Lila Lipscomb is a proud American. She might live in Flint, Michigan, one of the poorest towns in the United States, she might not have enough money to send her kids to college, but she still has her flag in front of the house. One thing she knows of to provide her family purpose and a future is the military. Here’s a way to get an education and employment; however bad the economy gets, the US always needs soldiers, right? Her father, uncles and brothers all went to war, her daughter was in Desert Storm and now her firstborn son is in Baghdad. She believes families like hers are the backbone of America, and she’s right. It’s certainly not the rich and the so-called “elite” who go to the front lines. Out of all the US Congressmen, only one has a son enlisted. Even President George W. Bush weaseled out of the draft.
Still, poor young men and women are willing to possibly sacrifice themselves to assure others’ freedom, trusting that this is also what drives their leaders and that they will only send troops to war as a last resort. What happens when it turns out that there were no WMDs in Iraq, Saddam didn’t have any ties with Al Qaeda and that the only ones who will benefit from this invasion are huge corporations like Halliburton (which Vice President Cheney used to run)? When Lila Lipscomb learns that her son died in Iraq she’s understandably devastated, but what’s worse is the feeling that it might have been in vain. It’s one thing to die for freedom, but so a small group of old white guys can get richer? For fucking oil?
Bush calls himself a “War President”, everyone around him blabbers about preemptive action and rules of engagement and whatnot, but they’re sitting in their ivory towers talking about things happening halfway around the world. You want to know about the war, talk to the people in the middle of it. “Fahrenheit 9/11” has the good sense of doing just that, allowing US soldiers and Iraqis to voice their feelings, not turning them into heroes or villains but just showing them as people. Confused. Scared. Angry. Stuck in an occupied country where they’re not wanted, defending US contractors who make more money than they’ll ever do while Iraqi civilians are left with destroyed homes and more dead friends and relatives than they can mourn.
The terrorist attacks on September 11 shocked everyone, security IS a concern, but you can’t use that as an excuse to do whatever the hell you want around the world. You don’t get others on your side by bombing the shit out of them, especially when the country that possesses the most threatening number of WMDs is the US itself, when the Bushes and Saudi Arabia (the ones truly funding terrorists) have worked together for decades… Makes you want to holler like Marvin. Thankfully, Moore sprinkles his film with comic relief. We might not have the power to stop Bush (until the next election, at least), but we can laugh at him! There are also gentle digs at celebrities (“There’s Ben Affleck, he’s often in my dreams.”), priceless musical cues (when referring to how W Bush failed a medical examination in the ‘70s, a certain Eric Clapton riff says it all), etc. Some segments are weaker than others (the Patriot Act bits are anecdotic at best), but most of “Fahrenheit 9/11” is as entertaining as it is relevant.
Michael Moore’s biggest strength as a filmmaker is his ability to push people’s buttons. He’ll make you laugh, cry or get angry, sometimes all at the same time. Call him a manipulator if you want, but that’s what all great communicators do. There are tons of books and articles that go through the lies on which the Bush administration and the war in Iraq were built in more detail and nuance, but what Moore does better than anyone (outside of Jon Stewart and his Daily Show staff) is to make the information come alive. He’ll pinpoint the most damning declarations, the most blatant contradictions and the most infuriating flat-out lies and align them until it doesn’t just add to the passive cynicism most people feel about politics, it downright pisses you off and makes you want to go straight to the White House and punch everyone in the gut.
I still feel Moore will never top Roger & Me, but he’s still a vital voice of dissent and “Fahrenheit 9/11” should be seen by every American voter. The world doesn’t need another four years of Bush and his cronies. That might just be enough to get Lila Lipscomb to take down her flag.