Why We Fight: A Film Discussion Guide

Why We Fight is a documentary film directed by Eugene Jarecki. According to the DVD cover, this film “launches a nonpartisan inquiry into the forces—political, economic, and ideological—that drive America to fight.” Why We Fight was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005.

I’ve screened this film in my course on “Faith, Film and Philosophy.” Here are the discussion questions I developed for use in discussing this film:

  1. The DVD cover for this film claims that Why We Fight “launches a nonpartisan inquiry into the forces—political, economic, and ideological—that drive America to fight.” What does “nonpartisan” mean here? What is your evaluation of the claim that the film is nonpartisan?
  2. What did President Dwight Eisenhower mean by “the military-industrial complex” in his 1961 Farewell Address? What position does this film take on “the military-industrial complex”? What do the filmmakers hope to accomplish with this film?
  3. Images of children are used throughout the film—at the Blue Angels air show, at a fair where military technology is displayed and explained, in footage and still shots of civilians injured or killed, and so forth. What is the point of including these images of children?
  4. The woman officer who retired from service after working in the Pentagon recalled Eisenhower’s warning that we should “keep an eye on the military-industrial complex.” How is this to be done? Does the film present a plausible means of doing this?
  5. Why is this woman’s viewpoint used so frequently throughout the film? At one point late in the film, she says, “If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of America.” She also remarks that she would not let her own children volunteer for military service. Does this kind of statement strengthen the case for the film’s thesis? How might this sort of claim undermine her credibility?
  6. Near the end of the film, one commentator who appears frequently in the film remarks that the American military-industrial complex reflects a “constant struggle between capitalism and democracy.” He then says, “Clearly, capitalism is winning.” An important task of philosophers is to clarify terms used in arguments. What does this commentator mean by capitalism? What does he mean by democracy? What form of economic theory might be more conducive to democracy, according to this commentator? Is this plausible?
  7. Is there any president from the past 50 years who is not shown in this film? What sort of significance could this have?
  8. What is an ad hominem argument? What examples of ad hominem reasoning are there in this film? How might the director have developed the basic thesis of this film without resorting to ad hominem attacks?
  9. Do you find this film convincing, on balance? If so, what is most compelling about it? If not, why not? What counter-arguments are considered in this film? Are these presented in a convincing way?
  10. One analyst suggests that when recruiting men and women for military service, “we appeal to self-interest”; then we put recruits “in a situation that is based on self-sacrifice.” What does this analyst mean? Is there a contradiction here? Is the analyst right? How does his point contribute to the basic thesis of the film?
  11. Would it be unethical for an investor to purchase stock in a company like Haliburton? What sort of answer would you expect from the filmmaker? What do you think? Explain your answer.
  12. What is your evaluation of the quality of this film? What factors, would you say, influenced the selection of this film for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance 2005 Film Festival? Why is this film rated PG-13?
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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking.

9 Responses to Why We Fight: A Film Discussion Guide

  1. cam says:

    I saw the WWII era film, but have not seen the current film.

    I believe it can be argued that we have gone to war generally to protect our interests – specifically our citizens from death at the hands of our enemies – and the *result* is to liberate others from totalitarianism regimes.

  2. Tom Pevorus says:

    I think this film carries some merit, and seems to be of liberal/ partisan opinion, yet if the footage and interviews are acurate and honest it’s hard to ignore its point. I never viewed the previous film mentioned, but would like to. I see similarities in wars in that our reasons outwardly are based on noble causes to liberate others from nazism, communism, racism, antisemitism, and all threatening world dictators, all of which motivate patriotism and enlistment. But what if the motivation in todays wars were to have our sons and daughters fight for the big corporations that supply the war effort, but later greatly benefit by rebuilding the enemy and making inroads by building thier corporations while our country builds permenant military bases against the will of the people all to benefit the elites. This process can be repeated over and over. All you need is a noble cause for the people to get behind. What is left is a gigantic bill for us, our children, and grandchildren to pay for in taxes for the rest of thier natural lives. This isn’t capitlism, this is what is ment by the military industrial complex which gives the real capitalism a bad name and,is intentionally confused with by liberals for political benefit. The real capitalism is the original American dream to move to this country with nothing but a dream or idea and have the freedom to succeed beyond your wildest dreams without government interference. Todays both liberal and conservatives have a destorted view of politics and seem to go too far in one direction or the other. They will never work for the good of the people in thier present form. Both are bent on controling the people, not protecting the peoples rights. This is exactly opposite of the intentions the country was based on. We appear to have gone by way of the Roman Empire and sadly will end up the same way.

  3. Shayne says:

    What is the difference between military from now and before?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Can someone please tell me how these films differ? What are the different reasons why “we fight?”

  5. Andreas says:

    Saw an interesting documentary about Why We fight that you defenately shouldn´t miss, check it out here: Why We Fight Documentary

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  7. cam says:

    “I should add a new Discussion Guide question”

    That’s questionS – and your students are going to hate me now!

    Yes, there are different approaches to the question of why we fight in each film.

    But in each case what we are fighting against is evil. Not perceived evil. Evil. In a time when the concept of absolutes is fading away I believe it’s important to be able to look past the motivations, which are many, to what we actually fight against.

    The review you noted by Dan Schneider was a good reminder of the earlier series I’d seen quite a few years ago.

  8. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Cam,

    It can hardly be accidental that the more recent documentary uses the same title used for the series of seven films directed by Frank Capra during WW2. The differences, however, are stark. They explain “why we fight” in very different ways, and the new documentary by Jarecki is something of a parody of the Capra series. Both the newer film and the older series can be seen as persuasive propaganda film with competing objectives. There is some irony here, since Eisenhower was the leader of the Allied powers during WW2, and yet comments during his farewell address as President are used in the new documentary to set the stage for a completely different gloss on war.

    Thanks for mentioning the Capra series. I should add a new Discussion Guide question: Compare the Jarecki film Why We Fight with the Frank Capra series of films by this title, produced during World War 2. Is it a coincidence that Jarecki uses the Capra series title for his own film? How does Jarecki’s film differ from the Capra series? Why were the Capra films made? What persuasive objectives did they have in view? Compare these with the persuasive objectives of Jarecki’s film. If Jarecki was thinking of the Capra films when making his own film, why would it be fitting to think of his film as if it were titled “Why We Really Fight” (i.e., the reason reason why we fight)? Consider especially the comment one interviewee makes in the end of the film, a retired Pentagon worker, saying that America’s reasons for fighting have changed and that she would not let her children enlist in the military now. How does this attitude differ from the attitude expressed in the Capra films? Have the reasons why we fight changed during the interval between WW2 and now?

    The Capra films are available on DVD here and here.

    Here are some sights of interest about the WW2 series Why We Fight:

    International Historic Films

    Google Videos List

    Review by Dan Schneider

    Entry at Film Reference, including good bibliography

  9. cam says:

    My first thought when I saw the title was of Frank Capra’s series “Why We Fight” made beginning in 1942.

    A very interesting look back for one who was not yet born.

    I suspect the answer to why we do fight has not really changed that much even if we were to go back five years or fifty years or five hundred years.

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