September 06, 2004
Whatever else, Michael Moore knows how to tease out and amplify desired emotional responses, and is well-versed in the effectiveness of sudden juxtaposition of sharply opposite emotion-provoking images and sounds, how to remove the familiar sensory imput to draw on memory and imagination, ironic commentary, and let us not forget the potency of appropriate music. (I also think Michael Moore is more than somewhat full of himself, and far more representative of the internal contradictions inherent to his country than he might perhaps like to think: but that is another topic altogether.) It is perhaps fortunate that by this point in my life I have at least some ability to recognise such techniques and to some degree counter them – and I was having actively to do so to keep my own stress level down and to be able to think at all through the gut-emotional line to be followed (for, like Spielberg, effectiveness is such as to evoke some of the desired emotional response despite knowledge of how the effect is brought about, and in this case the people shown are real); and that it was the second time I was seeing it and not the first: because he was very nearly having the cardiac arrest for both of us.
At which point, abruptly, I saw it almost entirely through his eyes: not someone coming from a peaceful nation to free a continent of tyranny, but who lived there. Growing up in an occupied country in which, after six years of war, over ten percent of its entire non-military population had been killed. (The current numbers in Iraq are still nowhere near: only still in the tens of thousands, not even yet one tenth of one percent of the population killed.) Expecting to have the door kicked in at any time of night or day by people who carry assault rifles and don't speak your language, not knowing from moment to moment whether you will live or die. Black uniforms cornering isolated youth on street corners, taking names and addresses and telephone numbers. Fear of the consequences of opposition, fear of any hint of collaboration, fear of doing anything that might get you shot.
Please: why? Why are you doing this? Why us? He didn't do anything. I didn't do anything!
Burn, motherfucker, burn.
And the things invisibly glossed over and glaring in the holes left behind: the mother in her intense pain over her lost son, her boy who was always a good boy, even though he happened to fly on armed Black Hawks. What is the purpose for a gunship's existence, after all? And yet: he believed in the values he had been taught. He always did as he was told. How could he be other than a good boy?
Which takes away not one jot from the mother's pain at her son's death.
(Mothers have succeeded in stopping wars before. When Slovenia separated from Yugoslavia three days after Croatia evoking a few relatively small skrimishes when the government forces invaded - which nevertheless destroyed some homes and cars and left a few conscripted soldiers dead - the mothers of Slovenia and Serbia/Yugoslavia took to the streets in a massive protest. They didn't want their sons to be killing the sons of other mothers. They were willing to join together and speak out on the streets. A few days later, all military action ceased - and ever since then Slovenia, at least, has been at peace.)
Me, I saw also some of the absolute confusion in the eyes of some soldiers: why wasn't the population generally accepting and welcoming the freedom brought by the invaders, as they had been led to expect?
Moral invasions, undertaken for moral reasons: and yet somehow these seem to consistently be among the most vicious of all wars, with some of the highest civilian non-military rates. For some reason, an increasing number of an occupied population seems not to understand that being invaded is entirely in their best interest.
[T]hey’re not happy they’re occupied. I wouldn’t be happy if I were occupied either.
- United States president George W. Bush