February 13, 2006

Why We Fight

OK, I promised I'd review Why We Fight after I saw it, so here's the scoop. Overall, I liked it, but I can't recommend it unreservedly because it's definitely a propaganda flick. It's propaganda in support of my own opinions, pointing out real, serious problems that I think need to be dealt with. But I don't much care for propaganda in general.

The movie basically starts off with the contents of the theatrical trailer, which you can see if you click the "Why We Fight" link above. It's got some great footage of Eisenhower's farewell speech, warning us of the dangers of accumulating power in the military-industrial complex, and an interview with Senator John McCain. The power of companies like Halliburton is way, way out of hand when they can basically dictate their terms to the government without even completing a competitive bid process. Add to that the fact that some of their employees are also working for Washington think tanks and consulting with the Pentagon, and involved with "massaging" intelligence information that's used to decide foreign policy. The first third of the movie is awesome, makes a lot of good points, and was really thought-provoking.

It really turned me off when they started discussing the accuracy of satellite-guided bombs. They suggested that about 80% of casualties in the initial bombing of Baghdad were civilians, and talked about how inaccurate those bombs really are. I don't know how true that is. I imagine it's very possible that a high percentage of initial casualties were civilians. Saddam probably had all his guys in hiding by then. I don't know. But just because there was a high civilian casualty rate doesn't necessarily mean the bombs missed their targets. Then they started talking about how inherently unreliable computers are, and how so many people have lost data on their home computers due to software crashes. What does that have to do with anything? If you think computers are inherently unreliable, you should probably avoid flying in modern airliners. And try Linux sometime.

Then they put something like this on the screen: "of fifty precision bombs dropped on Baghdad in May 2003, not one hit its target." That's not an exact quote, the date range is probably inaccurate for one thing, I'm just going from memory. But it was just misleading, plain and simple. If the "target" was Saddam, and he wasn't in the building they were aiming at, that's a flaw in the intelligence, not in the technology. That led me to doubt a lot of the other information presented in the film.

The movie is trying to make the point that even "smart bombs" are really bad. Well, yeah, they're bombs. They are made for killing and destroying, and it's almost impossible to really know exactly what's inside the building a particular bomb is being aimed at. I don't like government propaganda which suggests that precision munitions are really good and only kill bad guys, 'cause that's not true either. But precision munitions are a hell of a lot better than carpet bombing, and generally the technology is pretty amazing, almost always hitting the target. And the technology protects our pilots too, they can fly really high and in cloudy conditions, avoiding anti-aircraft weapons. All bombing is horrible, but precision guidance technology is a good thing, because the alternative is even more horrible. Exaggerating the facts only hurts your credibility.

So... if you're against the war, and you want some propaganda to reinforce your rightous anti-war feelings, you'll enjoy this film. If you're not against the war, there's a lot of good information in this film that might change your mind. But check the facts - there's a little exaggeration, and a lot of emotional appeals reminding you that war is bad. In case you had forgotten or something.

I would have liked to see more facts, more details, more evidence supporting the assertions, especially given the spin factor. Or better yet, eliminate the spin and present the information in as straightforward, unbiased a manner as possible. I think the filmmakers mostly tried to do this, but fell a little short of the mark. It was a lot, lot better than Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. But that's not saying much.


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