The War Behind the War

I’m no film critic, as I’ve noted. But I’ve read every review I could find of Fahrenheit 911, maybe two dozen of them, and not one of them quoted the sentence that seems to me, now that I’ve seen it, the film’s central thesis. All through the film, Moore keeps mentioning that the purpose of the Iraq war, of the War on Terror, of the Patriot Act, could not possibly be what it pretends to be, but he never gets around to telling you what the purpose is. Until the penultimate sentence, spoken by Moore in a voiceover (I’m quoting from memory): “The purpose of the war is to preserve and shore up the hierarchical structure of society itself” – that is, in context, to make the rich richer and ever more cushioned and invulnerable, to keep the poor helpless, and even to make self-sacrifice to the comfort of the rich the poor’s only possibility of happiness, as in the young Black youth of Flint going off to fight Bush’s war of choice. It’s The Matrix – remade as a documentary. In that sentence, Moore’s grandly wandering and discursive film suddenly comes into focus – every thread is tied together. It’s the most profound point he could have made – not that Bush is a bumbling idiot, or that Cheney is corrupt down to his bone marrow, or that Rumsfeld is a vicious autocrat (though all god’s truth), but that the war is not against Iraq or any particular country, but is actually a class war against the poor. Next to this central point, all the critical argument about whether Moore got this or that detail right, whether Bush is as lazy as he says and so on, is just idle carping about tangential issues. And that takes some of the alleged partisan sting out of the movie, because the increasingly feudal nature of American society is exactly what can least be changed by a mere election – even if we elect a smarter, more compassionate rich white guy from Skull and Bones. (Don’t throw Nader at me, it’s become clear by now that the Republicans are funding his campaign to preserve the status quo, with his cheerful complicity.)

Now, I know I’m not smarter than all those film critics. Yet they all got tied up in details from the movie that turned out to be relatively trivial once I saw it, and never once mentioned the main point. (For instance, the celebrated joke of Moore reading the Patriot Act to Congress from an ice cream truck only takes up about ten seconds.) What gives? Being critics, did they, perhaps, spend too much of the movie thinking up the brilliant things they were going to say, and fail to register the all-encompassing theme because it didn’t come until the final words, after they had already put away their notebooks?

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