I will not defend Eugene Jarecki's Why We Fight as a documentary. On that count, I am not at all sure it is not a failure; not because it is agitprop, like Fahrenheit 9/11 (although it is), but because I do not know that it is entirely as rigorous as it needs to be in order to convince the audience of its arguments.

Not that it matters, because the audience for this film largely knows all of the facts that the film brings forth already, is already strongly opposed to neo-conservativism, and sees this as the most corporation-beholden administration in recent memory.

Basically, then, the only argument that the film will succeed or fail on is the basic point that America goes to war because war is profitable for those who keep the government in power. This is a view held by many leftists (including myself) already, and I do not know if the film will succeed in convincing anyone of any political stripe who does not already subscribe to it. I suspect that it will not, based on the reviews I've read. But as one who is completely sympathetic to the film and its aims, I found this to be a completely shattering film to watch, as emotionally engaging as anything I've seen in a theater in years, not because it tells me new things, but because of how effectively it told me things that I already knew.

The film takes as its cue President Dwight Eisenhower's farewell speech in January 1961, and the line in particular, "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." The argument goes that America was on a knife's edge in the years after WWII, and that as the country became increasingly militarized (we had no standing army prior to the 1950's), the war machine become so insanely profitable that the corporations which built that machine bribed their way into the federal government.

That the government (not just the White House, and not just Republicans) is full of men and women in the pockets of special interests and corporate lobbyists is beyond discussion. It's a fact of the Washington game, and only the most naive observer would dare to suggest otherwise. The notion that these same special interests can and have bought wars to increase their profits is a leap, but why not make it? Take the current situation in Iraq: the official rationale for war (Iraq's ties to al-Qaeda, WMDs) was a lie from the moment it was first spoken, the neo-conservative argument that we must democratize the Middle East to safeguard the world is being abandoned, and the farthest-left paranoia (such as Bush avenging Saddam's plot to kill Poppy) is amusing and kind of pathetic. Oil seems to be a minor concern, at best, and what does that leave? War-as-profiteering is, in a way, all that makes sense.

The problem is that film makes this claim, and some others, without backing it up. This is the great rhetorical failure of the agitprop genre. In this case, Jarecki is admirable in his mixture of right-wing (Richard Perle, Bill Kristol), centrist (John McCain) and left-wing (Gore Vidal, Chalmers Johnson) pontificators, but he allows them to say things that are appreciably untrue without calling them on it. In at least a few cases, I heard things that sounded very appealing, and also sounded very wrong. In particular, Vidal's claim that the Japanese were on the brink of surrendering before the A-Bomb seems...dubious.

In addition to suggesting why we fight, Jarecki goes and asks several people. Chief among them are the pilots who dropped the first bombs of Operation Iraqi Freedom, William Solomon, a young New Yorker who enlists in the army after his mother dies, and Wilton Sekzer, who lost his son in the 9/11 attacks. Sekzer's story is especially harrowing, as it is the microcosmic story of a man with absolute faith in the government coming to learn that they have lied to him. The scene in which he discusses this revelation upset me greatly, the hardest moment in a film that left me very, very upset, and very, very angry.

The third leg of the film is interviews with Iraqis, most of whom have no real idea why America is in their country (neither, for that matter, do the several average Americans we see throughout the film, although the single word "freedom" is invoked more in this country than in Iraq). One man, towards the end, launches on an angry tirade about how Imperial America is burning itself up in Iraq, and that if something doesn't change we will be the next fallen civilization. This sentiment is echoed throughout the film, and Jarecki hedges his bets with Eisenhower and Washington quotes to the effect that a strong standing military is incompatible with American democracy. The conclusion that the film ends on - one that, again, I agreed with before ever hearing of the film - is that as long as Americans willingly allow the military-industrial complex to operate unchecked, our country is not long for this world.

It seems willfully perverse to use the name of Frank Capra's superpatriotic series of propaganda shorts as the title of a film whose theme is the pending death of America. But the more I think, the more I like it; it reclaims patriotism for our side ("us" meaning something considerably narrower than The Left, in this case). For too long those of use who go into a blind rage at the actions of the Bush Administration and the wantonness of the military and military spending have been labelled as traitors and terrorist-sympathisers. But our rage is at the way they're treating our country and ruining our image and stealing our rights. We hate them because they are destroying America, and what could be more patriotic than that?