Winner of the Grand Jury Prize last year at Sundance, Eugene Jarecki’s documentary analysis of our imperial war machine is considerably more sober and self-contained than Michael Moore’s. Jarecki, best known for The Trials of Henry Kissinger, juxtaposes a number of talking heads—smug members of the policy elite, assorted dissidents, a recent enlistee, and a Viet vet ex-cop whose son died in the World Trade Center—to give U.S. militarism a human face.
Just as Henry Kissinger appeared as a surprise force for reason in The Power of Nightmares, Dwight D. Eisenhower emerges here as the most enlightened of post–World War II American presidents—at least in his (oft repeated) warning regarding our “military-industrial complex.” These days, political scientist Chalmers Johnson notes, the complex is so ubiquitous as to be invisible. As retired air force colonel Karen Kwiatkowski observes, “We elected a defense contractor as vice-president.” By contrast, Senator John McCain is shown talking from both sides of his mouth and excitedly interrupting his interview to take Dick Cheney’s call.
Much of this is familiar stuff—which is to say, historically grounded. The title deliberately echoes the World War II propaganda films made by Frank Capra. Anyone who lived through the Vietnam War is familiar with the litany of official lies—although it’s always breathtaking to see footage of Cheney and Rumsfeld insisting on the existence of Iraqi WMDs. Moreover, generally uncompromising and simple enough for TV (or at least the BBC, which produced it), Jarecki’s film forcefully argues that the much abused word freedom cannot paper over the conflicts between capitalism and democracy.