Fahrenheit 9/11

Thoughts on Other Topics


Old Woman (Screaming in Front of House in Rubble):  “They slaughtered us!  They burned and bombed our houses!  God will destroy their houses! God is great!  God destroy their houses! Victory to Iraq!”

Reporter: “You mean they killed civilians?”

Old Woman: “Yes, civilians! It’s our uncle’s house!  We’re all civilians.  There’s no militia here.  I pray to God to avenge us! I can only count on you God! We’ve had five funerals because of the bombings.  Oh God! Oh God! God save us from them!  Where are you, God? Where are you?”
(In Arabic with English subtitles.)

My wife and I went to the opening day showing of Fahrenheit 9/11. Here is an evolving review, begun the day after we saw the film.

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 is a film that’s like the evening news the same way that bathos is like pathos. They’re all based on verifiable “facts;” they all put their “spin” on those “facts”—it’s just that Mr. Moore’s “spin” is so exaggerated at points that the film is at times ludicrously absurd, and therefore I found myself laughing out loud; whereas, CNN, Fox et al. are more subtle, and they almost never make me laugh.

Michael Moore makes lots of use of throw-away camera footage, like Mr. Bush’s making faces at people and exercising his facial muscles in the minutes before a live telecast from the Oval Office. The President looks profoundly simian and stupid, but so would anybody—I’d love to see some shots of President Clinton doing this—better yet, Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson.

Another one of these unedited shots is a segment where President Bush is making a really serious statement about the War on Terror and looks very concerned, almost religious:  “We must stop these terrorist killers.”  But one of the cameras reveals that this interview is being shot on a golf course, and having made that sober statement, without pause, the President moves to tee off, jokingly saying to the reporters: “Now watch this drive.”  Swush—he smacks the golf ball.

It isn’t that there is anything wrong with humor—comic relief is sometimes our only handle on sanity in tough situations—but it is disconcerting to folks to see this kind of immediate emotional jump.  Is it unfair?  No, if the Clinton haters could replay over and over again the shot of President Clinton laughing at Tony Campolo’s joke as the two of them were huddled together, walking out from Ron Brown’s funeral, why can’t Michael Moore show the less serious side of President Bush?

The film is not fiction. It is spin, as I said, but it isn’t fiction, even though certain people would try to get you to think that it is, and the underlying events in the film are readily verifiable from easily accessible, mainstream media sources that Mr. Moore has linked on his web site. He has also added links to the recently completed, September 11 Commission’s 567-page final report.

The “best” scenes in the movie were Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, licking his comb before running it through his hair, Moore’s interview with Representative John Conyers, Jr. and Moore circling the Capitol in an ice cream truck reading the legislators “The Patriot Act.” The most poignant section was a set of interviews with a patriotic mother from Flint, Michigan, Lila Lipscomb, before and after her son, Michael Pederson, was killed in Iraq.  The camera shows Mrs. Lipscomb reading from her son’s last letter before he was killed in Iraq, in which he says of the President:  “He got us out here for nothing.”

It underscored the big test for a war in a representative democracy, the body-bag test: “Do I believe that this war is necessary to the point that I would be willing to receive one of my children back in a body bag over it?”

But there is another test, too:  “Do I believe that this war is necessary to the point that I would be willing to receive one of my children back psychologically crippled for life because he cannot wash away the memories of the atrocities he committed?”  One of America’s first great “terrorists”, William Tecumseh Sherman, said, “War is Hell.” He was right. War changes people—the winners no less than the losers—maybe the winners more than the losers. What would turn ordinary young people into monsters? It is the hell of war . . . Of war, where you see your comrades betrayed and brutally killed . . . Of war in the Middle East, where the killer may be a little child.  Along with others, I was struck with Moore’s clip of an Army recruitment ad that made combat look like a video game.  Another conscience anesthetizing tactic was featured in the segment with U. S. Army tank crews listening to heavy metal music while they killed real people:  it made it all like a video game.  The trouble is that after playing this “game”, you’ve sometimes got to live with a vivid image of a mother holding the lifeless body of her toddler who was blown apart by your shell.

Moore did some edited interviews with Washington politicians trying to get them to sign up their children to go—of course, people can’t sign up their children for war, but they can set things in motion where lots of people’s children are sent into combat involuntarily.

