Why We Fight: A Film Discussion Guide
January 13, 2010 9 Comments
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:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- Is there any president from the past 50 years who is not shown in this film? What sort of significance could this have?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?