I was disappointed with Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. As someone with deep concerns about American foreign policy specifically and the direction of American culture and discourse generally, I thought that movie generated more heat than light. It did not spark conversation; it extinguished it. Yeah, I think Bush and his cronies are doing indelible harm to America, but I felt like I was being asked to swallow large gulps of rhetorical kool-aid and endorse a somewhat histrionic script in order to appreciate what Moore was saying. It turned off a lot of other people too -- people who might have been able to come away with some new perspective on current political dynamics, but for a tone befitting Fox news (in reverse) were unable to see past the Bush-bashing.
Why We Fight is everything that F9/11 is not. Where F911 told, WWF explains. Where F911 ridicules, WWF allows items of fact speak for themselves. Why We Fight makes the assumption that its audience is educated and capable of examining multiple facets of an issue without resorting to unnecessarily polar characterizations of people or ideas. Just to be clear: WWF's take on these issues is unmistakable, but if F911 is a declaration, WWF is fundamentally a question.
Why We Fight asks its audience to consider Eisenhower's presidential farewell address, and amount of it he devoted to warning against the rise of the "military-industrial complex," coining a new phrase.
"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society." (1961)
Viewers of Why We Fight are consistently returned to this warning as they are reminded of the last fifty years of American military conflicts.
We are introduced to an ex-NYPD cop, Vietnam vet and father of a 9/11 victim who wants revenge on the bastards who killed his son. We meet an Air Force Lt. Colonel who resigned her post in intelligence at the Pentagon when political urgencies began to warp and distort her work of 20 years. The pilots who dropped the first bombs on Baghdad in 2003 talk about their mission. We hear commentary from think-tankers Bill Kristol and Richard Perle, and candid reservations about American military power from Senator John McCain. All have something valuable to say about the conflict in which the United States is engaged.
Fundamentally Why We Fight asks questions of involvement and influence: who are the players, what are their interests, and what are the stakes? It's not about one man, a group of men, or a political party. There are no conspiracy theories; merely a serious question. How much military might is necessary? Given the amount of money spent on defense, the number of jobs the industry provides, the numbers of congressmen in office due to contracts being brought home to their constituents, should we be concerned how the business of war drives the politics for war? Are the needs of a defense corporation different than those of humans? Who is in control, and how much power should they have?
On the surface, the movie is about how we got into Iraq. Deeper, it is asking what the future holds: American military supremacy? For how long? How long did the English or the French or the Soviets hold on to their hegemonies? Just how did we get from Iranians, Jordanians and Frenchmen proclaiming "we are all Americans" in the days following 9/11, to being seen around the globe as the single biggest threat to peace in the world? Can we ever get back?
Richard Perle makes a statement I found chilling largely because I find it hard to disagree. He says something to the effect of, "people think that you can just elect a new man to office, and everything will change. It's already a different world. We have already changed." The degree of truth of that statement is worthy of debate, and that's why I wholeheartedly recommend this movie.