I really liked the Conyers interview—it verified what my attorney son had told me back when he attended American University for a semester and worked in Washington for one of Louisiana’s senators. When Moore asked the Michigan representative about things in “The Patriot Act,” Congressman Conyers responded: “Sit down, my son . . . uh . . . We don’t read most of the bills.  Do you really know what that would entail, if we were to read every bill that we pass?”

My wife got angry at the “unfair” treatment of the President—what’s “fair” in the media?  Indeed, when has life itself ever been “fair”?  But she stuck it out to the end—she’s a great woman—she’s stuck it out with me for over thirty-six years. Her real point was that Moore’s film will fuel the great emotional divide in America. She’s right; both parties feed on galvanizing their core constituencies. What I have seen in the past decade is that the level of hatred is rising. Lots of people genuinely hated Bill Clinton during his presidency, and now lots of people are genuinely hating George Bush, too.  I never saw so many people hate a President before, not even with Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, all of whom were pretty hated at times during their presidencies.

When the film was over, I wanted to shout to the audience: “Yea, but if you think John Kerry is an alternative to all of this, you’re a fool!” Being a good Presbyterian, I didn’t do it.  In that light, I found the following piece by Jonathan Steele relevant: it’s from the United Kingdom and appeared in July 9th edition of The Guardian.

Kerry would keep US troops in Iraq far longer than Bush

The Democrat looks like the one with the long-term imperial agenda

“Here’s a dinner-party talking point that can run and run, certainly until November and, if the Democrats win the US presidency, for several months beyond. Would John Kerry, far from quickly bringing US troops home, keep them in Iraq even longer than George Bush?

“My answer, regrettably, is yes - which means that the Democratic convention in Boston later this month will be a sad affair for the people of Iraq, where polls consistently show a majority in favour of early withdrawal.”

“Whichever parties or personalities come out on top, they are likely to want US troops to withdraw, as soon as—and this is the crucial variable—Iraqi forces have been built up. But since the US military presence provokes resistance as well as suppresses some of it, there is infinite elasticity here for any US president to play with. He can argue that Iraqi forces are not ready to handle things and, by declining to start a phased pull-out of US troops, maintain the environment of insecurity that makes timid Iraqi politicians cling to the US presence.

“Given this analysis, what would Bush do if he won a second term? The conventional view is that he is one of the most ideologically, even religiously driven, presidents of modern times. He would pursue his pre-emptive war on terror in Iraq and beyond.

“But there is another possibility. Iraq has been a millstone for the past year and a half, and he might well choose to declare victory and withdraw. Iraq’s January election provides the perfect escape hatch. We have brought Iraq to the first democratic poll in its history and now we move out, he could announce, as he sets a timetable for a three-month withdrawal. Whatever mess follows, he would argue that it was no longer his responsibility. The US gave Iraq its freedom, and that means the freedom to make mistakes.

“Kerry, by contrast, looks increasingly like the candidate with the long-term imperial agenda. It would not be as raw as the one pushed by Bush’s neoconservative apostles of privatisation, but it would be imperial none the less, dressed in the classic garb of Democratic party multilateral interventionism.

“In speech after speech Kerry has laid the ground work for expanding and prolonging the US presence in Iraq. It starts with macho bluster . . .”

You can read the whole piece on-line.

Even now, having seen the film when it first opened, I am haunted the most by the elderly woman’s calling down a curse from Allah on the United States:  “They slaughtered us! They burned and bombed our houses! God will destroy their houses! God is great! God destroy their houses! Victory to Iraq! I pray to God to avenge us! I can only count on you God! We’ve had five funerals because of the bombings. Oh God! Oh God! God save us from them! Where are you, God? Where are you?”

Her words remind me of a similar curse, where a Middle Eastern king called on his god to curse Israel, offering his first-born son to Chemosh, the Moabite Moloch, and great wrath came down on the Israeli invaders some twenty-eight hundred years ago:

“When the king of Moab saw that the battle was too fierce for him, he took with him 700 men who drew swords, to break through to the king of Edom; but they could not. Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel, and they departed from him and returned to their own land.” (2 Kings 3:26, 27.)

Bob Vincent