In the plus column, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the documentary film by Michael Moore, offers a handful of telling peeks behind the curtain of the workings of the U.S. government. On the negative side, the film is another take on Moore’s simplistic leftist vision of all that is wrong with America.
After the U.S.A. Patriot Act is passed, which has restricted fundamental American liberties in the name of fighting terrorism and homeland security, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., explains to the camera that few congressmen have read it or many other bills before voting on them. In an amusing stunt, Moore hires a truck with a loudspeaker and drives around Congress reading the act.
He also tries to get congressmen who voted for the war in Iraq to sign up their own children to fight in the war next to the children of their constituents. Most don’t even talk to him.
And we see President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld over and over again justifying the Iraq war by stating that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida, neither of which has proved true.
The most touching scenes are of a mother in Flint, Mich. Lila Lipscomb expresses pride in her son being a soldier in Iraq. Later, when she finds out he was killed, her grief is so agonizing it pervades everything else in the movie.
The movie’s many problems begin with the opening sequence, a tendentious rehash of the 2000 Florida election fiasco. That is followed by a segment blaming the 9/11 attack on the Saudis and the Iraq war on Bush family oil connections to the Saudi monarchy — except that lately al-Qaida has been attacking Saudi targets.
The movie has nothing to say on such factors that helped lead to the war as the rage Americans felt after 9/11. And it ignores the ideological debate over the war in the administration between the global expansionists (represented by Cheney and Rumsfeld) and the realists (Powell). In Moore’s simplistic leftist vision, corporate greed explains all.
Moore has said he thinks of “Fahrenheit 9/11” as an opinion column, not a news story, despite its being labeled and marketed as a documentary. Well, that’s fine as far as it goes. But there are profound historical, constitutional and moral arguments to be made against the Iraq war, as we have tried to make on these pages. Despite some positive aspects, the film’s exaggerations and omissions distract viewers from those more essential issues.