Fahrenheit 9/11 Could Change History

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Mark Weisbrot
Monterey County Herald, July 3, 2004
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services, June 29, 2004
South Bend Tribune
(IN), July 4, 2004
Iowa City Gazette,
July 4, 2004

Michael Moore's Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine" was the highest-grossing documentary ever made, until his latest "Fahrenheit 9/11" beat that record in just its first few days. And now the film that Walt Disney didn't want to distribute could set another record: the first movie to change history.

With all the media discussion that Fahrenheit 9/11 has generated, and the millions who will actually see it, the November presidential election will not have to be that close for Mr. Moore's two-hour "op-ed," as he calls it, to make the difference. It is a powerful, moving, and brilliantly assembled op-ed, one that lays bare the rottenness, the cynicism, and the sinister deceitfulness of the Bush Administration's manipulation of post-9/11 America.

In some ways it should not be surprising that an award-winning film could play such a big role in an election year. For some time now we have become increasingly reliant on the arts and entertainment world to give us the unvarnished truth about politics: cartoon strips like Doonesbury and more recently The Boondocks, or comedians such as Al Franken and Comedy Central's Jon Stewart (The Daily Show). With Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry pursuing the safe strategy of letting the Bush team self-destruct, people outside of traditional political circles will be even more important sources of hard-hitting criticism.

Some of the film's techniques are Moore's trademark moves, as when he stalks U.S. Congressmen to try to recruit their sons and daughters for the war effort. Or circles the Capitol with an ice cream truck blasting the Patriot Act to our lawmakers, who had never bothered to read it.

He follows Marine recruiters who troll the shopping malls frequented by poor and working class kids, playing on their dreams and their lack of access to financing for education and training. And never mentioning the chance that they would not reap the benefits of enlistment if they don't make it home alive or in one piece.

This is a major theme of the movie, and one that ought to be at the front and center of any debate over military policy. There is a vast economic and social gap between the people who have planned or supported this war, and those who are fighting it. If the children of America's executives and professionals, rich people and Congressmen, had to fight in this war, it is doubtful that American troops would be in Iraq.

Then there is the friendly, harmless peace group in Fresno, California, that discovered they had a sheriff's deputy in their midst -- attending their meetings as part of the government's "anti-terrorist" efforts.

The film has ignited a firestorm of outrage on the right, as expected. But because there is little to challenge in the way of facts presented, the attack dogs have gone after Moore himself. The New York Times' columnist David Brooks, the liberal media's favorite conservative, has tried to portray Moore as someone who hates America and is contemptuous of Americans. Others have tried to discredit him by questioning his patriotism.

But anyone who has seen his movies knows that Moore loves this country as much as anyone who has ever lived here. When Moore pokes fun at ordinary people like the Amway color analyst in "Roger and Me," or a Michigan high school kid in "Bowling for Columbine," his humor is obviously empathetic. He is, after all, a fast-food munching, TV-watching, big fat American himself -- from the heartland. He loves the people he grew up with, and when he makes fun of Americans, he's including himself.

And in Fahrenheit 9/11, the most eloquent and convincing words come not from the narrator or from self-important officials, but from modest and unassuming people caught up in the tragedy of war and deception: A marine corporal who explains why he won't go back to Iraq "to kill other poor people"; the father of a soldier who was killed in combat describes how it sickens him to see other people's children still dying there, "and for what?"

That is the question that the Bush team cannot answer, and one that they must try to bury for the next four months. But with Fahrenheit 9/11 playing to sell-out crowds in towns like Fayetteville, North Carolina -- the home of Fort Bragg -- they could have a problem.


Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy