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Fahrenheit 9/11

Ken Russell


 The parish superintendent offers his
response to Michael Moore's film

 I went to see Fahrenheit 9/11 as eagerly as any film I can remember, and I came away confused.  Confused, I think, because it is hard to believe that respected American friends, of whom I have many, mostly Republicans, could have voted–in an Administration as corrupt, as unscrupulous and as inept.  The answer, I am sure, is that they did not.  Even the Bush regime, which has come to represent to me all that is worst about American politics, is not as wholly bad as Michael Moore's film portrays.

I and many others who have seen this movie, need to remind ourselves that it is not a newsreel.  It is a documentary.  Rather apt, perhaps, is the description of A.O. Scott in the New York Times.  He calls it an "editorial cartoon."  Moore, says Scott, "employs archival video images, rapid-fire editing and playful musical cues to create an exaggerated satirical likeness of his targets, and the President and his team oblige him by looking sinister and ridiculous on camera."

As no other movie has done before, Fahrenheit 9/11 is dividing Americans.  It has had rave reviews, oftentimes from surprising quarters.  Time Magazine praised it highly.  So have prestigious columns in the New York Times and Washington Post.  And it is smashing box office records to smithereens.  That is not to say there are no critics.  Go to Google and you'll be confronted by 47 pages of "FiftyNine Deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11 " by the well known commentator Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute.  The whole truth is indeed elusive.

Let me share 3 powerful, sobering messages from Fahrenheit 9/11, which whether the film exaggerates or distorts as much as its many critics suggest, could not have been faked.


It is tough stuff to watch.  The street fighting.  The invasion of homes, often in the dark.  The ruthless killing and maiming of civilians in the attempt to find the militants, the resisters to American occupation and rule.  Moore's cameras go right to the heart of hostilities, and they capture the raw anger of the Iraqi people, their indignation at the uninvited "liberation" of their country by foreign invaders.  The film demonstrates, if it were necessary, the toll on the infrastructure, the almost total dislocation of an ancient culture, and frightful damage done to the fabric of family life.  We hear repeatedly from George W. Bush and his lieutenants that the world, and Iraq, is better off without Sadam Hussein.  But how do you assess such a claim?  If you judge it by the state of Sadam's decimated country, and the testimony of the common people such as feature in this movie, you have to think this is no more than self justification.


There is enough conclusive evidence that from Day one of GWB's presidency there was a pre–determination to unseat Sadam.  The 9/11 attack on the twin towers, and the systematic creation of the notion that the tyrant had weapons of mass destruction, both played into the hands of a regime with a mindset to go to war with Iraq.  A further inducement, of course, was the prospect of controlling the second largest oil reserves in the world, and almost unlimited opportunities for American big business.  The movie in clip affer clip reinforces the impression of a regime totally contemptuous of world opinion, and deaf to all evidence that most if not all the premises on which they based their strategies were wrong.  Their greatest contempt, sad to say, was for the people of Iraq, and their Islamic culture.  All were subservient to Bush's dream to succeed where his Dad had failed, a contempt reflected in the blind obedience of the military.


Lila Lipscombe is a patriotic working mother in the run-down town of Flint, Michigan, Michael Moore's home town.  A lifelong Republican, she does not question her son's military duty to go to Iraq.  In the same week she has read a letter from her son that he feels the war is all for the wrong reasons, she is advised he has died in a crashed Black Hawk chopper in the Iraqi desert.  Beside herself with grief she begins her own quest to find out why it was so important for America that he needed to die in his youth in a foreign war.  Her story, and the story of what she discovers about political power and influence in her own country, is the human story of the film.  We have to remind ourselves that Lila is only one grieving mother, and that for every one like her in America there are scores more in Iraq - and Afghanistan, and Palestine, and Israel, all places where American foreign policy impacts heavily and makes for death and destruction.

 These and other messages in Fahrenheit 9/11 are impossible to ignore.  Yes, the film maker leaves his imprint on the film.  As does every film maker.  To discover the truth, and know it, is the ongoing challenge to the viewer.

Ken Russell      August 2004


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