Produced by Miramax Films and Dog Eat Dog Films
Written and directed by Michael Moore
Distributed by Lions Gate Films, Inc.
Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 is shallow, manipulative, and malicious. It is also the slickest piece of cinematic propaganda since Sergei Eisenstein made Battleship Potemkin in 1925. Like Eisenstein’s film, Fahrenheit 9/11’s political impact is proving devastatingly effective. Tens of millions of people have seen it. Many are members of Moore’s choir, of course, and they are already in the bag. It is Moore’s success with the undecideds that is proving his cinematic mettle. Ordinary folks enter the theater uneasy about our Iraqi adventure and emerge two hours later raving for a pullout pronto.
If George W. Bush’s presidency goes under this November, Moore will be able to crow that he did his part. This will be a shame—not because Bush hasn’t earned his walking papers but because the demerits Moore brandishes with such blimpish glee are either minor or untrue. Worse, he flatly ignores the bull elephant in the room. The unexamined tusker is the neocon notion that we had to go to war to make the Middle East safe for Israel, our 51st state. It is odd that Moore should have chosen to ignore the beast since his 2003 book, Dude, Where’s My Country? confronts it with the subtlety of a jackhammer:
It might be good to find out why hundreds of millions of people on three continents, stretching from Morocco on the Atlantic to the Philippines in the Pacific, are so pissed off about Israel . . . [and] the perceived notion that we Americans are supporting Israel in its oppression of the Palestinian people. Now, where did those Arabs come up with an idea like that? Maybe it was when that Palestinian child looked up in the air and saw an American Apache helicopter firing a missile into his baby sister’s bedroom just before she was blown into a hundred bits. Touchy, touchy! . . . Is that any reason to dance in the streets when the World Trade Center falls to the ground?
You will look in vain for any such remarks in Moore’s film. He prefers to have us believe that all of Bush’s military decisions since September 11 have been driven by his relations with the Saudi government and the Bin Laden family. He claims the Bush family has been supported by the sheiks to the tune of $1.4 billion. This, he libelously reasons, renders their loyalty to America suspect. There is no question that the Bush-Saud connection is unseemly, but it is important to point out that $1.4 billion Moore cites is money the kingdom has invested over the years in the Carlyle Group, a corporation on whose board Bush Sr. sits. The family has prospered by this connection, but hardly to the degree Moore wants us to believe. If Saudi money controlled Bush Jr.’s decisions, he certainly would not have gone to war against Iraq. The Saudis argued vigorously against doing so, and with good reason. They believed it would destabilize the region and encourage the citizens of Arab countries to rise up against their corrupt masters, including their greedy selves. And, if the war finally does go well for the United States, there is the prospect of a revitalized Iraqi oil industry overseen by Americans. There could hardly be a worse outcome for the House of Saud.
Moore also insinuates that Bush personally directed that the members of the Bin Laden family living in America be flown home two days after the World Trade Center attack without submitting to interrogation. Not true: Richard Clarke gave the order to evacuate them, but not before they were questioned.
Why does Moore prefer to offer us distortions rather than facts to explain September 11? The answer probably lies with his film’s distributor, Miramax, a company led by Harvey Weinstein, a strong supporter of Israel (although, truth to tell, not a member of the Ariel Sharon fan club). Moore’s iconoclastic truth-telling, it seems, goes only so far. This is too bad. Most of Moore’s vast audience will take what he shows them at face value. If Moore really wanted to change things rather than indulge his splenetic hatred for Bush, he would have made clear that we are currently locked into a foreign policy that will continue to alienate us from our natural allies and expose us and Israel to ever-greater peril. Since John Kerry voted for the war and has repeatedly declared his unstinting support for Israel, right or wrong, it is clear that, should he win in November, he will not change the course Bush has set for the region.
The 9/11 of Moore’s title might be better understood as a proportion than the date of Al Qaeda’s attack on us. The film is nine parts bologna and two parts fact, cleverly mixed to create a combustible concoction. Moore has learned the lesson Eisenstein taught film propagandists. When making an argument, montage trumps reasoned discourse every time. Eisenstein demonstrated that individual film shots can be made to say anything a director wishes: He merely has to assemble them in the right order. Film an actress staring at the camera with a neutral expression. Then splice in a shot of a man being marched to the gallows before and after her close-up. Audiences will be convinced the lady is struggling bravely to contain her anguish at the prospect of losing her husband. Take the very same shot of the actress and sandwich it between shots of garden flowers and children playing. Viewers will marvel at how wonderfully she expresses maternal contentment. Call it the montage mirage. Stalin and Hitler understood this. Both tyrants poured extraordinary amounts of state funds into filmmaking in order to propagandize their unsophisticated audiences on a deep emotional level where rational analysis simply cannot compete with cinematic emotionalism.
Moore is working in this tradition. Consider the following sequence, composed of shots, each factual within its own frame. Edited together, however, they become thoroughly misleading, not to mention inflammatory.
