I saw Michael Moore's new movie Fahrenheit 9/11 tonight with simon44. It was a pretty harrowing experience for me, and for a lot of the movie I was in tears or near to it.
Why so harrowing? Well, it starts with the collapse of the World Trade Center, an event which was traumatic for everyone who saw it or who knew someone who was there. I had a friend who worked there, an uncle who had jury duty in the World Trade Center that morning and who was stuck in a subway packed with strangers for hours in the dark as it filled with dust and smoke and nobody knew what was going on, a cousin who went to school at Stuyvesant and who was in class in a room that had a window towards the World Trade center and who therefore got to see the planes hit, and another cousin who worked in the Pentagon and was there when the plane hit there. I feel that I am unbelievably fortunate that none of them was killed.
So right from the beginning, a very emotional response from me. And the focus in the later part of the movie is on the troops in Iraq and their families. A couple of weeks ago one of my cousins, the same cousin who was in the Pentagon when a plane crashed into it, shipped out to Iraq. She's there now. Those parts of the movie also had a lot of emotional resonance for me.
So I spent most of the movie feeling very moved, sad, and angry. The stuff I liked least was the "funny" stuff. I wasn't in the mood. (Under different circumstances I might not have been, I guess.) Other people in the audience were in the mood and did laugh at the funny stuff, so I don't say that it shouldn't be there, or that my reaction to the film was particularly appropriate. What the hell, they all lived through September 11 too, right? Everyone shares that trauma, including Michael Moore, who more unfortunate than I in that he lost a friend (someone who worked on a bunch of his movies) in the attack. Still, I felt that at the end it wasn't necessary to stick in the clip of George W. Bush screwing up saying 'Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,' entertaining as I have found that misstatement in the past. (I think that's the only case where Moore alludes to the fact that the President's frequently odd syntax.)
So those things are very moving and, I think, good (if difficult) to see. What of the rest of the movie?
I think that one of Michael Moore's strengths as a thought-provoking filmmaker is also one of his weaknesses. One of the criticisms I have seen in reviews of the movie is that his take on things is so ideological and his filmmaking so sloppy that instead of making a logical, reasoned, irrefutable argument his movies instead tend to be somewhat fragmentary and to have pieces which contradict each other. How effective a piece of argument can a film be if it contradicts itself? (So one person says that the only reason Bush invaded Afghanistan instead of going straight for Iraq was that the American public knew that Al Qaeda was involved in the 9/11 attacks and the evidence for Al Qaeda involvement in Afghanistan was so strong that the American people wouldn't stand for going after Iraq first, and then later it's implied that Afghanistan was invaded so that an oil pipeline that the Taliban was blocking could be built. These obviously can't both be true.)
OK, a reasonable question, and I think that this is a weakness of Michael Moore's -- I'm not sure how capable he is of putting together a completely consistent and coherent film.
But I think that this also is a strength of the films, because it leads to a more active engagement with the audience.
It's very clear watching his movies that he has a point of view and what that point of view is. However, I suspect it's rare that someone comes out of one of his movies agreeing with that view 100%. An audience member who notices that one of the arguments doesn't make sense is more likely to try to figure out what parts make sense and what don't, really thinking about the issues raised, and ultimately may draw their own conclusions from the material presented, conclusions that may differ widely from Moore's own conclusions. Perhaps they will even do some reading up afterwards (including reading online or otherwise published critiques of the movie) and end up better informed.
Unfortunately, he does sometimes distort matters by omitting relevant information. (This is a weakness which, in distinction with the previously mentioned weakness, I do not consider a strength.) However, in his best films he does allow people who do not agree with him to say their bit -- possibly presented in a way that makes it clear that he doesn't agree, but some of the raw data is there.
OK. I said the movie made me mad. That's because it reminded me of things that I had forgotten about, things that make me very angry at the current administration.
My personal opinion is that they think they're fighting the good fight. They do think that what they are doing is the best thing they can be doing right now -- it's not just a way to line the pockets of themselves and their friends. I'm sure they knew people who worked in the World Trade Center too and that when it was attacked it freaked them the hell out too. I don't think Afghanistan was invaded to pave the way for an oil pipeline.
I do think that they by and large see nothing wrong about making money from the wars -- they're doing the right thing, so why not reap the benefits (and the more benefits the merrier)? So I buy that they thought that invading Iraq would have all sorts of benefits for the area -- I'm not sure I buy that they thought it was the next logical step in the war on terror, but I reckon they thought it was a good thing to do for other reasons. But, you know, as long as you're there, there is all this oil, and if there's a way to get some profit from that, and from the war effort in general, then, hey, why not?
