Monday, January 16, 2006

Sixty-four years ago Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, fully aware of the importance of troop morale, spirit and motivation, ordered Signal Corps Maj. Frank Capra to “make a series of documented, factual information films that will explain to our boys in the Army why we are fighting, and the principles for which we are fighting.” The result was a multi-award-winning seven-part series titled “Why We Fight.” In making it, Capra enlisted the willing aid and assistance of Hollywood actors and directors such as John and Walter Huston, Lloyd Nolan, William Wyler and George Stevens, plus the support of all the major studios.

Sixty-four years ago, as America was entering World War II against the 20th century’s axis of evil, such things were possible. The gap in years might as well be a gaping chasm when we look at the 2006 version of “Why We Fight,” with our country fighting a global war on terror against implacable Islamofascist foes.

Eugene Janecki’s “Why We Fight,” which garnered the 2005 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Award, will have its theatrical release on Jan. 20. It is the exact opposite of its namesake. At the film’s Web site we read the director’s answer to what is his film about? “The war in Iraq and the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war seem like a frightening new chapter in the history of United States foreign policy… since World War Two, America has been on a path toward empire.”

There’s more ideological boilerplate where that came from. In a March 2005 BBC interview, Mr. Janecki said he was astounded that 120 out of 150 Americans, asked why we fight, replied “for freedom.” The dumbfounded director then said: “It’s fine if people do want to feel that’s what we are fighting for, but you have to ask yourself what kind of open society we are living in with that consistency of response. I think it is a knee-jerk reaction. If you were living in a state-controlled society, would it be any different?” Even the Hollywood Reporter was constrained to state in its review that “it is necessary to accept Janecki’s premise that the Iraq war is a result of America’s imperialistic agenda in order to see corporate greed as the underlying cause.”

Mr. Janecki claims his film is objective. This is mere pretense. While Sen. John McCain, William Kristol and Richard Perle are offered up as balancing voices, their words and appearances are edited, shaped and spliced to support the film’s ideological premise. The same holds true for the “main characters” as they are billed: Wilton Sekzer, who lost his son on September 11; William Solomon, a man who joined the Army seeking financial security; Fuji and Tooms, pilots whose bombing mission to destroy Saddam’s bunker resulted in civilian casualties; a virulent war critic, retired Air Force Col. Karen Kwiatowski; and Anh Duong, the Vietnamese refugee who developed the bunker-buster bomb. They merely serve as attempts to make the veneer seem solid and credible.

The film’s thematic anchor is that favorite bete noir of the anti-war left, the so-called “military-industrial complex.” President Eisenhower used the phrase in his January 17, 1961 farewell address. It is interesting to note that during his tenure the country’s nuclear arsenal rose from 1,000 to 10,000 weapons, and that in a 1946 memo Gen. Eisenhower advocated closer ties between defense industries and the young Defense Department. His words were merely a warning, not prophecy. Ike knew full well that America’s military might was absolutely necessary to deter the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The stakes then were as high as they are now. Listen to his words from that same farewell address: “We face a hostile ideology — global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method… to meet it successfully (we must) carry forward steadily, surely and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle — with liberty the stake.” Sound familiar? Clearly Ike knew the answer to the question why we fight.

In the world of propaganda there is the term of Communist origin known as “agit-prop.” It is defined as “political propaganda disseminated through literature, drama, art or music.” For Eugene Janecki’s version of “Why We Fight” let us coin a new term, “docu-prop.”

John B. Dwyer is a military historian, author and Vietnam veteran who served in the 1/69th Armor and 1/14th Infantry in 1968 and 1969.

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