too much typing—since 2003


Fahrenheit 9/11

We finally got around to seeing Fahrenheit 9/11 this afternoon: with a houseful of friends visiting, other things always seemed to take priority in the last week, but finally the bunch of us got around to seeing the movie.

I think that, for me, curiously (at least in some people's perspectives), the movie reaffirmed something that, ten or fifteen years ago, I wouldn't have been as likely to recognize: my patriotism. Patriotism, for an American, properly considered, is a bit more complex than it is for people in most nations. First, as a whole we cannot celebrate a common language, a common heritage, or a land common to generation after generation of ancestors. Instead, we are, perhaps, the first theoretical nation, a nation bound together not by the historically usual ties of language, culture, or soil but, ultimately, by ideas. The only thing we share in common, the only basis for our sense of national self, must be the ideas - and the ideals -we claim to uphold - even if those ideas are more often claimed than actually upheld, and even if, from the beginning, they were, for many, more notional than actual. Despite the truth that the language of our nation's founding documents appears to be nearly all-inclusive, in practice it never was. But again: despite that historical fact, the language of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence has been claimed by peoples who had previously been disenfranchised. And because the principles laid out by that language claim universality, it has been difficult to argue that they should not be applicable with equal universality, despite the more sordid reality of actual history, whose chief actors were often unambiguous in their intent toward exclusion.

The catch, as far as "patriotism" is concerned, is that in order to be true to those ideals, they cannot be limited to Americans, or to American citizens. Instead, they apply to all peoples. And so, exclusionary definitions of "patriotism" (more properly, "nationalism"), which favor the peoples of one nation over those of another, fall outside the only definitions of "patriotism" that Americans can truly own.

The sad fact that Fahrenheit 9/11 lays out, of course, is the extent to which an exclusionary notion of patriotism - so exclusionary as to exile huge numbers of actual American citizens - has become the primary definition of "patriotism" in the minds of the people who actually run things. Since it seems many critics addressing the movie seem to think, oddly, that it is scattered and disorganized, I will lay out what I see as a clear and simple throughline of the movie. Bush, and his cohorts in class and privilege, have pledged allegiance to the furtherance of corporate profit and power above all else. What follows from this is, among other things, a laxity toward the warnings regarding terrorism that Richard Clarke and others had made prior to September 11, particularly insofar as they involved the rulers of Saudi Arabia, since those rulers were also very powerful players in the international market in oil. Christopher Hitchens, in his scathingly negative review of the film published in Slate, goes astray in his analysis at the point where he claims that Moore states that "the Bush administration sent far too few ground troops to Afghanistan and thus allowed far too many Taliban and al-Qaida members to escape." What Hitchens misses is what, for Moore, this claim means: it means that the Bush administration's efforts in Afghanistan were never truly intended to strike a blow against terrorism - at least insofar as such a blow needed to be struck against Saudis and the bin Laden family. Instead, they were essentially window-dressing, the means by which Bush appeared to be taking action while propagating the fear and paranoia that would allow the administration to further its longstanding plans against Iraq. Of course, it's also true that the military efforts in Afghanistan did allow the hoped-for oil pipeline to proceed without inconvenient interference from the Taliban - and that those plans against Iraq were predicated on the need to control that nation's oil and install a US-friendly government to replace the inconveniently anti-American Saddam Hussein.

Essentially, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda's actions forced the Bush team's hand: they could no longer negotiate with the Taliban; they were forced to get rid of them. That diplomatic efforts to coddle the Taliban were in place at least as late as May 2001 is well-known. At any rate, it is appallingly clear that Iraq was a standing target of the Bushites from before the beginning.

I probably don't need to rehearse here the well-known litany of "justifications" offered for the invasion of Iraq, but again, Moore's take is that they were always, at some level, duplicitous and manipulated, with corporate control and access to oil the primary goal.

The other main thread of Moore's movie, which follows from the first, is the appalling deception whereby the patriotism of everyday Americans - particularly the most vulnerable, poorest Americans, for whom military service presented the last, best chance at opportunity - has been cynically taken advantage of, again with only lip service paid to the terrifyingly real sacrifices these men and women have made. Moore says near the end of his film that all these Americans ask is that they not be asked to make such sacrifices except when absolutely necessary, in clear defense of the nation they have, in fact, sworn to defend. (Hitchens' bloviations again miss the point about the insufficient military forces in Afghanistan: they were insufficient if they were necessary to our defense, and the fact that they weren't implicates Bush's lack of seriousness. You can argue that a job should or should not be done, but you aren't going to argue that it should be done shoddily or with insufficient resources.

The movie is not, of course, "objective" - and no one with any sense would expect it to be, even one minute into it, even if they'd never heard of Michael Moore. But it clearly illustrates that, even if one subtracts Moore's political perspective and views the Bush administration's reactions to terrorism and its actions in Iraq, those actions have been appallingly incompetent, ill-considered, and counterproductive to any goal real patriotic Americans should support. I suppose it should go without saying that such a goal cannot include the "right" of gigantic oil corporations to ensure massive profiteering by running roughshod over every international standard of sovereignty.

And the way in which Moore's film made me realize the extent of my patriotism - in the terms I define it above - is how much it affected and moved me, how angry, how sad, and how frustrated it made me feel in response to the chicanery of the administration it exposes. Sadly, little in the film was news to me - but actually seeing the wounded terror of war victims' families, seeing the abstracted complacency with which the Bush administration prosecuted this war, and seeing the death by attrition of the idealism that motivated the young men and women who volunteered to serve their nation, that brought home to me, in a way that merely reading about such things could not, the extent of Bush's betrayal of everything about this country that I've loved - and, equally contemptible, his embrace of everything in this country's history I've despised.

I hope all the people who've made Fahrenheit 9/11 the nation's number-one movie the last few weeks remember Lila Lipscomb - the woman whose trajectory from Bush supporter to grief-stricken mother of a fallen soldier son gives the movie its moral center - and ask whether anything this nation could achieve in Iraq, given the reality on the ground in that nation, could make her, and the thousands of other mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, and children of those killed and wounded in Iraq (on both sides), feel that such sacrifice is worth its cost. Bush's war has made our soldiers and our nation the enemy in the "hearts and minds" of Iraqis, even more so than a decade of bombing sorties and crippling embargoes, and our ongoing presence is the equivalent of spraying gasoline at a raging fire.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good essay, your patriotism is clear. I share Linda Ronstadt's view that Michael Moore is an American patriot, for which she just lost her job in Las Vegas. See you on the Feglist!