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'Why We Fight' title from Frank Capra film of the same name, which examined why we entered WWII
Title from the Frank Capra films, examining our reasons for entering WWII

A review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Eleven hundred fifty-five official days of war in Iraq as of this date and the man on a cable show is asking his viewers to answer this morning's question: "Should we bomb Iran and take out that country's nuclear program?" Before you respond to that query, I'd recommend your seeing a new documentary film by Eugene Jarecki called, "Why We Fight."

Neither cable news channels nor major television networks will be showing it, however. Big cineplexes likely won't be putting it up on their screens at the mall, either. If you have one, you might be lucky to catch it at the small art house in your town. In fact, only one of the two such cinemas in Sacramento is showing it as of last Friday and I've seen no advanced notice of the movie, except for a small ad on the movie page of the local papers. Even a local advanced screening of the film for critics wasn't offered. The only reason I was aware of "Why We Fight's" release was catching its director being interviewed on PBS' "Charlie Rose" program, and that's only seen on cable here; not on the public TV station's main broadcast frequency of Channel Six in this market. So, I saw the film in the privacy of my own living room on my old VHS rig. So much for mass communication.

I like Ike

Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex" speech, 1961 (MP3)

You're probably thinking, well, this must be a really inflamatory and very subversive documentary. (And I suppose some will say that it is.) But since I was born in Kansas in the third decade of the 20th Century, I tend not to look upon General Dwight David Eisenhower, who grew up in Abilene and became the 34th president of the United States, as subversive or weird or inflamatory at all. I guess you could say that I still like Ike.

"Why We Fight" is grounded in the historic 1961 admonition given us by President Eisenhower about what he called, "the military-industrial complex." Today, that phrase is more firmly seated in our vernacular than the rhetoric of the documentary's title itself. "Why We Fight," when first used by Frank Capra, was for an entirely different reason as the nation then examined its motives for entering World War II. Watching this new documentary with the same title, however, somehow, not only changes its meaning , but more importantly, its answer. As Paul Stookey once wrote and sang, "Meanings Will Change."

Unlike Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," Jarecki gives some balance to his exposition of 50 years of military adventures led, in many instances, by those who believed and believe that our system depends on a state of constant war. Comments from such diverse sources are taken in the film from Senator John McCain; Chalmers Johnson, formerly of the CIA; Richard Perle, Pentagon adviser; Gore Vidal, that erudite activist and author; William Kristol, Editor of the Weekly Standard; Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity; John S. D. Eisenhower, son of the president; Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the president; Col. Richard Treadway, Commander of a Stealth Fighter Squadron; Donna Ellington, President of Raytheon Missile Systems; and Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. Too bad that only a few in this list ever get frequent face-time on TV. So much for diversity in the broadcast news media.

A couple of ideas (paraphrased) that should be pulled from the soundtrack are these. First, from Richard Perle: those who believe that things will change back to the way they were after the neo-cons are gone from power in the U.S. will find no change coming. And, the second from Charles Lewis: we are walking a tightrope between democracy and capitalism. Again, I remind you these are paraphrases and don't linger in my mind as exact quotations.

"Why We Fight" won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Festival and is released by Sony Pictures Classics.

If the film isn't playing your city, I suggest calling a local theater which would seem most likely to play this documentary and ask if it's going to show; if not, request management to seek a run of the film where you live. Then you can see it and give the film your answer...and, if you like...the cable guy who's wondering if you feel the U.S. should or shouldn't bomb Iran.

Unfortunately, the cable guy is neither Stephen Colbert nor Jon Stewart.

And now...your moment of Zen.

"Why We Fight" official site.

Now playing at the AMC Southroads 20.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2006, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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