Why We Fight


A documentary by Eugene Jarecki produced in association with the CBC and winner of the 2005 Sundance Festival Documentary Grand Jury Prize

Video excerpts can be seen at 



This documentary keys to prophetic? warnings in Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell (to politics) speech, in regard to the dangers presented by the ‘military-industrial complex’.


It essentially recapitulates our own relatively-passive-bystander experiencing of the rise to power of corporate business interests which are, in a sense, ultimately led by the military industries which furnish the powerful weaponry that ensures the continuance of power-based economic colonisation that is currently being heralded as the rise of the ‘US Empire’.


The military-industrial complex is presented as a synthesis of four factors, not simply the US military in collusion with the US weapons-producing industry, but also involving Congress where the ‘people’s representatives’ sustain their own power by ensuring the continuance of employment that comes through massive military spending.  The fourth factor is the ‘Think Tanks’, political-military strategist groups that do not have to answer to the public yet who are creating the strategies that are driving the political policies of government.


This whole system of political-economic-social organization operates on ‘faith’ in the integrity of the ‘people at the top’.   It is a ‘leader-follower’ system wherein the ‘followers’ simply do what they are told by a ‘higher authority’ and judge themselves, as they are judged by others, on the effectiveness of carrying out their respective missions and accomplishing their specified objectives.  Nowhere is this mechanical nature of this manner of organizing more blatant and obvious than in the military where there is great pride in ‘doing one’s duty’ without ever questioning or second-guessing the motives (overt and covert) and/or the wisdom of the commanding authorities.


The documentary shows how the ‘ethic’ (non-ethic) of ‘ends-justifies-the-means’ is not only embodied in the political philosophy of the day and used to justify ‘pre-emptive strikes’ and ‘collateral damage’, but is also operative in the manner in which ‘consent is manufactured’ to wage war.


In this regard, the documentary reviews the experience of Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski ( ), who retired from her military commission after working in the Pentagon and witnessing the political corruption of military intelligence.  Kwiatkowski observed that politicians were working together with military-industry suppliers and with the military establishment to provide the justification for their political-business strategies.  Their political ‘ends’ were thus quite literally ‘justifying the means’, the ‘means’ in this case being hugely expensive armaments and more recently, services to the military that were formerly part of the military duty (e.g. everything from peeling potatoes and cleaning latrines to the constructing and maintaining of accommodations).


While Eisenhower’s remarks may have seemed far-fetched to some, what we know today about the connections between Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root and politicians (the US Vice President, Dick Cheney), coupled with observations such as those of Kwiatkowski, brings to life the imagery of business executives working with high ranking soldiers in order to get to them to the fancy tools that they will be able to play with, to conduct the military operations of their dreams with, while politicians such as Cheney go through the revolving door from big government that influences huge purchases to big business that profits by huge sales, getting richer and more powerful as they come full circle.


This is a well-made documentary that not only shows how the military-industrial complex has been taking over control of US political-economic-military process, but also how blind trust based submission to authority, particularly strong in intensely nationalist countries such as the US, nourishes this state of affairs.


There is thus another level of inquiry required here, that would expose how it is that western-minded people give themselves up to authority so readily and so fully, and it is this level of inquiry that I have personally been working on for some years with a small circle of similarly interested others.


What we have found is very basic and it relates to the North American Natives complaint against their Euro-American colonizers in that ‘property’ is an unnatural ‘political object’ that does not exist in nature, that is secured and sustained by military force.  To divide the world up into ‘independent nations’ each with their own ‘central governing authority’ that is committed to pursue the self-interest of the nation-state is thus a kind of ‘madness’ (in the sense of un-naturallness) that inevitably leads either to war or to submission since there is no way that multiple participants in a common, shared hostspace (our global living space) who independently pursue their own private agendas are not going to ‘bump into’ one another.


How are these multiple ‘independent’ pursuers of their own self-interest that operate within a common space going to organize so as to resolve conflict?, ... since there is bound to be plenty of it.   The organizing approach has already been established in western institutions in business and government, and it is by way of submission to a central authority.   This is the foundational point, the question of how to architect the ‘central authority’ that everyone must submit to is a separate question (e.g. ‘democracy’, ‘dictatorship’, ‘constitutional monarchy’ etc.).


