It’s hard to be a Democrat in Utah, harder still to be a full-on peace nerd. In our crimson state, during the administration of a guy like George W. Bush, during the Iraq war and its aftermath, it’s tough.
So the opportunity to join others of like mind - sometimes we’re surprised there are any - and commiserate about our near-hopeless situation, and even to indulge in the naughty activity of laughing at our president, is as welcome as that first gulp of air after nearly drowning.
Now I think I know how Republicans might have felt when Ken Starr - and Monica - showed up. (Admit it, Republicans, you were thrilled.) That’s how I felt seeing Michael Moore’s new film, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” I don’t believe every word of the film is true and I understand that I was being manipulated. It’s not that I love all of Moore’s tactics, it’s not that he had any good news, but I did enjoy it. Moore has a distinct hammer-over-the-head style of getting his messages across. He makes films solely to give voice to his decidedly left-wing politics.
Oddly, considering the topic, there are some funny moments in the film, many of them due to creative music choices and a wicked editing style. When Rep. John Conyers admits the open secret that members of Congress don’t actually read all of the bills they pass into law because there’s literally not enough time in the day, Moore climbs into a Mister Frostie ice cream truck and reads the USA Patriot Act over the vehicle’s loudspeaker as it circles the Capitol.
When Moore relates Washington Post findings that President Bush was on vacation 43 percent of the time from his inauguration until 9-11, the song “Vacation” blares in the background as Bush plays golf, romps with his dog, shoots ducks, and struggles feebly when a reporter asks him to name one work-related thing he’s been doing. When a copy of Bush’s 1970s military record shows he failed to take a required medical exam, we hear a riff from the song “Cocaine.” Moore also uses “Dragnet,” “Bonanza” and a campy, witch-burning film clip to make his points.
But Moore didn’t invite us over to make us laugh. His clips of regular Iraqi people attending weddings, flying kites, getting haircuts and eating dinner are violently juxtaposed with war footage. A happy Iraqi girl sails down a playground slide and as she reaches the bottom there’s a seamless edit to a massive explosion with a gigantic fireball. It’s not what really happened to that little girl, but it’s still true.
Untold numbers of innocent families - American and Iraqi - have been changed forever by the war, and Moore loads this message with pathos. An Iraqi grandmother screams into the camera, “We have had five funerals because of the bombings. Where is God?”
Moore visits with U.S. soldiers in the war zone and in a chilling sequence they describe how they get psyched up to kill. But later, an Army guy says, “We shot everything that moved. Lots of innocent people were killed. Innocent women and children, husbands carrying dead wives, girls with their little noses blown off. . . .Shoot, what did we do?” A grieving American mother reads her son Michael Pedersen’s final letter home. He writes, “What in the world is wrong with George? He got us out here for nothing. I really hope they do not reelect that fool. Thanks for the Bible and candy.”
We see an Iraqi man working at a rubble pile. He says, “I think this is a piece of a girl who is my neighbor.” And we see disturbing footage of Iraqis burning, dragging, hanging, and beating American soldiers’ corpses. There’s no mistaking that Moore has taken us to the depths of man’s inhumanity to man.
I’ve studied war; I’ve worked for peace. I understand that war is hell, as much as someone who’s never experienced it herself can. Several of the points Moore made resonated with me – that the war was based on a lie, that we attacked a sovereign country that had never attacked us or harmed a single U.S. citizen, and that the media failed us, for example.
The biggest surprise for me, the most unexpected thing about this film, was the energy of the audience. People laughed, tsked, groaned, and cried. The atmosphere was buzzing. I can’t remember the last time a movie inspired so many people to action. For the first time in more years than I care to admit, I went to a political meeting the night after I saw the film.
In one evening I was reminded of the best and worst of grassroots action. I was encouraged and inspired as a computer screen indicated people all over the country logging on to join the discussion. Conversely, there’s nothing like a political meeting to remind you how annoying one or two people can be. But that’s a small inconvenience to endure for democracy.
We eventually all left the meeting united around one goal, a goal with worldwide implications: To make soldier Michael Pedersen’s last wish come true.
Barb Guy, a frequent contributor to the Opinion section, served a Scoville Peace Fellowship in Washington, D.C.