Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Empire Strikes Back

Sure, there was BBQ. And fireworks. But what affected me most this fourth of July was what I did before the festivities ever began. Sitting down to review a film for DVDFanatic, I instead witnessed a polemic that colored everything else in which I participated that day (no, it wasn't the above Team America: World Police, although that is a fine film) and would continue to haunt me days later.

* * *

In Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning masterpiece, Shindler's List, Liam Neeson shares a dance with his estranged wife in a posh club. Last she saw him, he was a struggling business man. Now he is wealthy beyond either of their wildest dreams. How, she wonders, did he amass this wealth.

“There's no way I could have known this before, but there was always something missing,” he muses. “In every business I tried, I see now it wasn’t me that was failing, it was this thing, this missing thing. Even if I’d known what it was, there’s nothing I could have done about it, because you can’t create this sort of thing. And it makes all the difference in the world between success and failure.”

“Luck?” his wife asks.

“War,” he proclaims.

* * *

On January 11th, 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his final address as President of the United States. Customarily a time to reflect on an administration's successes, Eisenhower instead chose to use his last minutes before the American people to pass on a grave warning:

“Beware the military-industrial complex.”

In an extraordinary clarion call, this man who rose to become the most powerful military general in the country before going on to become President, warned his fellow countrymen that they ignored the rise of militarism in America at their own peril.

Eisenhower's words echo throughout the documentary, Why We Fight, a shell-shock of a film that uses the President's final address as a backbone of the film. Eisenhower feared the very entity that had sustained and groomed him throughout his life and felt that the money and focus lavished on the country's fighting forces was obscene when Americans' basic needs were going unmet.

Director Eugene Jarecki makes the link between Eisenhower's America and George W. Bush's America with shocking ease. But don't mistake this for a partisan attack piece. Far from it. Jarecki faults Democrats and Republicans alike and admittedly holds up Eisenhower, a two-term Republican as his paradigm. Jarecki is not after parties. He is after what he and many others see as a debilitating cancer eating away at the body politic.

What, the film literally asks, is this country fighting for? The robotic reply is always the same-—freedom. Really? Jarecki refuses to settle for pat answers. Whose freedom are we fighting for? Certainly not ours. The Iraqis? Sure, as a reason, it’s been given...but only long after the ruse of WMD's rang hauntingly hollow.

Jarecki is concerned that we always dip our wars in sweet tasting words like Liberty and Freedom. We wrap the flag around all our actions. It's far easier to say we must vanquish the evildoers than to ask the hard questions such as, did we do anything to bring this upon ourselves?

The CIA has a term which has gained prominence since 9/11: Blowback. Put simply, Blowback is the unintended consequences of foreign operations kept secret from the American public. These operations are kept secret so that when the retaliation comes, people will not be able to put it in context, connect the dots, or place cause beside effect.

Perhaps we could connect the dots if only we didn’t live in the “United States of Amnesia” as interviewee Gore Vidal states both humorously and incisively.

The United States of America has propped up dictators, assassinated heads of state, initiated wars, intervened in the sovereign affairs of other nations, and overthrown entire countries. Nearly every presidency has felt the need to commit unilateral acts to protect its own interests: Guatemala, Philippines, Laos, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, The Congo, Brazil, just to name a select few.

Today’s demon is yesterday’s friend. We have aided and encouraged the most brutal regimes, all to maintain our interests. Ironically, these same regimes have a predictable pattern of soon biting the hand that feeds them.

“The United States is the greatest force for good in the world.” John McCain says in an interview. “We have an obligation to spread democracy throughout the world.”

Is that what we're doing, Jarecki asks with this film? Democracy at the point of a bayonet? Save the world by taking it over? It doesn’t begin with the gun. First, we employ economic colonialism. We only use our guns when other counties fail to see it our way.

Capitalism is the expense of democracy.

When does America go from a force for good to a force for imperialism? Make no mistake, the film argues, while the shape may be different than those in the past, we are an empire.