If we want to retain our notion of ‘independence’ (our ‘freedom’ in a highly UNNATURAL sense; i.e. the dynamics of Nature are innately INTER-dependent) and the ‘right’ to pursue personal self-interest, then it follows LOGICALLY that we must also accept submission to central authority, since control by central authority is needed for keeping the flock of ‘independent individuals’ moving in the same direction.  


If we see ourselves as ‘independent’, it follows that our social organizing method is going to involve central authority with its ‘leader-follower’ mechanics.   This is not at all like Nature’s social organizing method, otherwise known as ‘self-organizing’.


The subservience to authority is developed to an extremely high degree in the US military and in much of the US public, as Jarecki’s documentary brings out (the pilots who were given the job of dropping the first bombs on Baghdad were honoured that they had been chosen and proud that they had successfully accomplished their mission.   The ethical justification for going to war and and the deaths to civilians were entirely incidental to their way of thinking, and were the domain of the politicians and the generals.  Their job was to ‘follow orders’ and carry out their prescribed missions fully and effectively.).


As far as ‘ground soldiers’ are concerned, in those eras where military recruits are drawn disproportionately from the poorer, less-influential segment of the population, the overall public is relatively insensitive to its soldiers being ‘cannon fodder’ for the goals and strategies of the military-industrial complex (in the US’ war in Vietnam, it was the draft ‘lottery’ that brought in the sons of influential citizens that incited backlash that turned the tide of public opinion against the war).  (The implication is that the people ‘at the top’ in US society are relatively well indemnified from the downsides of misguided government strategies, and it is the people ‘on the bottom’ that must pay the price, as was evident in the Katrina disaster in New Orleans and in the war in Iraq.)


So, even if many of us would reject this submission to authority which is foundational to the ‘power’ of political leaders in the western world, where and when it appears that it being abused by politicians and business, there is no easy way to do so since it is locked-in institutionally and protected by law.


Meanwhile, few are convinced that politicians have a monopoly on wisdom and understanding and there is a split in the population with respect to how we understand social organizing processes.  Not everyone supports the absolute trust-based ‘leader-follower’ submission to authority as the basis of organizing collective action.


How the populace splits in its understanding of organizing process can be visualized through the metaphor of the sailboat versus the motor launch, and collectives thereof.


The sails and rudder of the sailboat are the means by which the vessel engages with the dynamical hostspace it is inclusionally situated in.  It acquires its power from the hostspace and the dynamic of the hostspace inductively actualizes and shapes its behavioural potentials.   The dynamical habitat not only inductively actualizes and shapes individual behaviour, it orchestrates collective behaviour as in the flock of wildgeese and school of fish.   This organizing scheme is embraced by Native Americans for their community social dynamics.


Community leaders (elders, chiefs) in the native tradition are like ‘sailing masters’.   When the masters are out there in the elements, the apprentices are NOT simply ‘cloning’ their moves in a leader-follower mechanics.   Like the collective of sailboats, the group may be trimming sail and tacking and jibing ‘together’ but there is no ‘leader-follower’ practice going on here.  All participants are learning the practice of harmony-sustaining attunement to the dynamical hostspace they are included in.  As applies to dynamics in our general real-life experience, we are all co-contributors to our community hostspace dynamic, and like the wildgeese, we can learn how to let our harmony-sustaining attunement to our collective dynamic inductively actualize and shape our individual behaviours.   This type of organizing is termed ‘self-organizing’.


We are decidedly NOT ‘independent’ in this self-organizing mode of community/social organizing.


In order to become ‘independent’, we must strip away the sails and rudder which are the means by which we FEEL engagement with the hostspace dynamic so that we can go directly to our individually desired LOGICAL destination without FEELing engagement with, and attuning to, the hostspace dynamic we are included in.  Rather than drawing our power from the hostspace dynamic, we strap a powerful engine on our stern that will drive us directly to our personally desired destination (our ‘desired future’) without having to derive our power from the hostspace we are included in.   We become like one of those sleek motor launches that cuts through the weather and imparts dissonance to its hostspace by riding roughshod over it (i.e. it leaves a huge ‘wake’).


