MY PROBLEM WITH "FAHRENHEIT 9/11"
By Frank Schaeffer
As a military parent whose son was recently deployed in the Middle East I object strongly to Michael Moore's cynical exploitation of our men and women in uniform. When a political satire stoops to manipulating young soldiers and Marines and their grieving parents to score political points something is very wrong. And when a political film like "Fahrenheit 9/11" uses the military as fodder for satire aimed at someone else-Bush-then feigns respect for those same soldiers the filmmaker is mocking I want to tell the film maker he can't have it both ways.
Moore reminds me of a wife beater who brings his wife flowers in the morning to assuage his guilt for the black eye he gave her the night before. First Moore disrespects the military then he says I really do love you. No matter how much he hates Bush getting rid of the current president is no excuse for insulting my son and all his military brothers and sisters. And Moore's movie is an insult to our men and women.
First it is condescending as Moore pretends to sympathize with our military men and women. Then Moore turns downright mean when he portrays our men in uniform as mindless thugs. Either way we never hear about patriotism, let alone loyalty to other soldiers, let alone who is really in the military or why they are there, let alone about all the Marines and soldiers who are dead because they hesitated to shoot at enemies hiding behind civilians. We see the anomalies not the mainstream. We see exploited African-American youth and white crackers and a few conscientious objector types. What we don't see is the real military majority-middle class white kids from small towns following in their father's footsteps and minorities of all ethnic backgrounds who want to give something back to the country they honor.
Moore has every right to say whatever he wants about President Bush. (Just for the record I was and am a John McCain supporter.) And Moore has the right to edit old video tape to make the President look like a simpering fool even if it is grossly unfair. Politics is hardball. Moore makes some excellent points about our naive American relationship with the Saudis and also about our staggering lack of adequate response when we sent only 10,000 men to Afghanistan and missed our shot at bin Laden. He also comes close to telling the truth about the hysterical paranoia that leads to grandmothers being frisked in airports while nothing much is done about our real enemies. (Though if we had followed the logic of Moore's movie-the Saudis are the real enemy in the movie-and attacked them after 9/11 I bet Moore still wouldn't like Bush!)
It is a little hard to take Moore's Bambi approach to the pre-American invasion Iraq seriously. Remarkably all we see is in his movie of Saddam's Iraq is happy footage of happy children before the Americans bomb them. (Bambi as in the scenes in the forest with his mother before the evil hunters arrive!) There is no sign of mass graves or gassed Kurds. Iraq under Saddam looks like a commercial for an Islamic Disneyland.
Fairy tales about happy pre-invasion Iraq aside, Moore crosses the line of decency when he uses ambush tabloid-style methods on young military men and reduces their lives to cleverly manipulated sound bites to serve his political attack. Someone needs to explain to Moore that presidents come and go and aren't really all that important (it has been a long time since the best and brightest wanted to run and we've had a string of second-raters and survived just fine), but that our military IS important. We NEED our men and women more than they need us. There really are people who want to kill us.
Moore edits some footage of pumped up teenagers in uniform talking about the music they listen to when they are getting shot at and shooting back. He uses the macho swaggering statements of a few immature soldiers out of context, a context where they were trying to pump themselves up to face battle with brave and foolish words (or violent music). The fear and horror of battle make men do and say many things and until Moore walks in their shoes he should back off. Moore manipulates their words to portray an entire military campaign as driven by young men listening to heavy metal as they gleefully blow away women and children. It is a lie. I have just finished editing a collection of letters from hundreds of military men and women-"Voices From The Front" - due out this fall, and the letters, not to mention all the men and women I know personally, not to mention my son, tell another story. They grieve over civilian casualties. But then Moore was not trying to tell the truth. He was making propaganda. And that is fine too, but not on the backs of men and women who will die for Michael Moore and the rest of us tomorrow.
Moore would not know a nuance or a complexity let alone a paradox if it bit him. He simplistically portrays a military that only exist to protect the "capitalist system" he hates and that he is convinced doesn't work because there are some streets in Flint Michigan where the houses aren't very nice. (Will he be sharing the 20 million or so he's earned so far this year with the "exploited" African-American recruits he interviewed? And when in his movie Moore challenges some congressmen to sign up their children for military service-a great idea by the way, listen up Ted Kennedy-did Moore just happen to forget to also ambush his rich pals in Hollywood? Have any of Harvey Weinstein's kids signed up recently? Or does Moore only hate rich jerks that vote Republican? Will Moore's kids ever show solidarity with the rest of us by enlisting?)
