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day permlink Sunday, 4 July 2004


FAHRENBALANCED: On this rainy, rainy July 4, we went to see Fahrenheit 9/11. These are some of my reactions (not a comprehensive review).

There are already numerous reviews and discussions all about how accurate or "fair" the movie is, so I'm not going to delve too deep there -- here are a couple of key points, though:

From Paul Krugman in the New York Times:
There has been much tut-tutting by pundits who complain that the movie, though it has yet to be caught in any major factual errors, uses association and innuendo to create false impressions. Many of these same pundits consider it bad form to make a big fuss about the Bush administration's use of association and innuendo to link the Iraq war to 9/11. Why hold a self-proclaimed polemicist to a higher standard than you hold the president of the United States?

... for all its flaws, "Fahrenheit 9/11" performs an essential service. ... people see the film to learn true stories they should have heard elsewhere, but didn't. Mr. Moore may not be considered respectable, but his film is a hit because the respectable media haven't been doing their job.
And from Kevin C. Murphy's valuable review at Ghost in the Machine:
...Michael Moore can undoubtedly be a blowhard with grating populist pretensions, but if we had any semblance of a functioning national media these days, Fahrenheit 9/11 would have been a non-event. In the absence of anything like an independently critical television press, and given the existence of such a well-oiled, well-funded right-wing propaganda machine these days, perhaps somebody out there had to co-opt conservative talk-radio techniques to get the message out.

...if a picture is worth a 1000 words, this film is worth 10,000 blogs... I just wish it had covered its flank a little better by sticking to the cold, hard facts about the national embarrassment of historic proportions that is George W. Bush, rather than indulging every so often in cheap laughs and reflexive sentiment.
What matters most to me about the film -- what I anticipated most eagerly -- is the collection of original media footage of Bush and his allies in their own words that has been lost in the memory hole for too long. (You never see these still-recent quotes repeated on the news or chat shows; gee, why not?) Moore can slice and dice footage as well/as ruthlessly as anyone, but notice how often he leaves people's statements fully intact -- he doesn't need to resort to unfairly extracting sentence fragments when the original statements were already egregiously stupid, or shallow, or amoral.

(It also struck me how many damning tidbits he left out -- the Deputy Secretary of Defense badly understating how many American dead there have been, the public statements of Bush's own WMD inspector David Kay, the accidental omission of funds for Afghanistan operations from the proposed federal budget, and on and on. Instead, Moore spends time on some goofy detours into frivolity and cheap humor; I suppose they provide a respite from the main threads.)

The most effective and dramatic moments of the film, however, involve soldiers -- soldiers speaking and fighting in Iraq, injured soldiers in hospitals, the family of a soldier who was killed, and more. Lisa Lipscomb's tale of learning of her son's death and her reading of his last letter are very affecting (as every reviewer notes), but the most thought-provoking passage of the film for me was actually the recruitment of new soldiers. In a sad convergence, the poorer someone is, the more likely they are to view military service as a way out of their financial straits (and military service is explicitly marketed to them as such). The result is (largely) that the citizens who are the least-well-off are dying to defend the country for the benefit of people who were born into better circumstances.

I'm sure this is an old point to many people, but I've never seen these dots connected as clearly as Moore does -- the Marine recruiters trolling the mall in the poorer part of Flint (and the appeals they use on the young men there) are especially eye-opening. It makes me very sad for them and for their families. So does the disparity between the pay of soldiers and the pay of contractors doing the very same jobs in the same place. And so does Bush's cutting of veterans' benefits and of combat pay increases that Congress wanted to make.

It is perverse that people put out lawn signs in 2002 reading "I support our troops and President Bush!". He has not done right by them.

I didn't like Moore's presentation of the Iraq war's combat damage as being uniquely bad. There are always civilian casualties in war. There are always horrible things done to people who didn't deserve it, and one can always juxtapose overly gung-ho, callous soldiers and officials with the horrible injuries of the innocent. Take the best war we ever fought (whichever you think that is) and you could construct that kind of montage.

The easy emotional wrench this produces does not make all wars bad. It does mean you have to be very deliberate and careful about when you unleash this kind of force. Moore fluctuates between acknowledging that and using the power of his images to tar all uses of force as immoral.

Then again, the hiding of the war's cost in lives and life-changing injuries (and the underestimation of the war's monetary cost by two orders of magnitude) by Bush seems to me to be dishonest and consequential far beyond anything Moore has done, so his ambivalence on the just uses of force should be kept in perspective.

As Moore himself has said in interviews about the film, his is just one viewpoint; the pro-Iraq-war side has had day after day and page upon printed page to make its argument for three years -- why shouldn't Moore get two hours? Is the case for war so fragile and vulnerable that it can't stand up to one guy armed with some footage of real events?

I've no idea what numeric rating I would give this movie. Instead, I'll just recommend that you see it.

You will be reminded of something you forgot happened in the run-up to the war, or you will see people say things you never knew they said (such as Rice and Powell explaining how little of a threat Saddam presented in 2001).

Like any op-ed columnist, he's not obligated to present all sides, and you're not obligated to agree with him. Adopt as much or as little of Moore's interpretations as you choose, but:

See it.

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