I’ve had the opportunity to see a number of excellent documentaries the past few weeks, and I wanted to share the titles of two of them with my Thought Candy readers, in case anyone else might be interested.
One especially powerful film has been Why We Fight, a 2005 documentary about the rise of the U.S. military-industrial complex.
This movie was advertised on a DVD copy of An Inconvenient Truth, (the Al Gore film about climate change), which was how I discovered the movie exists. I was very fortunate that the Durango Public Library owns a copy of Why We Fight, which meant I didn’t have to fill out an Inter-Library Loan request. Viewing this film meant a simple walk to a library shelf.
My son-in-law moved in a month ago, and will be staying until he finds a new place to live, and he watched part of this movie with me. So did his six-year-old daughter, Shelby, who was with us that weekend, though she mostly colored and played with her tennis shoes. My sister was also with me that night, and she watched the entire film with me.
Later, after a very busy weekend of taking Shelby swimming, and park visits, and impromptu lunches with big groups of friends, I found myself awake late Sunday night, and put this movie back on. I watched all of the deleted scenes, then each special feature, and then watched the entire movie again with the director commentary on.
(I love it when movies come with director commentary options — I get addicted to them, and can watch them repeatedly. The director commentary for the 2007 film 3:10 to Yuma is a particular favorite.)
President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously coined the phrase “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address to the nation, in 1961 — but he originally wrote, “military-industrial-congressional complex” in his speech. He deleted the word “congressional” because he didn’t want to damage his working relationship with Congress, by seeming to insult them right before he left office. But Eisenhower’s speech was prophetic, frightening in its truth, and we are now living in the nation he warned we would create.
Why We Fight is a hard movie to watch. Anything that examines why the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 brings up so much horror that despair surges through me, overwhelming despair. I would tell you this film made me sob, but that doesn’t feel accurate, because this movie hits me in a place that is so full of pain, it’s beyond tears.
It’s not news to anyone that President George W. Bush and his administration lied to Congress and the American people, that the administration manipulated the country into invading a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
But there were pieces of history in the film Why We Fight that I’d never been exposed to before, and the movie held me riveted.
Unlike the Vietnam War, the American public was deliberately shielded this time around from seeing the pictures of women and children we’ve mutilated and destroyed with U.S. bombs, Iraqi elders and boys and small babies, young men and women attending school, so many of whom died when our so-called precision bombs landed on their homes, parks, and non-military buildings instead.
Of the 50 precision airstrikes the United States launched in the first six months of the Iraq War, not one hit its intended target. Despite all the administration’s claims (at the time) to the contrary.
To me, this movie is an example of the truest form of patriotism, when people are willing to see — really see — what their country has done to the innocent citizens of another nation.
Why We Fight made me want to do something to help the Iraqi people one day. One day when such a visit might be possible, both from my economic standpoint today, and from the continuing warring and fighting in Iraq we see on the news every evening. Like Vietnam in the ’60 and ’70s for my husband’s generation, the horror of what was done in Iraq was done on my watch, during my time alive as a citizen of the United States. Many American citizens went to Vietnam after the war, to build schools, to provide prosthetic limbs for bomb victims, to give free medical care, or even purchase artistic tools like canvas and paint to allow Vietnamese people to make art.
Those Americans tried, in whatever way they could, to say, “I am sorry. I could not stop this senseless war. What is broken is shattered, and can never be returned to what it was before the invasion. But I never forgot your humanity, your babies and children being destroyed along with you, and I carry this terrible guilt. You’re not responsible for healing my guilt, but I’m responsible for trying, in whatever way I can, to say I am sorry.”
So if I ever move to Iraq, live in an Iraqi community, wear a headscarf, attend mosque, volunteer in a school or youth program, you’ll know why. To me, I am all people — I am the bombers who dropped every bomb, the U.S. citizens who cheered for the war, the White House administration who lied to the public, the military officials who knew they were being lied to but still went along with the war, and the innocent people who found themselves sitting in kitchens and gardens, nurseries and hospitals, while bombs rained down on their heads.
I highly recommend Why We Fight to everyone. It’s an excellent film, and it’s won many, many awards.
