Michael Moore Brings the War Home

In the theater where I saw Fahrenheit 9/

In the theater where I saw Fahrenheit 9/11, the coming attractions featured a trailer for The Motorcycle Diaries—an upcoming film about the early life of the Latin American revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The trailer ended with the tag line, "If you let the world change you, you can change the world."

A good omen, I thought. But the day was filled with omens. Michael Moore’s picture, and a story about his film, greeted me on the front page of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at breakfast. We went to lunch before the movie, and there he was again, in the café entrance, on page one of USA Today.

Moore’s film did not disappoint those expectations. There, on the quad cinema big screen, was African-American Marine Corporal Abdul Henderson, in uniform, explaining that he won’t go back to Iraq because he won’t "kill other poor people" who pose no threat to our country. There, after 90 minutes in which the falsehoods behind the Iraq war were peeled away, is the explanation (from George Orwell’s 1984) that, at the end of the day, the maintenance of a hierarchical society requires war. It keeps the people at the bottom fearful and economically insecure. "The war is not meant to be won," Orwell wrote, in words that define Bush’s war on terror. "It is meant to be continuous."

And that message came alongside the details of the incestuous relationship between the Saudi Kingdom and corporate America, surprising (and troubling) footage of dead and wounded Iraqi civilians, and the usually unheard voices of American soldiers left limbless and bitter by the war in Iraq. It’s all the stuff the mainstream mass media won’t tell you. And there it is, in Fahrenheit 9/11, smack dab in the middle of that mainstream. I wanted to stand and shout, "Viva!"

MANY OF US have made the analogy between America’s Iraq invasion and the Vietnam War, and the parallels are real. But we anti-warriors would do well to remember that, compared to our predecessors at this early stage of the Vietnam disaster, we are way ahead of the game. Public opinion has already tipped against the war. During the Vietnam era, that didn’t happen until 1969, four years into the full-blown conflict.

And in the 1960s, there was no Michael Moore. Well, there was, but he was a Catholic school kid in Flint, Michigan. Today he is a best-selling author of humorous political diatribes and an Oscar-winning director of popular documentary films. We are lucky to have him because, if we pay attention, he’ll point us away from the mistakes and stupidities of the last great anti-war movement.

Unlike many post-Vietnam activists, Michael Moore genuinely loves his country and its common people. His patriotism is not ideological; it is rooted and local. Blue-collar Flint is his touchstone. He emerged as a celebrity-artist by telling the story of his hometown’s abandonment by General Motors in Roger & Me ("Roger" was GM CEO Roger Smith). He comes back to Flint in the final act of Fahrenheit 9/11.

In this new film, Moore’s sympathy is clearly with the soldiers who are forced to do the dirty work of this rich man’s war, with their families back home, and with the poor and working-class kids who are the prey of military recruiters. He cares more about them than he does about any Democratic politician, or about the cookie-scarfing Fresno peaceniks we meet in a Patriot Act subplot of Fahrenheit 9/11.

And so should we. The soldiers who serve under America’s economic draft—poor white, black, and brown, male and female—are part of the great mass of Americans disinherited and left behind by the global economy. They stream in from the bombed-out inner cities and the dying farm towns to bet their young bodies on a chance at an education and a career. They are not the enemy. They are, in the long run, the only people who can change this country.

Over the closing credits of Fahrenheit 9/11, we hear Neil Young’s "Rockin’ in the Free World." That song was originally an anthem for the overthrow of President Bush I. Sic semper tyrannis. And keep on rocking.

Danny Duncan Collum, a Sojourners contributing editor, teaches writing at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

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