Bombs Over Baghdad Means Money in the Bank For Weapons of Mass Production
During his 1961 farewell address, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the American people of the “military-industrial complex,” the viral-like interrelationship of big industry and official belligerence that, if unconstrained, he worried would warp the nation’s mission into the quest for world dominance via eternal profitable war. Documentarian Eugene Jarecki (The Trials of Henry Kissinger) updates Ike’s assertion to the Halliburton age and its ethical devolutions, where an arms dealer becomes vice president, war-profiteering deals are struck in private, and foreign policy is designed in exclusive think tanks by Leo Strauss-drunk utopians.
All of which, in Jarecki’s historically well-argued view, is really bad, and is leading to a showdown between war-creation hyper-capitalism and democracy itself, with democracy very much in danger of losing. If the inducement of despair and disgust is an indicator of artistic achievement, Why We Fight is incredibly successful.
In the sober, unfussy tone of a BBC documentary—which is what it is—Jarecki doesn’t nag at any particular post-war administration; rather, he illustrates how the military-industrial complex has gained stealthy omniscience in U.S. policy, to the point of absorbing more of the federal budget than any other sector. Want to make sure your new, insanely profitable, real-world-useless bomber gets congressional support? Make sure as many parts are made in as many states as possible, rendering political opposition untenable.
Aside from an accurate snipe by Gore Vidal—who describes our relationship with a half-century of violent foreign interventions as the “United States of Amnesia”—Jarecki avoids Michael Moore-style hyperbole. Instead, he allows neocon movers such as Iraq-invasion designer Richard Perle and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol ample time to rationalize their God-graced Team America view of world policing/war profiteering. Perle is downright terrifying in his murderous certainty and comes off as if auditioning to play Dracula, with the eerily perma-peppy Kristol his loyal Renfield, manically mouthing his master’s plans.
Back in reality, Jarecki finds his movie’s heart with two victims of this avarice and presumption. Wilton Sekzer, a Vietnam vet and retired New York cop, lost his son in the World Trade Center attacks and was an early believer in a Saddam Hussein connection to Sept. 11. Sekzer recalls channeling his grief into an impassioned series of e-mails to the U.S. Air Force, begging that his son’s name be written on a bomb to be dropped on Baghdad.
Sekzer’s incremental realization that his son’s death was of great use to the political interests of others is intolerably painful to watch, as is the story of another New Yorker, 23-year-old William Solomon. Set adrift by his mother’s death and a series of chain-store jobs that facilitate his financial inability to complete his education, Solomon joins the Army for lack of literally anything else left to do.
Lt. Gen. Karen Kwiatkowski, who resigned from the Pentagon out of disgust for independent contractors lording over the U.S. military, laments, “If you join the United States military now, you are not defending the United States of America, you are helping certain policy-makers pursue an imperial agenda.” That would sound rather harsh if Kristol and Perle weren’t seen saying just as much, if in more triumphant terms.
So, not much cheer here—aside from the occasional dark humor supplied by world-class prevaricator John McCain, who mouths platitudes such as, “We have not an obligation to go out and start wars but certainly to spread democracy and freedom,” only to interrupt his interview to take a call from Dick Cheney.
Repeatedly, Jarecki finds his most horrific effects in simple juxtaposition. Arms dealers compare the creation of new death machines to any business rolling out new, improved products and boast about “smart bombs” and their reputed low collateral-damage capabilities. Cut to images of countless rotting Baghdad citizen bodies post shock and awe. The city’s numb coroner reads from his intake list: “mother . . . mother . . . child . . . mother. . . . ” Jarecki does indulge one of his few elaborations—the use of Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and its chorus of “what have we become?”—but leaves it up to Lt. Kwiatkowski to answer the movie’s eponymous query about a nation dedicated to endless war for exclusive profit: “I think we fight because, basically, not enough people are standing up saying, ‘I’m not doing this anymore.’”