why We Fight is comprehensive, but at times it runs on like a classroom video, hammering us with an endless stream of details about the business of war. Unlike The Corporation and other recently successful political documentaries, however, it’s almost devoid of humor. But war is serious business, and Jarecki puts the emphasis on the business end of it. Few Americans really know why we’re constantly at war, why we fight. For them, this film is a must see.
Dr. Michael I. Niman is an Artvoice columnist, Buffalo State College Professor, and partner in Niagara Independent Media which operates AM 1270 radio, The Voice of Reason.
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v5n9: Elmwood Village Hotel (3/2/06) > Film Reviews > Ike Was Right: Why We Fight
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