Director takes a peek under hood of U.S. war machine

TORONTO-Should Canadians be worried about the U.S. invading us for our water?

Eugene Jarecki doesn't laugh at the question, doesn't even smile as he describes his latest film. "Yes," he says without hesitation. "We talk about resource wars and we've talked about oil, we talk about land, we talk about wars that have been fought over centuries for everything from coffee to sugar to bananas to anything that at one time was seen as valuable."

Jarecki is the filmmaker behind Why We Fight, a chilling documentary about the history and future of the U.S. military-industrial complex and the U.S.'s shift from "a republic with democratic ideals to an empire with imperial goals".

Sitting in a room at the Hotel InterContinental before the film's Canadian premiere at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival-just after picking up the grand jury prize at Sundance-Jarecki (whose brother Andrew won the same Sundance prize for Capturing the Friedmans) sounds evangelical about the importance of using his film to provoke debate that will lead to genuine social change.

"If we took all the energy that we spend watching football on television and we spent it on the very desperate issues that we face as a people, I trust that democracy being what it is, that we would yield a better concept for how to go through this life," he says. "And then maybe we'd have time for football."

In his farewell address to the American people in 1961, U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower spoke of the importance of an "alert and knowledgeable citizenry", and Jarecki is hoping that's what his film will help create. It was in that same speech that Eisenhower coined the term military-industrial complex. Jarecki says American politics has shifted so far to the right since 1961 that today Eisenhower would qualify as a lefty, even by Democratic party standards.

After the release of his previous film, The Trials of Henry Kissinger (which won several awards, including one from Amnesty International), Jarecki was concerned that he'd made it too easy for audiences to dismiss Vietnam and other U.S. military actions as the work of one man. "I think it ran the risk of providing viewers a sort of easy villain, an easy scapegoat," Jarecki says. "I thought 'Next time, I really want to go beyond a single public figure and I want to look more deeply at the system itself, the system that employs that public figure.'"

So Jarecki set out to meet the people who make the system work-and the people who are the system-including key players in the Pentagon, the secretary of the U.S. air force, and likely presidential candidate Senator John McCain. He also follows the stories of two Stealth-fighter pilots, a new army recruit, and a New York City cop who lost his son in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and decided to honour him by getting his name painted on one of the bombs being dropped on Iraq. Jarecki even had an interview with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz lined up, but it was cancelled at the last minute when the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke.

Although most of the people he interviewed are Republicans, Jarecki-who boasts that he doesn't belong to any political party-is clear that his movie isn't about Bush-bashing. "It has to be emphasized that the copyright on war-making in America is not owned by Republicans. Republicans and Democrats in America make war equally, and if it isn't one administration, it's another."

When asked what surprised or disturbed him most about his research, Jarecki cites a statistic used in the film. "Of all the money that is spent on foreign affairs by the United States, 93 percent of it is spent by the Department of Defense and seven percent by the State Department. That tells you volumes about the emphasis in U.S.-foreign-policy thinking in terms of conflict resolution by peaceable or military means."

The suggestion that Why We Fight is a bit like a Michael Moore movie without the funny finally brings a smile. "You didn't find my movie funny? My mom said to me once after the Kissinger film, she said, "I wish you would make a feel-good film." I thought about that and I thought, 'When I feel like I'm being lied to and when I don't know where my life is heading, I don't feel very good.' So to me, to make a film that tries to get at the heart of the matter and get past the fortress of lies that separates us from what we should really know about, to me, if that's not a feel-good film, I don't know what is."