Film on Afghan war is critical of U.S. role

The poster for Michael Zweig’s film that will be shown Saturday at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport.

Filmmaker and professor Michael Zweig believes that continuing the war effort in Afghanistan hurts the American economy and won’t contain terrorism. He makes the case in the film “Why Are We in Afghanistan?” which he’ll show and discuss at Greenport’s Floyd Memorial Library Saturday afternoon.

The short film presents a case that United States foreign policy has been linked for decades to the country’s interests in oil and gas and other economic factors, not to containing terrorism or spreading democracy. Afghanistan is adjacent to central Asian republics that are rich in oil and gas reserves, it’s pointed out in the film.

“War is not the solution” to containing terrorism, Mr. Zweig said. “The military intrusion only exacerbates the problem.” Instead of spending billions of dollars putting troops on the ground, the U.S. should spend money gathering real intelligence and breaking up terrorist plots, he said.

The United States has previously admitted to faulty intelligence on terrorism in Afghanistan. It hasn’t improved and there are few State Department or military officials who understand the culture and speak either Pashto or Dari, the languages spoken in Afghanistan, he said.

“I’m not a pacifist, but this war is not justified,” said Mr. Zweig of Southold, a one-time Democratic Town Board candidate. “It doesn’t secure us from terrorism.”

The film was made in conjunction with the Center for Study of Working Class Life at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. With help from producer Trish Dalton and illustrator Mike Konopacki, Mr. Zweig aims at getting people to think about the stated objectives of the war and how the fighting is not achieving those ends, in his view.

Labor unions are showing the film because they see the war effort as detrimental to the economy and job creation, Mr. Zweig said. It’s why it’s not accidental that the final image on the film is of a steelworker identified as another patriot for peace, he said.

“This is a film that is meant as an educational resource and to encourage discussion,” Mr. Zweig said. Since its release last December, all but 40 of the 4,000 copies have been sold or distributed to libraries, labor unions, veterans and school groups.

It won the 2010 Studs Terkel Award for Media and Journalism. Mr. Zweig himself has won honors: In 1991, he received the State University Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

What most Americans are focused on isn’t terrorism or the war effort, but the hobbled U.S. economy, Mr. Zweig said. He teaches economics and points out that for every billion dollars spent, the military creates fewer jobs than if the same amount were spent on domestic projects such as building roads and other infrastructure and investing in alternative energy.

When President Obama held a jobs forum in December with leaders of major corporations, hoping to gather information about how to turn the economy around, he started off telling them not to forget that the country had no money to invest in their ideas, according to Mr. Zweig.

Moving money from the war effort to the public sector, where jobs could be created by states and municipalities to rebuild America’s infrastructure, would have a profound effect on the economy and the job crisis, Mr. Zweig said.

It’s not the first time Mr. Zweig has shown the film at Floyd Memorial Library. The conversation was spirited at a showing and discussion there in March, he said. The film and discussion take place at the library at 3 p.m. Saturday. The film is less than half an hour long.

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