Fahrenheit 9/11

Controversial but hugely popular, Michael Moore continues his quest to expose the ills of an unjust world.

By Jimmy Billingham

After a triumphant run at Cannes 2004, being the first documentary since Jacques Cousteau's The Silent World (1956) to win the Palme d'Or, and a controversial (though hugely popular) reception in the US, Moore's follow-up to Bowling For Columbine (2002) has now reached our shores.

In much the same vein as his previous work – newsreel footage interspersed with interviews and his voice-over – Moore continues his quest to expose the ills of an unjust world. and there are many ills: Al Gore cheated out of his rightful presidency; Bush's doctored army records; the Bin Laden family's many fingers in many oil-filled American pies; the Taliban's PR tour of the country pre-September 11; Bush's frequent holidays... the list goes on. But given most attention is the Bush-Bin Laden connection. Moore tells us that Saudi Arabians (the Bin Laden family in particular) invested heavily in US oil companies (the same companies that the Bush's had a hand in) and that the relationship initiated by this investment could not be risked by blaming September 11 on the Saudi government (15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, with the government implicated in the funding of them). Therefore Afghanistan was the easy, oil-rich target for American patriotic aggression, serving as a cathartic prelude to the invasion of Iraq – again, oil-rich. And it is this oil that Moore exposes as being the fuel of Bush's war machine. Analyzing all this in almost Marxist terms, he sorts out the winners from the losers. The winners: Bush, Saudi Arabia, Halliburton, Carlyle Group... The losers: the soldiers fighting these wars, the civilians dying in these wars, and the American public duped into backing these wars. The winners carry on winning whilst the losers continue losing. It was a fix from the start.

This is one of Moore's strengths: whilst exposing the financial gluttony of the ruling elite, Moore also shows us, with great compassion, those whose deprivation and self-sacrifice necessarily follows from this. as in both Roger & Me (1989) and Bowling For Columbine, Moore returns to his home town of Flint, Michigan – an archetypal example of the pathological trends that emerge from the collapse of a local economy – where, amongst dilapidated slums and almost 50% unemployment, military recruitment officers seek out disenfranchised young men and women.

Like the unconscious of the 'free' American psyche, Moore graphically shows the war casualties, the grieving families, the blown-off limbs, and the fundamental deceit that make possible such 'freedom'. It is an unconscious that must necessarily remain excluded from the mainstream American media that talks in hollow terms of 'terror', 'justice' and 'freedom'. Moore is therefore refreshing in his ability to cut through the crap and tell real stories of real people's suffering, and in his ability to ask real questions of somewhat less genuine politicians: 'Would you enlist your children to go fight in Iraq?' he asks the few congressmen that will listen.

With Moore the political becomes somewhat more personal, though in such a way that is likely to impact more upon the american personality than any other. That is, upon those who have been unwittingly deceived by a president with only oil on his mind so as to back needless wars in the name of 'civilization,' 'freedom' etc etc. To anyone else Moore's revelations may feel familiar – after all, we were knowingly deceived by a prime minister with posterity on his mind.

Watching Fahrenheit 9/11 was a little like listening in on someone else's conversation, only one that you've had many times before; but nonetheless, like any important message, it needs to be heard over and over. And its international success demonstrates that this is indeed the case – the French like it (because the Americans don't know it), the Americans like it (because they didn't know it), and the British? We will probably like it (because Tony won't).

Chomsky it ain't – much more a polemical exposition than an intellectual analysis – but, to be fair, this is not Moore's aim. Fahrenheit 9/11 aims to raise a general awareness among Americans that all is not as it seems, thus undermining Bush's support in the November elections, and although in doing so it comes across at times like a party political broadcast, we should nonetheless wish it the best of luck.
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