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Photograph courtesy U.S. Department of Defense and Sony Pictures Classics

Power Tie: Paul Wolfowitz contemplates a mono-superpower world in the documentary 'Why We Fight.'

Bombs Away

'Why We Fight' documentary looks at 50 years of murderous defense spending

By Richard von Busack

IN HIS FAREWELL speech on Jan. 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned his nation against the "military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." It is but one much-quoted part of a hawkish oration. Referring to the communists, Eisenhower said earlier, "We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose and insidious in method. Unhappily, the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration." That's good enough for Donald Rumsfeld. And even the more notorious part of Eisenhower's speech came, as historian William Manchester wrote, after the president had given a lifetime of faithful service to that self-same complex.

Eugene Jarecki's documentary Why We Fight explores more than 50 years of ever-increasing defense spending and manipulation of public opinion. His use of Eisenhower as a last figure of American consensus may be fair. Plus he has the blessing of Ike's relatives. Jarecki interviews John S.D. Eisenhower, Ike's look-al(Ike) son, and the president's granddaughter, the noted diplomat Susan. Both insist that Eisenhower would flinch at the increasing power of the weaponry industries. Appropriating a razor-sharp title from Frank Capra, Jarecki reaps a sheaf of opinions and reminiscences. Subjects interviewed include the Air Force Stealth bombers who launched the first salvo against Iraq, which had the side effect of killing children. Jarecki's most touching interviewee is Wilton Sekzer, a retired NYPD officer and Vietnam vet who lost his son in the World Trade Center attack. Sekzer believes that he was manipulated into supporting the Iraq war.

Why We Fight rehashes the Project for a New American Century—or hashes it, for those who missed the story the first time. Learn once again how William Kristol and Richard Perle, among others, conceived of America as a new Rome in a state of constant war as endless as anything described by Orwell ... or Eisenhower. Feel your stomach twirl once again, watching Sen. Robert Byrd's lonely stand against Resolution 114, authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Not to mention Alberto "Mi Abrogato" Gonzales implicitly handing over Constitution-rending rights to the Bush administration.

Why We Fight isn't always so deft. Jarecki works the Diane Arbus angle in showing bumpkins stuffing their faces at a country fair or wandering dazed through a gun show. (The Americans would have been just as average at a library.) However, the found footage is ticklish and telling. Particularly savory is a clip from a 1951 Halliburton corporate film praising a fountain of crude oil: "Kinda purty, ain't it?" George W. Bush proposes to pour $439,300,000,000 into the Pentagon this fiscal year. Expect to hear this gargantuan figure described as a bare-bones sum. The only hope of undoing what's been done for a half-century is to imagine an administration that believes in defense without ruinous expense. Only bipartisan effort will get the contractors' fangs out of the public neck. Why We Fight is scarily informative, but it leaves you a little lost. The conspiracy seems so thorough. One can come out knowing why to fight—just not how.

Why We Fight (PG-13; 98 min.), a documentary by Eugene Jarecki, opens Friday at CinéArts Santana Row.

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From the February 8-14, 2006 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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