I was also able to watch a PBS Frontline documentary yesterday, a 2009 film titled Poisoned Waters.
This film focuses on Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, which are both in extremely critical condition due to pollution. In the case of Chesapeake Bay, animal waste from factory farms is being dumped into the water, at larger and larger rates every year, creating aquatic areas known as dead zones where NOTHING can live.
Dead zones are as hazardous to human beings as they are to plant and animal life, and the dead zones in Chesapeake Bay continue to grow and spread, killing everything in their path.
In Puget Sound, the problem is also industrial waste, but not from industrial agriculture — this pollution is from the industrial waste from Boeing, the aircraft manufacturing company. Boeing has dumped so much industrial waste into the Duwamish River, which feeds directly into Puget Sound, that the plant and animal population of the Sound has absorbed deadly amounts of PCBs.
A PCB is a polychlorinated biphenyl, a synthetic organic chemical compound of chlorine attached to biphenyl. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)
PCBs cause cancer, and they were banned in the United States more than three decades ago.
PCBs continue to stream into the Sound though, both from the sediment in the Duwamish, as well as in runoff water from Boeing. There is such a high concentration of PCBs in Puget Sound that the orca population, the killer whales that live in the Sound, are dying off. In 2009, when this movie was made, there were only 86 orcas left alive in the Sound. They give birth to malformed or stillborn calves, the adults have toxic levels of chemical waste in their tissue, and many that survive into adulthood die young from cancer.
Worse than all of this industrial waste, however, in both the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, is stormwater runoff from cities and suburbs. The film’s examination of stormwater runoff was the most harrowing, as urban/suburban sprawl — (unchecked development, the spread of strip malls, concrete jungles in roadways and buildings) — is leading to a pollution level that equals and/or surpasses the pollution of industrial farms and industrial waste. The film also showed several recent measures to help these two major estuaries by fighting against unchecked growth, or the urban/suburban sprawl that continues to devour farmland and wild habitat in this country — and what environmentalists have discovered is that, really, voters don’t give a sh*t about “saving wild animals” or “keeping our waterways clean.”
What voters care most about are increasing taxes and increasing time spent in traffic. Urban/suburban sprawl leads to major increases in both. Sprawl means increasing taxes, and increasing traffic jams.
So when environmentalists showed the public how unchecked growth is bad for people, then people voted against those things. In large numbers.
But when environmentalists showed the public pictures of dead zones and dying wild animals (even those beautiful orcas!) — people were like, “Shut up about nature already, and f*ck off. I don’t give a damn about hippies, saving the earth, or these mutating, cancerous, and dying fish. F*ck the fish. F*ck killer whales. What about my paycheck, huh? What about my bottom line?”
It makes me feel so distant from the human race, when I hear people say such callus things, when I know there are so many people who aren’t interested in the environment, who don’t care about poisoning/killing the wildlife — until someone points out that humans are also being affected by the toxic waste in the water. Or that our taxes are increasing every time we allow growth to continue unchecked, just so some corporate business can take advantage of cheap land prices far from a city center, and then force the city (the taxpayers) to pay to expand roads and infrastructure to accommodate the new building.
I’m grateful to all the conservationists, the environmentalists, who understand intuitively that what is bad for Mother Nature is also bad for human beings, regardless of the “what about me??” facts and figures. Because that’s always been my point of view.
And THANK GOD the environmentalists and conservationists continue to fight so many small, local battles, using the tools of human nature to protect the environment. Because I need a world with clean water, clean soil, clean air, and wild animals. We all need those things. Even if some of us look around at the world, and can only say, “I don’t give a flying f*ck about nature. I need to NOTpay more taxes. THAT’S what I need.”
Okay then. Thank God protecting the environment means both. Because the earth is in deep, deep trouble. And I have a news flash for those “f*ck the fish” people: human beings cannot survive if we kill the earth. And we’re doing a mighty find job of destroying the entire planet right now. Every year, it gets worse.
Conservationists are engaged in the fight of our lives. They fight for the fish, and the plants, and the crabs, and the frogs. And they are fighting, every one of them, for each one of us.