East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Why We Fight: A farewell to arms [movie note]

Written and directed by Eugene Jarecki

Maybe those with longer experience of American history than I won't this as revelatory, but to me Why We Fight seems the broadest and finest of the antiwar movies of recent years. It's been labelled as propaganda, which it is even if as far as I can tell the name-callers only mean that it uses that most wickedly socialist of film techniques, montage. The lukewarm reviews for this suggest that the very idea of a movie stating its case, rather than dilly-dallying with pros and cons, is anathema to some. Did Dylan have to put with this? ("Love your record, Bob, but do you mind if we give Strom Thurmond a song?") From its title onwards, the movie is a rallying cry, all the more effective for its focus on selling its message, not itself to its audience -- and also for refusing to sell its audience to themselves.

It also helps that Jarecki realises the problem runs deeper than the current adminstration -- Eisenhower knew enough about the military to know when his boys were overstepping, but every president since then (barring perhaps Carter) has been all too willing to buy in to the war machine. Both parties in Congress have been inexorably and legally bought out, so that questioning any proposed military appropriation is like going hunting with Dick Cheney without a flakjacket. The section on media complicity is far from unique. What's distinctive is the subtlety of argument: it never says the U.S. invaded Iraq because the dreaded Military-Industrial Complex demanded it -- there are more general issues of hegemony at play. The thesis is that the war, and others like it, wouldn't have happened without it, and since you don't like the war, eliminating said Complex must be your demand.

The worst you can accuse Jacecki of is glibness: some of his music cues and juxtapositions are cheap ironies. But, some jabs at Bush's familiar gallery of rogues aside, they're never for laughs: this is that rare movie that's justified in its near humourlessness*. I don't see any of the contempt for everyday warmongers that's been alleged: he shows the new recruit not to reveal desperation or dysfunction, but to remind us what a soldier is -- a human being. And he shows us how entrenched the system is, how hundreds of thousands of people's livelihoods depend on serving it, and how this makes it so hard to break it up. Jarecki is enraged, but he knows you have to control this rage, harness it, to change anything. And he knows this change must come, and he wants you to fight for it.

*The one novel joke is at the expense of John McCain. Is McCain an Eisenhower? You'll forgive me if I'd like to see some more evidence before endorsing him.


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