Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Fahrenheit 9/11 – We Didn’t Start the Fire…

Written by Michael Moore
Directed by Michael Moore

Back in 2004, I saw this film in theaters. It was quite ironic that I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 in a Loews theater, which was then owned by the Carlyle Group, and this group gets fairly well skewered in Michael Moore’s film. I guess they figure if they can’t stop Moore, at least they can make money off of him.

Moore is pretty much preaching to the choir with me. Up until the year 2000, I was pretty much a centrist but have been moving distinctly left since then (or the rest of the county has moved so far right it puts me with the left). Many of the points he touches on in the film are nothing new to me – I’ve heard a lot of the facts, claims, innuendos, and accusations before. Like many people, it’s the visual clarity that Moore puts this to that is the difference for me.

The most moving parts of Fahrenheit 9/11 are his views of the ordinary people caught up in what’s been happening over the last few years. In particular, there’s Lila Lipscomb. She’s a Flint, MI native who comes from a big military background and worked her way through school on the welfare rolls while making a better life for her family. Knowing how she couldn’t afford a college education for her children, she talked up the military a great deal. Her daughter served in Desert Storm. Her son went to Iraq. He didn’t come home. I dare anyone, no matter what their political persuasion, to view her story and not come away moved.

That was the one area where I thought Moore was going to be treading on dangerous ground. When he showed the soldiers first going into Iraq, the kids were talking as if they were in a video game. They talked about what CDs they played in the tanks while they were out there killing people. I thought to myself if this is how he’s about to show the military, I’m not so sure about this anymore. However, the change came and suddenly these soldiers – these young kids – soon got some terrible lessons about what war is really about.

There’s footage of Iraq a month before the “war” which shows neighborhoods, homes, and people going on about their lives. It might not have been the best existence, but these people did have lives, they got married, had kids, went to carnivals, and played on playgrounds. Moore effectively manipulated my emotions when he follows that with scenes of our military bombing the area, making me wonder just how many of those people shown in the videos from just a few weeks before were killed in our “liberation”. The footage does get very graphic during these moments in Iraq, but I really feel it’s necessary to show the true horrors of what’s gone on there both to the people of Iraq and to our own soldiers.

Since there are not enough soldiers to go around, Moore shows military recruiters at work. I now have a son in the military and I encouraged him because it was a good way for him to get the discipline he needed as well as something of an education. We both had our eyes open, knowing what he was getting into. It’s quite frightening, though, to see the way they approach these kids in a mall trying to sell enlisting as an easy way to learn whatever profession they are thinking of going into – from basketball to the music industry. I think, perhaps, after 20 years of war they are a little more aware of what they are getting into now, but I’m not sure that’s true in many places in this country that romanticize war.

I can talk all about what Moore shows in the film, but that is no more real to anyone than the stories I’d heard coming out of Iraq up until now which just made me shake my head. Seeing what’s gone on in this country – and what is still going on – with visual clarity is important. I once thought that since we are people who generally have to see things “with our own eyes” to believe them, a film like this would be effective. However, we are daily shown the faults of a leader who sexually assaults women, cheats on his taxes, defrauds people he does business with and more. Yet people still deny the truth that is in front of their faces. A film like this no longer is shocking.

Some people have criticized Moore for the moments of lightness in the film, such as showing Paul Wolfowitz using his own spit to slick back his hair or the funny faces Bush is making at the camera while his hair is being fixed before a speech. I thought him reading the Patriot Act over a loudspeaker while circling the Capitol in an ice-cream truck was pretty dumb. I did enjoy watching him trying to corner Congressmen into having their own children enlist to serve in Iraq. The moments of lightness are needed because overall the film is a testament to what’s went on between September 11, 2001 and the middle of 2004, and it’s pretty depressing.

Although the film is seen as a skewering of Bush, I thought proportionally he actually did not have a great deal of footage in it. To me, it seemed to be mostly about how his Presidency is affecting the “little people” of this country. I can remember when I knew he was getting into office thinking that it wouldn’t be too bad – he couldn’t screw up the country all that bad in four years. I didn’t think that in 2016, and it is much worse than Bush’s Presidency. I never thought I’d say that.

That’s not to say Moore didn’t do a good condemning of Bush’s Presidency, but it’s with the facts. The fact is he did spend more days on his ranch in Texas than he did in Washington for the first nine months of his administration. Richard Clarke is on there talking about how the administration didn’t want to hear anything about Osama bin Laden or his terrorism threats throughout the summer preceding 9/11. The fact is that he did enter the classroom filled with children after being advised that the first plane had hit the towers on 9/11. He wasn’t in there when he received the news, he entered it after they had already told him. He is in the classroom when the second plane is hit and that’s what we’ve seen clips of so many times up until now. I misunderstood this for the last 2 1/2 years as I thought he knew nothing when he went into that classroom only to learn now that he did. However, this is the man who, according to Clarke, didn’t pick up the infamous August 8, 2001 memo titled Bin Laden Determined To Attack U.S.

Moore uses Bush’s own quotes and sound-bites to paint him as dumb. This may or may not be fair, but it’s definitely effective. Our President comes off looking like some ignorant red-neck who couldn’t hold a job or keep a company running without an infusion of outside money. And just where does he get it…?

There’s plenty made of the ties between the Saudis, the Bin Laden family, and the President and his family. If you’re truly interested in that subject, I’d suggest the book House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig Unger, whom Moore interviews during the film. It’s easy to write off the connection as what happens when two people just happen to be in the same industry. That is until Moore is filming outside of the Saudi Embassy in Washington and Secret Service agents show up. Not the DC Police, but the SECRET SERVICE!!!

Likewise, his footage of corporate America and his assertions against the likes of Halliburton and the above-mentioned Carlyle group are also better left to the book-writers who can give this subject the in-depth coverage it deserves. The only plus is for people who refuse to read books for whatever reason, they have their visual cues from Moore, and perhaps it will make them curious about the subject enough to seek out recent offerings by the likes of Richard Clarke and Bob Woodward.

I’m not about to debate anyone what’s a fact or not, or whether something is Moore’s “creative editing” or not. He’s been accused of that before, such as in Bowling For Columbine when he was accused of actually dressing in the same clothes a few days later to pick up his gun from the bank. This is something he vehemently denies and points to the fact that the bank has the capability for instant background checks. So much for his detractors there. If anyone wants to see how carefully Moore verified the facts in the film, the New York Times had a good article on that ( ) despite giving the film a rather tepid review.

However, some people have a hard time accepting the truth when it doesn’t fit in with their own narrow view of the world. In that case, they are often the ones making up tales to explain away those inconvenient facts that get in the way of their perceptions. I’ve already heard claims that Moore edited together footage of Bush talking about terrorism, then inviting the reporters to “Now watch this drive!” I saw that footage long ago before the film came out, and it’s not a “creative edit” – it’s exactly the way it happen. Hey, but if Sean Hannity says it’s a creative edit that must be true cause we know good Christian people like him, Rush, and anyone on Fox News never lie, right?

I think this film is also important for high schoolers to see, despite some of the graphicness, such as a Saudi Arabian public beheading, and seeing troops burned and mutilated as well as the way our “liberation” has injured the Iraqi people. It’s their future we’re playing with here, and I just wish now that I’d forced my daughter to come with me, rather than listen to the cautions about what was shown. I think this footage alone would make her impervious to the armed forces recruiters who will be swarming around her over the next few years. Watching the film I couldn’t help but feel that my generation had somehow let everyone down. We were too busy buying into the “greed is good” mantra and making sure we were keeping up with the Joneses to worry about how our country’s policies in the world would affect our progeny.

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