Great political documentaries (No8) Why we fight

Dwight D Eisenhower is that rarest of rare things, a US President that is popular with both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans like him because he presided over steady economic growth combined with a strong foreign policy. Democrats like him because he was a moderate by todays standards, and in his final speech he spoke out against the military-industrial complex.

A President’s farewell address is normally a platform for him or her to warn the nation about future problems their successors might face. For instance, George Washington talked about the dangers of foreign entanglements and the malignant spirit of parties.

Eisenhower left office at the height of the Cold War in 1961 and therefore everybody assumed his address would focus on the Soviet threat. Instead Eisenhower concentrated on something he called the military-industrial complex. He argued that a huge military machine had been created in order to win World War Two, that forever entwined government with the private sector. Normally when a war ends the military is reduced as a result. However due to the developing Cold War with the Soviet Union, America’s military spending started to spiral out of control. Eisenhower warned against this and the threat that it might pose.

What makes these comments unusual is it wasn’t a radical conspiracy theorist saying this, it was the President. As well as being a Republican, Eisenhower was also the Allied military commander during World War Two. You don’t get any more establishment then that. Yet here he was on TV telling the American public that they should be worrying about the very people whose job it was to keep them safe and secure.

Today the military-industrial complex is larger than ever, and despite the ending of the Cold War it has continued to grow throughout the 21st Century. Why We Fight looks at the reasons for this and examines its role in the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In particular the outsourcing of many military contracts to Halliburton, the former company of Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Every year billions of dollars are spent devising new and ever more deadly ways of killing people, and huge corporations now exist who are dependent on the US government continuing to buy their products. For this to work we have to be at war with someone on an almost continuous basis, so these companies have a vested interest in lobbying politicians to support military action.

This relationship is part of the policy iron-triangle between big business, Congress and the bureaucracy, as each corner reinforces the other. At the heart of this is money and the sums involved are truly staggering. The film interviews a range of military and political figures, including John McCain who is quite open in his distaste for the influence that military contractors have on government.

With no end in sight for the conflict in Libya it’s been suggested that the US has already spent over a billion dollars in less than three months. Why We Fight is a useful examination of how we got to this position but sadly offers few answer about what we can do about it.

Here is the trailer for Why We Fight:

For a full list of great political documentaries please click here

About matthewashton

I'm a Politics Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. I specialise in the fields of American, British and media politics.
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3 Responses to Great political documentaries (No8) Why we fight

  1. I love this film. I got a chance to do this one with my class a few years back and it really had an impact.

    • I actually ordered it in a flurry of DVD buying expecting it to be the Frank Capra WW2 documentary. I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be something completely different but equally interesting. As a politics lecturer I talk a lot about the iron triangle and the military industrial complex so it’s always a good film to recommend to students.

  2. Pingback: Great political documentaries (No11) Taxi To The Dark Side | Dr Matthew Ashton's Politics Blog

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