In his farewell address, George Washington (noticing a theme?) warned of the danger of maintaining a standing army. He did not want the fledgling country to become like that of the Roman empire. In order to maintain what we have--the power, the clout, the prestige, the resources, the way of life--we must have standing armies and bases in foreign countries to put them on. Controlling our own land is not enough, we must be able to control the world. To do so, we must be it’s sole superpower.

We say we don’t use our military for conquest or domination. Don’t we, Jarecki asks? We have over 700 bases on every continent except Antarctica. Our garrisons encircle the planet. We currently occupy or squat in large parts of the Middle East--the lifeblood of our country’s energy.

Oil is indispensable. The U.S. consumes more oil than any other country. When you run out of it, your country...your army stops. And an army cannot be allowed to stop...not when it is this profitable.

We live in an era of permanent militarization. It was not always this way. Understandably, this country had to rise to meet the challenge of WWII. However, at the war’s end, instead of returning to our previous state of readiness, we maintained our full military might. After all, the iron curtain loomed.

Today, the U.S. spends more on defense than all other nations combined. The defense budget is far and away the largest portion of the national fiscal pie. This alone should be enough to give us pause. The thing that is truly disturbing, Why We Fight argues, is that our military is run, not for what benefits the country, but for what benefits defense corporations. Here’s where the film’s rubber meets the road. The Pentagon and military contractors are unquestionably in bed with one another other.

It is, quite simply, legalized corruption according to Jarecki.

And as their technology advances, the true state of warfare is lost--a reality made all the horrifying in the house to house battles in Baghdad. Technology has turned war into a video game where the enemy is not human beings, but objects on a computer screen.

The Military Industrial Complex is four fold, we are told-—the Military, the civilian Defense Industry, the Congress and the think-tanks. More than at any other time in our history, the people making the decisions and implementing policy have absolutely no accountability to the voter. (The country even elected a government contractor as Vice-President.)

All the while, these contractors are taking in billions of dollars in profits, profits paid by taxpayers. When war is this profitable, you’re going to see more of it. You will, if necessary, invent reasons to go to or maintain war.

Remember when the whole world, even the Arab world, was behind us, mourned beside us, was horrified along with us. How quickly we squandered that goodwill. Now thousands are dying, billions are being spent, and animosity and hatred against us is greater than it has ever been. What happened?

In it’s boldest, though hardly groundbreaking assertions, Why We Fight postulates that post 9/11 was used as an excuse for a very calculated and pre-developed foreign policy of world domination. It is established that the National Security Team discussed a preemptive strike on Iraq the day after the World Trade Center towers fell. Not that there was a shred of proof Iraq was involved. Not that there is a shred of proof nearly 6 years later.

Iraqi exit strategy? What exit strategy? There’s no need for an exit strategy when you never intend on leaving.

We may not like to think of ourselves as a militaristic nation, but if the shoe fits, we are doomed to wear it. What’s a few thousand dead kids if defense contractors are able to pad their purses?

We have been lied to in every major military escapade over the last 50 years, the film says. As a result, we live in very different, much more skeptical America than that of our recent ancestors. The country has never been so divided. No one knows who to believe or trust. Ask five people about the reasons we are at war and you will get five different answers. It used to be that if the military bugle called, you responded, without question, to defend your country. Today, when truth is hidden beneath a veneer of slick and patriotic lies, that response is not so immediate.

One retired Lt. Colonel who plays a prominent part in the film remarks, “I will not allow any of my children to serve in the United States military. If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of are helping certain policy makers pursue an imperial agenda.”

Wake up, this film chides. We have all failed to ask the right questions or hold anyone accountable. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. And we have not and are not being vigilant.

Nowhere is it written that America will go on forever.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, this sounds well worth seeing...didn't realize it covered so much. Thanks for the heads-up!

("An Inconvenient Truth" is worth seeing, too, btw.)

Daria : )

8:39 PM  

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