We first watch President Bush announcing his determination to attack Iraq when Saddam Hussein refuses to leave Baghdad. This is followed by a montage of joyful children cavorting in the playgrounds of this tranquil city of contented souls. Then we see the nighttime bombing on March 19, 2003, as Moore, in voice-over, remarks that Iraq is “a nation that never attacked us.” From here, we meet some tank crews who are getting pumped up for their phase of the assault. They are playing an American ditty that includes these shouted lyrics over a pummeling rap beat: “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire. / We don’t need no water. / Let the motherf—er burn; / burn motherf—er, burn.” Then as the tanks begin blasting and dozing buildings, we cut to Donald Rumsfeld remarking on the restraint of the assault. “The care that goes into it, the humanity,” he trails off dreamily in a peroration of the purest, high-grade p.r. b.s. Next shot: Out of the rubble of a collapsed building emerges a screaming Iraqi woman.
Wholly unimpressed by America’s care and humanity, she piercingly calls upon Allah to heap bloody vengeance on her country’s liberators. Then we cut to a brief shot of the flight-suited Bush, just after landing on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, a “Mission Accomplished” poster prominently displayed in the background. This is followed by a scene some months after the war was supposed to be over. As American soldiers leave a building, a car bomb explodes. In the chaotic aftermath, horribly wounded men scream in terror and agony as others rush to their aid.
The sequence is bitterly and brilliantly sardonic, placing side-by-side American delusions about the war and scenes of its inescapable horror. Still, questions arise. Weren’t those buildings we bombed Hussein’s government headquarters and his infamous palaces? How close were they to schools and playgrounds? Who would have thought pre-war Iraq was the peaceable kingdom Moore portrays? Could he be ignoring inconvenient facts such as Hussein’s penchant for terrorizing his own people, his open support for suicide-bombing in Israel, his harboring of international terrorists, his negotiating with North Korea to obtain nuclear missiles, and his plotting to assassinate President George H.W. Bush? As for the rap-driven vulgarians among our tank corps, would it be amiss to suggest that these young men were scared? That, like soldiers at all times and places, they were seeking to muffle their fears, along with their finer feelings, beneath a thuggish beat? After all, indulging misgivings and moral sensitivity on the battlefield is a good way to get yourself killed. Tellingly, Moore contrives to ignore all the American troops who considered themselves to be rescuing Iraqis from their viciously oppressive government. And then there is Rumsfeld. Disingenuous? Well, the fox rarely turns vegetarian in the henhouse. This does not mean he always lies, however. One of the ongoing problems of the occupation has been the decision to keep civilian casualties minimal and, further, not to crush the insurgents with attacks that would certainly wreak a far-wider slaughter of innocents than has taken place to date. Finally, Bush’s airborne triumphalism may have been arrogant and, worse, stupid, but it must be conceded that he has always made a point of saying that the conflict would continue and the costs in blood could be extreme at times. This is the unavoidable cost of war—any war.
Why let facts obscure your point? Moore is willing to say anything, however foolish or contradictory, to drive Bush from office. Having reviled the President for invading Iraq, he chides him for not sending enough troops. Having charged him with not heeding intelligence concerning Al Qaeda’s plans to use commercial planes in a terror attack, Moore then accuses the administration of trying to scare the public with its post-September 11 terror alerts in order to justify a widespread abrogation of civil rights. And on and on in the same vein. He plays a clip of Bush being notified of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center while he was reading to schoolchildren in Florida. This piece of film is shown in semi-slow-motion to make the President look more than usually witless. In voice-over, Moore comments with leaden sarcasm, “Not knowing what to do, with no one telling him what to do, Mr. Bush sat there reading My Pet Goat” for another seven minutes. Well, what was he supposed to do? Vault over the kiddies, slap some missiles onto Air Force One and personally . . . do what? Where? How? It is generally thought good sense to have an address before launching your weapons.
But why carp? Moore’s montage of half-truths and outright lies will prevail, and, in all likelihood, he will have done his part to make John Kerry our next president. If so, we can expect our foreign policy to continue essentially unchanged. Only the slogans will be different. If Moore really wanted to change our direction, he should have exposed how Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and the neoconservatives inside and outside the administration vigorously promoted the Iraq invasion as part of their larger plan to suppress all of Israel’s enemies—Syria, Iran, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan—in the daft belief that America can foster capitalistic democracies throughout the region and thus bring peace and prosperity to all concerned. Would that it were so. As we can see today, however, their notions were bankrupt from start. Israel and America have never been more in danger from the Islamic world.
As disappointing as Moore’s film is, it does contain some lively political theater. Knowing that all but one of our noble Congresspeople voted to give President Bush authority to go to war and that only one of them has a son fighting in Iraq, he stands outside the Capitol and ambushes our tribunes, offering them Armed Forces recruitment literature. “Maybe your son or daughter would like to enlist,” he says with faux innocence. Some give him icy I’d-like-to-kill-you smiles, others duck his camera. One turns tail and literally runs away. It is a good joke to play on these hypocrites. An infinitely better one, however, would have been to ask them about their unswerving support for Ariel Sharon’s incredibly dangerous encroachments on Palestinian land. Would our officeholders like to send their children to help Sharon build his wall against his troublesome neighbors and, perhaps, erect a few more settlements while they are at it?