10 must-see war documentaries

In anticipation of Errol Morris’s documentary The Unkown Kown, shedding light on one of the architects of the Iraq war, former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, here are 10 Must-See Docs on Modern War.

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

Another film by Errol Morris, The Fog of War comprises of in-depth interviews with former US Secretary of Defence Robert S. McNamara, archival footage and various documents from his political career as well as his personal life. In the film, McNamara strikingly discusses the lessons he learned from his position as Secretary of Defence during a time of war. The film spans events from World War II, to the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Errol Morris once again artfully illustrates the ambiguity and complexity of his character, producing an unsettling documentary about war.

Hearts and Minds

Peter Davis’s controversial film looks at the conflicting attitudes of the opponents during the Vietnam War. Using as a point of departure General William Westmoreland’s statement about the different value placed on life by “an Oriental” and “a Westerner”, as well as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s use of the phrase “hearts and minds”, the film employs juxtaposition and footage of extreme scenes of violence and suffering in Vietnam, from the treatment of South Vietnamese political prisoners to horrifying images of the aftermath of napalm attack to raise questions about the power of discourse during war.

Farenheight 9/11

Michael Moore’s famous documentary provides an alternative and oppositional take to the Bush administration’s discourse after 9/11, offering a critique of Bush, the ensuing War on Terror, and its coverage by the media. Moore traces connections between the 9/11 attacks and the discourse proliferated by Bush and the media to create fear among the public and thus establish legitimacy for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Why We Fight

Eugene Jarecki’s film looks at the industrial-military complex in the United States, and raises the question of the military’s influence in American life and foreign policy. While focusing on the Iraq war, Why We Fight traces the history of the US industrial-military complex starting from World War II, and examines the role of the media in guiding the public towards accepting the country’s forays into war across the years.

Standard Operating Procedure

In Standard Operating Procedure, Errol Morris examines the incidents of torture and abuse perpetrated by US forces against suspected terrorists at Abu Ghraib prison. As the prison gained notoriety after the circulation of photographs of abuse of the suspected terrorists, their families, and innocent civilians, Errol Morris looks at abuse and torture but also adds another layer by addressing the film’s relation to the photographs, and the potential of photography to inform but also to misdirect.

No End in Sight

Charles Ferguson’s documentary offers a comprehensive look into the Bush administration’s conduct and processes of decision-making regarding the Iraq war. Juxtaposing decision-making in US with its consequences in Iraq, No End in Sight exposes the arrogance and ignorance among decision-makers and the devastating effects of a US military victory that plunged Iraq into disintegration and unrest while also causing a great number of American deaths and massive economic costs.

Taxi to the Dark Side

Alex Gibney’s Taxi to the Dark Side examines the US’s policy on torture and interrogation processes. Revolving around the torture and killing of an innocent Afghan taxi driver by American soldiers while he was held at the Parwan Detention Facility, the film provides an in-depth look into the use of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. Examining the way torture practices were proliferated after the 9/11 attacks as part of the War on Terror, Gibneytraces the changes in related US policy that allowed the use of methods like sensory deprivation, sexual assault, and waterboarding.

In the Year of the Pig

Emile D’Antonio’s In the Year of the Pig was produced during the height of the Vietnam war and advanced a powerful critique of the war by looking at its historical roots. A chronicle of the war, it combines archival footage with interviews of politicians, journalists, and military personnel. In the Year of the Pig constituted a controversial film in a critical historical moment, and remains relevant today.

The Most Dangerous Man in America

One of Dogwoof’s own, The Most Dangerous Man in America tells the story of Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon insider who in 1971 decided to challenge Nixon’s Presidency which, answering to neither Congress, the press, nor the people, consistently lied to the public about the Vietnam War. The film traces Ellsberg’s passage through trial procedures, Nixon’s persecution against him, and Ellsberg’s enduring determination to bring the truth to light and help bring an end to the Vietnam War.

The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear

In this documentary series by the BBC, Adam Curtis explores the rise of fear as a political tool to establish public legitimacy and support in policy and decision-making. Tracing parallels between the Neo-Conservative movement in the United States and the radical Islamist movement, he provides a controversial examination of myth-making processes and the construction of a threatening “Other” as an attempt to create cohesion and unity within the US public.


Originally published at dogwoof.com.