Adam Ash

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

That old military-industrial complex (which Eisenhower originally called the congressional-military-industrial complex)

War - What is it Good For?
'Why We Fight' an in-depth look at war
by Glenn Whipp

NYPD cop Wilton Sekzer lost his son, Jason, a 31-year-old vice president at Cantor Fitzgerald, when Tower One of the World Trade Center fell in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Sekzer wanted to honor his son's memory and began e-mailing various branches of the armed forces to have Jason's name placed on a bomb that would be dropped on Iraq. For Sekzer, a Vietnam vet, it was a request spurred by vengeance as much as memorialization.

After a flurry of e-mails, Sekzer's request was granted. He received several photos of the 2,000-pound ordnance and was told it was dropped on targets associated with Iraq's Republican Guard. Sekzer felt better until months later, when he heard President George W. Bush say there was no link between Osama bin Laden and Iraq. Sekzer felt betrayed.

Sekzer's story is among many heard in Eugene Jarecki's documentary, " Why We Fight ," a sobering look at the unimpeded growth of the American war machine in the past half-century. Jarecki won the Grand Jury Prize last year at the Sundance Film Festival. But the award that really meant something to Jarecki came later when Sekzer gave him the flag that the city of New York had presented him after his son died.

"Now my son has been honored," Sekzer told him.

The film opened last Friday in very limited release. It is not currently playing in theaters in Boulder.

Over a recent lunch, Jarecki talked about why we fight and other topics:

Why Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address is the starting point of this film

"When Eisenhower left office in 1961, he warned America in his presidential farewell that '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.'

"This was a retired general and a Republican talking. And it's fair to say Eisenhower's fears have come to pass."

Why Eisenhower would be alarmed if he were alive today

"He would say that at a time when you see America printing textbooks and building viaducts in Iraq, even our own children are undereducated and drowning in the streets of New Orleans, that you have a problem here with our priorities. The balance of how money is spent in this society is broken and out of line with our democratic ideals."

Why it wouldn't have mattered if Sen. John Kerry had beaten President Bush in 2004

"The forces that drive my film don't care who is in the White House. They know the phone number. Republicans don't own the copyright on war in America. The Democrats did not object to the war in Iraq; they were surprisingly supportive of it.

"It's a much deeper problem than one particular party. All people in public life face such an exorbitant cost of running for office and staying in office that they are beholden to special interests equally. And the money that is finding its way into the democratic process is eroding the very core of that democratic process."

Why the Pentagon and military families cooperated with the making of the film

"I think many military families are aware that people in uniform are paid a fraction of what their colleagues in the field who were for private contractors are paid. There's an enormous amount of resentment in the military right now over the exorbitant salaries paid to Halliburton employees.

"We have such an improper allocation of public funds, so disproportionate toward the military and away from other areas. The tragedy is where families rely on jobs from the defense sector and there aren't other jobs in fields like infrastructure, health and education. That's the problem. We can't keep laying pork money into districts so we can deal with the short-term.

"And I don't think there's a military family out there that will look you in the eye and say, 'I want money to continue to be wastefully spent and crookedly paid to the defense industry so that I can keep my livelihood.' "

Why do we fight?

"Ask most any American and you get an immediate response: We fight for freedom. It's almost frightening in how knee-jerk the response is. But if you ask people to dig deeper, the answers become more complex. Bottom line: We fight because we're in the business of war."

Why we shouldn't become disillusioned

"History is always changing, and it's often darkest before the dawn. More and more, the public has to assert its voice and become knowledgeable and become engaged. And I think you see that happening. After Hurricane Katrina revealed to us the extraordinary misplacement of priorities of an administration that is so favoring private interests, there was an enormous outcry, and for the first time you saw the Bush administration backpedaling.

"The problem is that the public does not express its will loudly enough. We've got to get louder, more engaged and more unified and break out of this insane partisanship that has taken over our country. We can't expect quick results. This system has accumulated over a very long time and it's not going to go away overnight."


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