Why "We" Fight "Their" Wars


“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

-President Eisenhower, Farewell Address, January 17, 1961

Americans get confused about fighting wars, but traditionally salute the flag–at first. In his last presidential speech, Eisenhower recognized this phenomenon. He warned of the dangers inherent in the newly created military industrial and scientific complexes.

President Bush refers to an ever growing, albeit vague, “terrorist” threat. Terrorism, however, is a tactic used by the weak and desperate to win advantages or by States to intimidate; not something you make war against. It won’t surrender.

In the post 9/11 days, Ike’s words of caution receded. Bush and his Halliburton military-industrial complex Vice President dominated with their “Iraqi threat.”

Indeed, “threat” has established the axiom of the time. After World War II, both Parties agreed that the Communists threatened to conquer the free world. Facts, 20 million dead, 20 million wounded, 200 cities destroyed, no food or boots for the army, apparently did not create sufficient public skepticism about Soviet capacities to invade Western Europe. The media emitted a stream of threat language. Politicians colored world events with an anti-Soviet brush.

The 1949 Communist revolution in China forged a supposedly unbreakable marriage with the Soviet giant. This coincided with witch hunts at home, a high profile search for “subversives” and “fellow travelers.” This turned into McCarthyism by 1950. It set the stag for the sweetheart relationship between the military and the industrial and scientific producers, which has now infected all of society.

If Eisenhower would speak today, he would specify Halliburton, the company that lives from war and threats of war. In the age of “perpetual war for perpetual peace” (Gore Vidal), the public doesn’t question the existence of this “complex.”

Nor did 19th Century Americans question the Indian, British, French and Spanish “threats.” They all inspired military interventions from. “We live here in the United States of Amnesia,” says Vidal, referring to Americans’ ignorance of history. Even college students read little these days and watch more. Instead of getting analysis from print, the public now examines the world through audio-video media–news documentaries on TV, computers, and the large screen.

The new docs feature talking heads (“experts,” typically seated) and archival footage (with background elevator music). These heads scrutinize issues ranging from Iraq and the Bushies’ role in the 9/11 conspiracy to Wal-Mart and Fox News (films by Robert Greenwald). These power point videos play in theaters and offer good information and solid critical thinking. How much does the audience retain?

Director Eugene Jarecki’s (“The Trials of Henry Kissinger”) latest endeavor, “Why We Fight,” begins with Eisenhower’s farewell warning of the deleterious effects of the military-industrial complex. Amplified by digital surround sound on the big screen, we feel the magnitude and urgency in Ike’s face and voice. Unfortunately, as emblematic of the current documentary-power point complex, his prophecy competes with a distracting “thump thump thump”–the background score.

Does excessive noise technology that pervades “Why We Fight” connect with Eisenhower’s alert about the dangers to democracy of the military-science complex? Jarecki inexplicably (time problems?) omits Ike’s reference to the science apparatus.

“Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades,” where “research has become central more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.”

Today, universities and private research companies routinely get military-related research contracts. University budgets depend on government money. In turn, the military relies on university research for weapons programs and training. An aero space engineering student, for example, graduates and begins works on missiles at the Jet Propulsion Lab.

Congress slashed programs for the poor, but fear “unpatriotic” labels in these terrorist times. So, they don’t touch military research funds. The film argues that American leaders have ignored Ike’s warning. The invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) led the military-industrial complex to forge deeper attachments to Congress. It also used powerful DC think tanks, like the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century-a scriptwriter and cheerleader for the Iraq war.

The citizen, remote from the policy world, can find no accountability, says retired Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, a former Pentagon analyst who worked in the Office of Special Plans. She witnessed how Scooter Libby and Douglas Feith from Vice President Cheney’s office distorted intelligence in order to make the case for war in Iraq. In the film, she worries about the impact of this “coup” on her fellow soldiers.

Some of them amuse “typical” civilian families by flying their fighter jets in death-defying tricks in the sky–at air shows. “Why do we fight,” Jarecki asks the aerial viewers. “Freedom,” “ideals,” “values”, respond these “average” Americans.

Jarecki doesn’t mention the “e” word. However, empire is Chalmers Johnson’s theme. The historian and former Cold War promoter (Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire) places the imperial context over Bush’s motives. “We are the New Rome,” Johnson declares. “That’s their strategy: on 9/11, they began to implement it.”

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain also comments. “We have, not an obligation to go out and start wars, but certainly to spread democracy and freedom, throughout the world.” How to accomplish this mission without fighting wars? The film implies that it is not possible.

“Why We Fight” intercuts the tragedy of Wilton Sekzer, a retired NYC cop and Vietnam vet who lost a son in the 9/11 attack, with shots of Iraqi corpses and destruction. Jarecki also inserts a story of a disaffected young recruit, alongside haphazard archival footage of WWII and Vietnam and sound bites from the makers of Raytheon’s weapons.

Ultimately, even the engaging wisdom of Johnson, Kwiatkowski and Vidal cannot make a selection of choppy sound bites into a cohesive movie. Power point on video has limits. Clarity gets lost.

Films need drama, so Jarecki uses Sekzer. As Lila Lipscomb mourned the loss of her son in Iraq in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” so too does Sekzer demand retribution. Put his son’s name on a 2,000-pound guided bomb — “In loving memory of Jason Sekzer.” The military told Sekzer they complied and dropped it on Iraq.

Later, Sekzer discovers that Bush lied about Iraq’s alleged Al Qaeda connection. In 2003, however, Bush told a reporter that “we’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved withSeptember 11.” Sekzer exclaims, “Well, if he [Saddam] didn’t have anything to do with 9/11, why did we go in there? I was mad. My first thought is: you’re a liar.” (“Democracy Now,” February 10, 2006)

The film omits references to the Bush Administration’s September 2002 National Security Strategy, a blueprint of post 9/11 intentions. Indeed, the Security Strategy paper answers the “why do we fight” question. “We will never forget that we are ultimately fighting for our democratic values and way of life. Freedom and fear are at war, and there will be no quick or easy end to this conflict.”

The Strategy emphasizes the US’ right to maintain 700 plus overseas bases and wage pre-emptive war. “The presence of American forces overseas is one of the most profound symbols of the U.S. commitments to allies and friendsTo contend with uncertainty and to meet the many security challenges we face, the United States will require bases and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia, as well as temporary access arrangements for the long-distance deployment of U.S. forces.”

Justifying pre-emptive war, which Bush waged against Afghanistan and Iraq, the Strategy insists “we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively againstterrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country”

President Bush asked for $439.3 billion for the 2007 defense budget, not counting $120 billion more for Afghanistan and Iraq, plus intelligence and nuclear weapons costs. A whopping $700 billion for the military-industrial complex!

“Their” wars are profitable. So why do “we” fight?

Lt. Col. Kwiatkowski believes “not enough people are standing up saying, ‘I’m not doing this anymore.'”

Eisenhower pleaded for “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” as the means to “compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Right now, we would settle for an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.

SAUL LANDAU is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Farrah Hassen is a Seymour Melman fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. She can be reached at fhuisclos1944@aol.com



SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.