And, OK, the profiteering does make me kind of angry, but that's not what really pissed me off.
What makes me angry is that they thought they were doing the right thing for the right reasons and in the right way and they were so sure that they didn't bother to check their assumptions at all and as a result they completely fucked everything up like the complete load of incompetent assholes they are.
That's my main complaint.
They thought that Iraqis would welcome them with open arms. Fine. Think that they are going to welcome you with open arms. I don't have a problem with having a rosy outlook. But consider the fact that you might be wrong. Try to have a plan for what happens if you're wrong. Especially if lots of people are telling you that they think that you might be. Sure, proceed on the theory that you're right, but leave room in your plans for what you will do if it turns out that you aren't.
I'm constantly filled with self-doubt, especially when I'm thinking about these big global issues. I don't have any idea how to fight global terrorism or Al Qaeda or what to do with the Middle East or any of that stuff. After 9/11 my uncertainty increased. It was a traumatic event. I was willing to accept that the approaches that I found most appealing were often not going to be the most effective or the best.
The war in Afghanistan made me uneasy. I'm predisposed to be anti-war! But, you know, I can stand to be a bit uneasy -- it's not like other people don't have to put up with worse.
And the thing was and the thing that I found encouraging about the Afghanistan war is that the administration seemed to get it! Before 9/11 they had treated the UN and international treaties with contempt -- the motto seemed to be that we would do it our way and the rest of the world could go to hell. But with Afghanistan we didn't just immediately go in and start bombing. There was an attempt to build a coalition and to get the UN to at least not oppose the war. The US presented evidence to other countries that Al Qaeda was behind the attack and that the Taliban supported Al Qaeda. They were making an effort to work with other countries!
And they invaded, and everyone thought that it was going to be this horrible quagmire and that it would take years to win. And suddenly, success! We won! At this point it seemed like maybe we could trust the administration, not to do what we would do in its place necessarily, but to do things in a well-thought out manner, to plan ahead, to work with other countries.
This impression was so deep-seated that I actually wondered, as the buildup to the Iraq war started, if it wasn't all a ploy to get Saddam Hussein to comply with UN regulations again, let inspectors back in, and so on. If so, it seemed to be working! But then we invaded anyway, with the disapproval of many of our traditional allies. And since then it's been a long road downhill.
I went to the protest in New York against the Iraq war, before the war started. I felt strongly enough about it that I took the four-hour bus ride down to stand in line for three hours and eat at Wendy's, just to add to the gigantic crowd. Why did I do that? I didn't do anything like that for the Afghanistan war.
(This next bit smacks too much of 'I told you so' for me to be entirely comfortable with it, so I will stipulate in advance that any accuracy in my thinking about these issues was probably coincidental, given the amount of stuff that I'm normally wrong about. Also, I don't entirely discount the possibility of convenient memory. But I'm pretty sure this is what my thinking was.)
Well, my basic problems with the looming Iraq war were:
- Lack of international support, which was related to:
- Not letting the UN inspectors complete their job. I mean, everyone believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I sure did; why else would they have kicked the UN inspectors out in the first place? So it seemed to me that it would bolster the case for war with Iraq if we let the inspectors actually go ahead and find them. And if the pressure actually resulted in Iraq dismantling the WMD and actually complying with UN regulations that would be even better!
- I also was worried that it would take resources and attention away from Afghanistan, and I thought that we really needed to make sure that Afghanistan should be made stable before we invaded another country.
- And I was worried that if both Afghanistan and Iraq turned into basket cases that it might destabilize the Middle East even more than it usually is.
- Although I thought that Saddam Hussein was pretty evil and that his flouting of UN resolutions did make a persuasive case for something to be done about him, I wasn't convinced that taking out Iraq would further the fight against terrorism, and in particular I thought that continuing to go after Al Qaida should be more of a priority.
And although I acknowledged that I might be wrong on all counts (and, man, wouldn't it have been great if I was, and Afghanistan was stabilized, and Iraq was turned into a modern Western-style democracy with very little prodding, and Al Qaeda was substantially weakened after Saddam Hussein was deposed? That would have been GREAT!) I weighed my feelings and decided that I felt strongly enough about all of this that I had to make some kind of stand, and the protest was it.
The protest was completely ineffective, of course, in that it didn't stop the war or any of the following misery. On the other hand, I'm not sure what else I could have done.
Well, I appear to have wandered a bit, but there it is, another rare political livejournal post from yours truly.
It is possible I will see the movie again sometime in the near future (I have another group of friends who wants to see it and I might go with them), in which case I might have more comments, but I hope not.
Anyway, those of you who have bothered to read this, I hope it has been of interest.