The starting point here is Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address of nearly half a century ago, in which the former president warned of the dangers of allowing a then-nascent Military Industrial Complex to grow unchecked. As Why We Fight would have it, Eisenhower's warning went disastrously unheeded, resulting in the MIC — that corporate-driven feeding frenzy that keeps American in a state of perpetual war — becoming this country's single most important defining characteristic.
Why We Fight would like us to consider it a thinking person's Fahrenheit 9/11, offering a close reading of the roots and ramifications of endless combat — but, despite some undeniably salient points, the film is so obviously working backwards to prove its pre-conceived conclusion that it's hard to take seriously. Carefully edited sound bites culled from an impressive collection of talking heads — past and present presidents, politicians and various members of the nation's military and intelligence communities — trace a conveniently straight line from WWII to Vietnam to Iraq that strongly suggests the only real reason for war is to keep American business booming. But the centerpiece of the film, its human face, is an ordinary working-class stiff named Wilton Sekzer, a retired NYC cop blinded by the pain of losing a son in the World Trade Towers, but who transforms from revenge-seeking hawk to dove right before our eyes.
Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki (who previously directed The Trials of Henry Kissinger) isn't particularly subtle about any of this, repeating arguments ad infinitum, leaving out crucial bits of information that would throw his thesis into question, and occasionally indulging in blatantly manipulative edits cutting between heavily armed, stony-faced G.I.s and adorable Iraqi children staring into the camera with sad puppy-dog eyes. It's not quite on the level of a Michael Moore screed, but the politics are similarly skewed and simplified. Ultimately it's hard to disagree with the film's assertion that Bush and his cronies (easy targets for sure) do wrong-headed and, yes, even evil things — but the unwillingness of Why We Fight to admit to multiple shades of gray is just short of dishonest.