Moore portrays the military men and women as the stooges of rich white men and oil companies. The problem is that this is a lie. Many of our men and women serving are doing so for patriotic reasons and/or for reasons of loyalty to their fellow soldiers. Moore never mentions this. Many others come from upper middle class families, like my son. In the world according to Moore they don't exist.
My son did not joint the Marines to blow away children to rock music. Nor did he need college benefits. He joined to be part of something bigger than himself. He joined to serve his country. He joined because he wanted discipline in his life. He joined for adventure. And he is not alone.
Moore shows his profound ignorance about the real military because he does not acknowledge that there are thousands of men and women who may well have joined for a utilitarian reason-say college benefits-but who then underwent a profound spiritual rebirth in the military. Now they are motivated to serve because they want to watch the backs of their fellow soldiers. Moore doesn't seem to know that there really are thousands of our people who the military has taught to live by a selfless code: the man or woman standing next to you is more important than you are.
In some scenes a camera crew follows a grieving mother of a killed soldier as she cries. Of course she was carefully chosen so as not to alienate Moore's leftist base of support. She was not any old military mom. What would Moore's core constituency have made of a mom who cried for her son and still wanted Bush to win? Moore is sympathetic to her but only after establishing her politically correct credentials. She is wearing a special cross that symbolizes diversity and tolerance. And she is in a multiracial marriage. This is fine with me by the way. I'm all for tolerance and multiracial marriages. In the military that Moore disdains there are plenty of mixed race couples, a lot more than in Hollywood. The military, unlike the Oscar voters, really is a color-blind meritocracy. In the end Moore abuses even his token military mom. Moore hates Bush so much he is willing to stoop to following this weeping mother around the perimeter of the White House in a bizarre tabloid-style moment of maudlin and insensitive exploitation.
In other scenes military men and women are portrayed as fools, killers or just dumb white guys, say the two Marine recruiters, following poor black young men and trying to fool them into joining Bush's military. I know a lot of Marine recruiters and Moore must have worked very hard to edit these two into the idiots they come off as. The recruiters I know, and most likely these two Marines as well, are bright, dedicated and kind. But then, as someone who has made a lot of documentaries myself I know what can be done to get a point across when you want to. Moore could make the Pope look like Hugh Hefner. Michael Moore is a very good film maker. He's just not a very good person.
In all cases the men and women of our military are stripped of dignity in Moore's movie. They are portrayed as either mindless killers or manipulated victims, never heroes. The only military personnel given more than a ten second out-of-context sound bite are the soldiers and Marines Moore finds who are against the war in Iraq. They get to say things about how killing makes you lose parts of your soul. But the problem is that Michael Moore is not really interested even in them. He is interested in politics and is using these men as a stick with which to beat the president.
What is so dishonest in his movie is that Michael Moore wants to have it both ways. In one interview he says that America is a great country. But for the rest of the movie he tells us that we are a nation of easily led fools with a fascist/victim military. Moore wants to stir up the anti-war crowd on the one hand by showing soldiers killing babies to rock music, and exploit the sympathies of the American middle class for our men and women on the other hand by showing a crying mother whose son got killed.
(Note to John Kerry: If you really love our military denounce Moore's portrayal of our men and women and tell America that you don't want our votes if they have to be generated by sinking to Michael Moore's level. Do that and I'll vote for you, I'll even work for you!)
It is unfair for a movie maker who will make tens of millions of dollars this year from attacking Bush to sandbag some 19 year old Marine, who is making $18, 000 a year. Moore has all the intellectual and technical weapons Hollywood could by him and a huge team backing him up. The 19 year old soldier has a high school diploma. Michael Moore is a bully.
Our military men and women deserve better. So do their parents. Moore has misrepresented us. For every mother who hates the President for her son's death there are fifty others who want us to win in Iraq so their son's deaths won't have been in vain. Maybe they are deluded but Moore should at least have represented the bereaved parents fairly.
Here are some things I'd like to explain to Michael Moore:
These days the military is the last place you can't opt out of your commitment when the going gets rough. Many young men and women who signed up did so out of a desire to serve our nation. Most of us military parents see that the military has made our children and our families' better less selfish people. Our men and women have their bad days and their good days, but most of all they are loyal to each other; black or white, male or female. They get through each day motivated by taking care of the man or woman standing next to them.
Last word to Michael Moore: It's not cool to spit on your military, even metaphorically, even if the French do like you for doing it. You can help bring down Bush without stooping to this.