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My Problem with Fahrenheit 9/11

  • by Frank Schaeffer Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 2 Aug
My Problem with Fahrenheit 9/11

As a military parent whose son was recently deployed in the Middle East, I strongly object to Michael Moore's cynical exploitation of our men and women in uniform.

When a political satire like Fahrenheit 9/11 stoops to manipulating young soldiers and their grieving parents to score political points, something is very wrong. Moore uses the military as fodder for taking aim at President Bush—and then feigns respect for those same soldiers.

I want Michael Moore to know he can't have it both ways.

And no matter how much he hates Bush, that's no excuse for insulting my son and all his military brothers and sisters. After initially pretending to sympathize with our military, Moore turns downright mean by portraying our men in uniform as mindless thugs.

We never hear about patriotism, let alone loyalty to other soldiers. We never hear about our soldiers who were killed because they hesitated to shoot at enemies hiding behind civilians. Moore shows us 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—typical kids 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, to make him look like a simpering fool. Politics is hardball. He even makes some excellent points about our naive American relationship with the Saudis, and 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.

But it's hard to take Moore's approach to the pre-invasion Iraq seriously—happy footage of happy children before the Americans bomb them. There is no sign of mass graves or gassed Kurds. Moore makes Saddam's Iraq look like an Islamic Disneyland.

Manipulating the military

Moore crosses the line of decency by using ambush tabloid-style methods on young military men, reducing their lives to cleverly manipulated sound bites to serve his political attack. He uses the 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.

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. The fear and horror of battle make men do and say many things, and until Moore walks in their shoes, he should back off.

I have just finished editing a collection of letters from hundreds of military men and women (Voices from the Front, due this fall). Those letters—not to mention all the military men and women, including my son, whom I know personally—tell another story. They grieve over civilian casualties. But Moore was not trying to tell the truth. He was making propaganda—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, a complexity, or a paradox if it bit him. He simplistically portrays a military that only exists to protect the "capitalist system" he hates—a system he's convinced doesn't work because there are some streets in Flint, Michigan, where the houses aren't very nice. (I wonder if Moore will share his film's profits—tens of millions—with the "exploited" African-American recruits he interviewed?)

In his film, Moore challenges some congressmen to sign up their children for military service—a great idea, by the way. But why didn't he also ambush his rich pals in Hollywood? Have any of Harvey Weinstein's kids signed up recently? Or does Moore only hate rich jerks who vote Republican? Will Moore's kids ever show solidarity with the rest of us by enlisting?

One-sided portrayal

Moore portrays the military as the stooge of rich white men and oil companies. But this is a lie. Many of our men and women are serving for patriotic reasons and/or for loyalty to their fellow soldiers. Moore never mentions this. Many come from upper middle class families, like my son. In the world according to Moore, they don't exist.

My son did not join the Marines to blow away children to rock music. 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.

Even when Moore tries to play on our emotions—by showing a grieving mother of a soldier killed in action—he manipulates the story. He didn't choose just any military mom; he chose a grieving mom who was already in his anti-Bush camp. There are plenty of grieving mothers who still support Bush—but Moore doesn't show any of them. Still, Moore even abuses his token military mom—by his willingness to stoop to following this weeping woman around the perimeter of the White House in a bizarre tabloid-style moment of maudlin and insensitive exploitation.

In other scenes, Moore portrays military men and women as fools, mindless killers or just dumb. Two Marine recruiters are portrayed as trying to dupe poor black young men 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. But then, as someone who has made documentaries myself, I know what can be done to get a point across. Moore could make the Pope look like Hugh Hefner. Michael Moore is a very good filmmaker. He's just not a very good person.

He never portrays the men and women of our military as heroes. Michael Moore isn't interested in their heroism. He's interested in politics. And he's using these men as a stick with which to beat the President.

Moore Is a Bully

Moore can't have it both ways. He says America is a great country. But he spends most of the movie saying we're a nation of easily led fools with a fascist/victim military. He wants to stir up the anti-war crowd by showing soldiers killing babies to rock music, and he wants to exploit the sympathies of the American middle class by showing a grieving mother.

It is unfair for a filmmaker who will earn millions from attacking Bush to sandbag some 19-year-old Marine with a high school diploma and an $18,000 salary. Moore has all the intellectual and technical weapons Hollywood could buy him.

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 child's deaths won't have been in vain. Moore should have represented the bereaved parents fairly.

Last word to Michael Moore: It's not cool to spit on your military, even metaphorically, even if the French like you for doing it. You can help bring down Bush without stooping to this.

Frank Schaeffer's son, Cpl. John Schaeffer, USMC, returned safely from his second deployment to the Middle East. Schaeffer's most recent books are Faith of Our Sons: A Father's Wartime Diary and Zermatt, a novel and the second installment of the Calvin Becker Trilogy. More: from an article that originally appeared on Schaeffer's website. Used by permission.Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.