‘Independence’, then, is achieved by abandoning our faculties for engaging and attuning to the common hostspace dynamic we are all included in, each in our own uniquely situated way.   When we see ourselves as ‘independent’ we no longer have to bother to rely on our attunement to the community dynamic we are included in for the source of our power, we can acquire it by another ‘logical’ route, by participating in the leader-follower ‘submission to authority’ mechanics within a crony group of other ‘independent’ participants.  Thomas Mann describes this leader-follower mechanics in Mario and the Magician, a commentary on rising fascism in Europe in the 1920’s and 30’s;


“The capacity for self-surrender, he said, for becoming a tool, for the most unconditional and utter self-abnegation, was but the reverse side of that other power to will and to command.  Commanding and obeying formed together one single principle, one indissoluble unity; he who knew how to obey knew also how to command, and conversely; the one idea was comprehended in the other, as people and leader were comprehended in one another.”


So, the metaphorical collective of independent ‘power-launches’, for its organizing schema, is left only with the leader-follower device of submission to authority, since it is has stripped away (or at least suspended use of) its ‘sensitive fins’ that serve for engaging with and attuning to the dynamical community hostspace it is included in.  


Our understanding of social collectives can thus be through either or both of these two types of visualization, ... (a) as the collective of sailboats where there is no leader-follower based organization but where there is ‘self-organizing’ as in nature which utilizes the orchestrating powers of the dynamical hostspace we share inclusion in, ... and (b) as the collective of power-launches that has opted for pure abstract ‘independence’, the right to pursue personal logical self-interest and drive directly towards one’s personal desired destination, an abstract ‘desired future’ that ignores what is happening along-the-way, to the quality of the common, shared livingspace dynamic when everyone is playing the same loose-cannon-ball game.  The followers of this rational notion of organization logically fall back on ‘leader-follower’ mechanics to deal with the conflict that arises.


The native warrior, for an example of the alternative way of understanding social organizing, is not a participant in a leader-follower mechanics, but participates jointly within the community collective in the manner that the sailor does, letting the dynamic of the hostspace inductively actualize and shape his individual behaviour as it shapes the collective behaviour, ... which merely gives the appearance of a leader-follower mechanics, the actual process being one in which the individual moves relative to the common spatial-relational dynamic in which he is uniquely situationally included.


Coordinated behaviour within a social collective does not have to come from leader-follower mechanics.  Like the wildgeese and fish-schools equipped with wings or fins that sense engagement with a common hostspace dynamic, the participants in a natural collective can allow their behavioral potentials to be empowered, actualized and shaped by the common hostspace dynamic in which they are included.   As human beings we do this even if our organization is described in terms of leader-follower mechanics.   Thus there is still some ‘native warrior’ in us that would have our behaviour inductively actualized and shaped by the community hostspace dynamic we are included in, regardless of our sworn commitment to the leader-follower mechanics of submission to authority as constituted by a democratically elected political central governing authority.  We can feel which way the wind is blowing and where the currents are taking us and we naturally want to trim our sails and adjust our helm according, rather than passively taking a ride with the masses on a huge motor launch called ‘the Titanic’.


Again, the documentary Why We Fight observes that the leader-follower culture of submission to authority plays a key role in our rising social-political dysfunction (the lock-in of the dominating influence of the military-industrial complex), but does not further explore ‘from whence it comes’.


When one explores this question, it becomes clear that the ‘logic of mutual exclusion’ (‘independence’ of objects) leads directly to an understanding of organizing in terms of leader-follower mechanics, while the intuitive understanding of our natural experience recognizes that this ‘leader-follower mechanics’ is a reductionist abstraction wherein we abandon or suspend our capacity for letting our behavioural potentials be inductively actualized, powered and shaped by the dynamical hostspace in which we are included, a self-organizing that implies a logic of mutual inclusion’.


Intuitively, we do not trust the blind leader-follower mechanics that makes of us passive passengers on a profoundly insensitive, destination-oriented ‘Titanic’, yet it has become the preferred way of organizing in our society, by acquiring and imposing power in a leader-follower mechanics.   This is the deeper insight into Why We Fight.


The documentary concludes that the only way out of our predicament is to ‘speak out’ more than we have been.


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