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What Else Is In Scott's Head?

The blog site for writer Scott C. Smith. Some observations on the world we live in and life in general. And maybe some politics.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Flawed but powerful, Fahrenheit 9/11 brings home the reality of war

Michael Moore's controversial new film -- controversial before anyone had actually seen it -- has finally opened. The movie is a powerful, but ultimately flawed, look at the world since Sept. 11, 2001.

In the weeks prior to its release, a group called Move America Forward has been leading a boycott of the film, encouraging its supporters to e-mail move theater executives to not show the film. I'm not going to address Move America Forward's ludicrous claims about the film. They are not worth discussing.

The film itself could have used some editing, as there are a number of superfluous segments. Moore spends considerable time trying to tie the Bin Laden family to the Bush family, and while it may be true, it's ultimately pointless. The same goes to a few segments that are, again, superfluous filler: Moore doing "on the street" interviews with members of Congress to convince them to get their children to enlist into the military, and segments on Haliburton and other companies set to make money off of the war in Iraq. Again, it's probably true, but pointless. Moore also ignores the many documented human rights violations committed by Saddam Hussein and his government, and it's unfortunate that Moore did not discuss that part of Iraq's history.

The film is at its most powerful when it tells the human story of warfare, when it focuses on the young men and women who are in Iraq, fighting against insurgents who do not want us there.

Moore gives the war in Iraq a face, represented by a woman from Flint, Michigan named Lila Lipscomb. Mrs. Lipscomb is first introduced in the film putting up her American flag and speaking proudly of her family's long history of military service.

We learn from Mrs. Lipscomb that her son, Army Sgt. Michael Pedersen, is serving in Iraq, just as his sister had done before him during the first Gulf war.

Unlike his sister, Sgt. Pedersen did not make it home. He was killed on April 2, 2003, in Iraq. And we, the audience, grieve with Lila Lipscomb, and her loss is our loss, too. It's surely the most gut-wrenching experience I've experienced in a movie. Lila Lipscomb is filled with grief and rage, and we share in her grief and rage, angry that her son ultimately died for nothing. It's heartbreaking to even now think about it. In one segment, Mrs. Lipscomb is in Washington, D.C. for a conference and decides to try and get to the White House, which of course is blocked off. Lipscomb does speak with a woman, almost surely a Republican, who dismisses her loss: lots of people have lost loved ones in Iraq. The woman might as well have been parotting an Ann Coulter line.

We see soldiers in battle, and we see the consequences of war: dead civilians, dead Americans, and something our media has not shown us much of: injured American soldiers, many limbless, recovering at Army hospitals.

Does Michael Moore hate America? No, he does not hate America. Does he hate the policies of the Bush administration, the decisions the administration has made that has resulted in so much loss of life? Yes. Does he hate the soldiers serving in Iraq? No, he does not. Moore simply shows the good and the bad of fighting a difficult war. One of the anti-Moore groups had made the claim that Moore wanted more troops killed in Iraq, which simply is not true.

As for Move America Forward: well, it would appear their boycott has not yielded any fruit, if the huge crowds at the movie theater I went to were any indication. The film is surely going to break records this weekend.

Despite its flaws, the movie should be seen, if nothing more than to know that fighting a war is not like playing a video game. It's ugly, violent, and bloody. And for people like Lila Lipscomb, it's heartbreaking.

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