By Hannah Eaves
Following her conversation with James Longley about what the future might hold for Iraq, Hannah Eaves turns to Eugene Jarecki to discuss his documentary, Why We Fight, which addresses, in part, how the US ended up over there in the first place. She also asks what it is he admires in Dwight Eisenhower and Frank Capra.
Why We Fight takes for its jumping off point Eisenhower's remarkable farewell address. Do you remember when you first heard that speech?
It was during the making of my last film, The Trials of Henry Kissinger. I stumbled upon this speech by Dwight Eisenhower, his farewell address, in which he did something that I found absolutely jaw-dropping. I think never before and never since has an American president spoken with that kind of candor to the American public on a subject that important. Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address was really the catalyst for making this film. When we were making the Kissinger film, I knew that it would be the stuff of the next film I would make, the starting point.
You were making The Trials of Henry Kissinger when the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred. So you were already planning to make Why We Fight, which seems in many ways like a reaction to 9/11 and the consequent Iraq invasion.
The reaction to 9/11 in terms of the US military response, the idea that all the problems we face need to be solved with military force, served as a reminder when I was contemplating making a film about military-industrial forces in America. It was a reminder that those forces were still very much alive and well all around us, not only because we could see so many members of the current administration, for example, hailing from previous posts in the defense industry - there seemed to be such an cosy relationship between everybody in Washington and the defense establishment - but more because we were now seeing the potential product of that kind of cosy alliance. It's not so simple that you can say, "Well, because all those guys know each other, you'll have wars." But you can say that there is a certain culture that arises when you have this kind of relationship which influences how people think about, for example, the cost-benefit analysis of war. You find that there's sort of a tilt towards war coming out of Washington. Washington doesn't do the same kind of cost-benefit analysis that a mother or father might make if their son or daughter is going overseas.
But don't you think that the neoconservatives, above their links to the military and industry, have a moral and ethical frame work? In other words, they really believe that they're doing the right thing here?
Absolutely, that's one of the reasons you find representatives of the neoconservative line of reasoning in our film; people like William Kristol from The Weekly Standard, and Richard Perle and Ken Adelman, people who represent that side. They're given a great deal of time in the film to express the way that they view the world. William Kristol at one point says in the film, "People complain a lot about American strength and American arrogance, but the great threat, of course, would be the danger if America would withdraw from the world, would withdraw its forces as a policeman for good." Certainly William Kristol believes that America is a force for good, and a large part of our history would support that view. The problem, of course, is that there is a certain over-rightousness that can set in when a country starts believing that everything it does is right and nothing it does is wrong.
Dwight Eisenhower who, unlike William Kristol, is a hero of the battlefield, had seen war firsthand and then been a president. It was he who, more than almost anyone else, saw the danger of slipping down [towards] a kind of imperial superiority in the country, becoming a country that forgets the work-in-progress that is the human condition and starts to apply military solutions which are, afterall, so black and white. You either drop the bomb or you don't, there's no negotiation. He just saw that as a jeopardy to a more real and more textured understanding of the road that we should be on. He talks many times in the farewell address about things more textured than this military-industrial complex warning itself. One of them is that the very soul of a democracy could be imperiled by the very actions you might take to implement your will across the seas. That, in the name of security and trying to defeat my adversary, I may commit actions that blur the line between me and my adversary. There's a great danger in that.
That's where I think the neoconservatives may run the risk in their idealism. In having advocated a set of policies which may indeed bring democracy to Iraq - it's hard to imagine that you can drop democracy on a bomb from a B2 bomber - but it's possible that in the rubble of this tragedy the Iraqi people may find democracy for themselves and one can only hope for that happy outcome. But the danger is that, in going to war in the way that this administration did, with the encouragement of voices from the neoconservative movement, those voices may have sought to bring democracy to Iraq at the expense of democracy here at home. So you have to ask yourself, if you have to lie to your public to get them to go to a war to implement democracy, what type of democracy are you exporting?
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