The Whys of War

By Rashmi Vaish

The retired Sunnyside NYPD veteran had seen firsthand the black smoke billowing from the towers as he made his way to Manhattan on the elevated tracks of the No. 7 train that fateful morning.”I was hoping against hope he wasn't there. But I knew he was,” Sekzer said as he recalled the moment he beheld the horrific sight. Jason Sekzer, 31, was vice president of operations in the offices of the financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center. Only 300 out of 1,000 employees of the firm working in the buildings survived, reports said at the time.Four years later, now featured in filmmaker Eugene Jarecki's award-winning documentary “Why We Fight,” Wilton Sekzer's eyes still reveal the pain of a father watching his son dying, knowing there's nothing he could do.”After 9/11 I wanted to achieve something that would stand as a legacy to my son,” he said at the Drake Hotel in Manhattan during a recent promotion for the film.”I felt the film went a few steps in that direction,” he said. “But I haven't given up. There will be more. I just don't know what right now.”Borrowing from the name of a series of seven promotional films director Frank Capra made from 1942 to 1945 on order from then Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, Jarecki's film uses as a launching point Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address to the nation in which he expresses his concern over America's “military industrial complex.””The film started with the question Capra asked, 'why we fight?'” Jarecki said, “and Eisenhower's address suggested a way of looking at the answer. I think America today is dependent on militarism, and Eisenhower was the one who saw it back then. I wanted to take (Eisenhower's) warning and apply it to today, a time when the country is using a disproportionate amount of national wealth on systems to fight the war on terror but that have not produced the results promised. National defense means much more than bombs – it means education, healthcare and infrastructure. It's a tragedy of priorities, and Washington is stuck in it.”While the film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, comes across quite clearly as being against the United States' presence in Iraq, it does so in a rather more politically correct way than “Fahrenheit 9/11,” giving all points of view equal footage without Michael Moore's in-your-face style.”Capra's films were made to remind Americans they were fighting for democracy,” Jarecki said. “The fundamental problem, as I see it, is that we have trampled all over our own democracy in an effort to give others democracy. If you have to have to lie to the people, it flies in the face of the very reason for our being there.”Interviewees range from U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), author Gore Vidal and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle to secretary of the Air Force James Roche, Commander of the Stealth Fighter Squadron Col. Richard Treadway and John S.D. Eisenhower and Susan Eisenhower, son and granddaughter, respectively, of Dwight Eisenhower.Central and interwoven in the documentary, though, are the views and stories of six people – Sekzer, also a Vietnam War veteran; U.S. Air Force Stealth fighter pilots Fuji and Tooms (nicknames – their real names have not been revealed); former Pentagon Middle East Desk officer Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski; U.S. Army new recruit Pvt. William Solomon; and Indianhead Naval Center explosives expert Anh Duong.In between all of these are the common people from across the country who give their own answers to “why we fight” – overwhelmingly, “freedom.”Fuji and Tooms were the pilots who dropped the first “smart bombs” over Baghdad, thus initiating the war in Iraq in 2003. Aware only much later that the weapons missed the intended target of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein and instead injured and killed civilians, the pilots are nonetheless proud of their role in the war. “How many times in a person's life does one get to fire the opening shots in a conflict that will liberate a people?” asked one in the film.Kwiatkowski, who spent more than 20 years in the Air Force and was in the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building Sept. 11, found herself at the helm of affairs when she was appointed to the Iraq Desk. But events, she said in the film, weren't what they were made to look like and she found herself having to leave. She now raises horses in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.William Solomon, perhaps most illustrative of the vast majority of enlisted men, joined the U.S. Army after his mother died, a time when he found himself unable to support himself financially. The Army would allow him to earn a living, pay off debt and pave the way for his further education, he said in the film. He shipped to Iraq in January 2005 to serve as a helicopter mechanic.Anh Duong, herself a refugee from South Vietnam who fled to the United States in 1975, understands well the ravages of war. Working at Indianhead's Air-to-Ground Explosive Center, she said, was a way to repay the soldiers who rescued her.Sekzer, who served a 13-month tour of duty in Vietnam, was all for the war after Sept. 11. In fact, he said in the film, he even sent out a request to the armed forces asking that his son's name be written on any piece of ammunition used in the war, a practice frequently adopted in honor of fallen soldiers during the Vietnam War. It was one of the ways, he said, of building a legacy for his son.The response to his request was overwhelming, he said, and a photograph of a bomb dropped east of Baghdad with the words “In loving memory of Jason Sekzer” written on it was e-mailed to him.But when President George Bush said in a news conference that he never implied a connection between Iraq and Sept. 11, Sekzer said he was furious. Revenge was his motive for supporting the war, he said, but now the government was telling him something different.But it was nothing new to Sekzer, who had come to the same conclusion years ago after the Vietnam War. “I knew we had been lied to,” he said in the interview. “9/11 was the same thing all over again.”Life has been tough for the Sekzers since 2001. Three days after Sept. 11 his wife was told she had breast cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy, he said. “It's been taken care of now,” he said, “but we're keeping our fingers crossed it won't come back.”In a day Sekzer described as “horrific” in May 2002, his daughter-in-law, who had been married to his son only eight months when he died, was notified that Jason Sekzer's remains had been identified by the medical examiner. “It was grieving all over again,” Wilton Sekzer said.Despite being Jewish and therefore required to bury his son the next day, he and his family opted to wait till more remains were recovered, Sekzer said. “We weren't going to have a funeral every time they find a part of his body,” he said. But they were not notified of any further recoveries and after the medical examiner announced that the process of identifying the remains from Ground Zero would take longer than anticipated, Sekzer said, they decided to bury whatever they had of Jason Sekzer.On June 3, 2003, two days before Jason Sekzer would have turned 33, he was buried in their family plot out in Long Island.”Two of the worst things I remember of my younger son Mark was the look on his face on 9/11 when he rushed into the house dreading to hear about Jason,” Sekzer said, “and the second was watching him carry the little funeral urn to bury with tears rolling down his face.”Ask Wilton Sekzer “Why We Fight” and he answers: “It's a combination of things. In part it's a willingness of America to go to the aid of those unable to defend themselves. There are political considerations and to some degree the military industrial complex or the power of the military to convince the people of America that something should be done about a situation or that there are reasons for being there. That's what America is all about.”