Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Blog Banter: The Huckupchuck and the JunkYardBlog Go Head to Head on Michael Moore, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Troop Morale in Iraq - Friends, I've been engaged in an interesting debate/discussion with Bryan Preston of the JunkYardBlog. Bryan posted a piece titled "The Traitor's Poison Starts Its Work." This posting discusses the impact of Michael Moore's movie Fahrenheit 9/11 on troop morale. Read the whole piece. The main gist of the posting was Bryan's rather self-congratulatory pat on the back for accurately predicting the negative impact that Moore's movie appears to be having on troop morale. In the comments section of this piece, I take issue with Bryan not on the accuracy of his prediction, but on his assigning full responsibility (and even blame, if you will) on Moore for this result. My first comment on his posting was the following:

Bryan - You sell the intelligence of our soldiers short. Are they not capable of distinguishing lies and exaggerations from their own experiences in Iraq? Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. If these soldiers are on the front lines and really know the truth about things, why would Michael Moore’s movie mean anything to them. I imagine that Moore’s movie resonates with them because they see parallels between what Moore presents and what they experience and think of for themselves. Just like I can read Ann Coulter’s Treason and know it for the “trash” it is, so too can soldiers watch Fahrenheit 9/11 and know it for the “trash” it is. Instead of harping on the need to suppress the “lies of Michael Moore” why don’t you instead harp on the need to educate soldiers in the “truth”? What ever happened to that most conservative of values called individual responsibility for one’s own thoughts and ideas? Again, you do a disservice to the intelligence of soldiers by implying that they are unable to rise above and see through propaganda for themselves. Act like a conservative, would you? And stop whining about how Michael Moore is responsible for soldiers’ minds and thoughts rather than the soldiers themselves.
Bryan responded accordingly:
Jimmy, why do you always play these games of moral equivalence? I bring up Moore, you bring up Coulter, ad infinitum.

When did Ann Coulter make a film depicting enemy propaganda in the middle of a war? There is no correlation between a freelance writer, as often as not shunned by the side she cheers for, and Michael Moore. You’re either a liar or willfully obtuse to make such a comparison. I honestly don’t know which describes you.

One more time. I. Was. There. Those who have never been in the military simply don’t appreciate the crucible of pressure that it is. They don’t understand how sheltered life in the military, especially on the front lines, can be—and by sheltered I mean from the multitude of information sources available to the rest of us. They also don’t understand, because they never bother to try, just how young and inexperienced (in the ways of the world) the average soldier, sailor, airman and Marine truly is. Most of them are away from home for the first time in their lives, having never been to college and having never been exposed to the left’s poisons. They’re idealists, most of them. And put into the hell of war, some of that idealism naturally gets shattered just by the horror they see and live. They have lost friends, may have been wounded themselves. They have missed the births of their first children, and spent a year away from everything they know. They want to understand why.

And along comes Michael Moore, crafty propagandist that he is, and explains it all so plausibly. He tells them in so many words “You went to war for a lie. Your friend died for nothing. It’s your own President you should hate, not that Iraqi over there with the AK-47 pointed at you.” And we offer our troops nothing to counter the lies.

It’s unspeakably cruel to treat them this way, but you don’t care at all about them, do you Jimmy. You don’t care about anything but your narrow and precious view of morality, a morality that allows you to sleep well at night in your pacifist’s den because these troops are bleeding and dying for you.

Yes, our troops are intelligence—the most intelligent fighting force ever built. But they are young and idealistic, and scorched now by the tribulations of war. And on their way home, Michael Moore greets them to tell them that it was all for nothing.

A generation ago, propaganda such as Moore’s fell from the lips of one John F. Kerry, and it helped destroy America’s resolve. We spat on our returning soldiers, and called them baby killers.

We didn’t learn anything from that experience, and we won’t learn anything from this one either. We still mistreat our soldiers.
Before I even had a chance to read and address this first comeback, Bryan added to his initial comment with a follow-up which reads accordingly:
Jimmy, Rhiannon,

Your reactions to this post have proven something to me. I made a prediction—that Moore’s film would disrupt military morale. I took some criticism when I made that prediction, mostly from people who just don’t understand what it’s like to be a junior enlisted in today’s military. That prediction has been proven right—the article linked in this post was written by a soldier in the 1st Infantry, serving in Iraq, and he says that what I predicted is happening. And he didn’t even know I’d made the prediction, so you can’t argue that there’s some kind of collusion going on.

Yet rather than process that truth and deal with it, you attack me and criticize my prediction. Which turned out to be prescient. Why?

Because you refuse to see what’s right in front of your face. You have your understanding of the world, and nothing, not even a contrary truth, can shake it. That has been the hallmark of your entire approach to the war, and not just you individually, but you as members of the left. You refuse to see the truth—that America has dangerous enemies that want to kill us, through no fault of our own. If we let them, they will hand us more 9-11s with numbing regularity. Yet rather than help us defeat them and stay safe, you criticize your own countrymen. You just refuse to see and accept the truth.

I’m convinced you’re unreachable. You won’t know the truth when it blows up your own city. And if we listen to you, that’s exactly what will happen.

If I’ve misread you, explain to me why you’re taking shots at me for this post—which is about a prediction of mine that has borne out—but not the Palestinian car swarm post or any of the other posts here. Why this one, the only one that definitively proves me right and you wrong about something? Why?
[NOTE: Rhiannon is another person who left a critical comment on this discussion board.]

My response was the following:
Bryan - Where in my post have I claimed that you were wrong about your prediction that morale would be negatively affected by this movie? I didn’t. I readily admit that you are right about the end result. The whole purpose of my post was to question your assigning Michael Moore the full, 100% responsibility for this drop in morale. The facts are the following: (1) Michael Moore is a well-known propagandist. Any soldier who sees his movies would (or should) know this. It is to be expected that his movies would be biased. When I saw the film, I was perfectly capable of knowing that this film was biased and that there were certainly other sides of the story that were not represented. My brother, who is a very right-wing conservative, calls the movie a “fiction” (even though he hasn’t seen it). And even assuming that it is a fiction as exptected, why would someone who doesn’t believe its veracity let it affect their own morale. It could only affect morale negatively if viewers buy into it as the truth, or if it resonates with their own experiences or preconceived notions. (2) Soldiers have a choice (I assume) to see the movie or not. I assume that soldiers, like the rest of us, know full well that the movie is critical of the war and the military in a biased way. Soldiers also know that they are in the pressure cooker and that they are homesick and that they miss their loved ones even before they see the movie. Why would they subject themselves to something that would exacerbate their already difficult situation? I repeat … it is not Moore that is to blame for soldiers’ morale. (3) Since the military is an institution of obedience to authority, why were soldiers on duty in Iraq permitted to see this if its effects on morale were so easily predicted. It was not Michael Moore’s decision to show the movie to soldiers, was it? I rather think that it was shown to soldiers because they wanted to see it for themselves.

You want to assign blame for the negative impact on military morale because soldiers see Moore’s movie on Moore himself. It would be one thing if Moore’s movie were force fed to soldiers against their will. It wasn’t.

That’s my beef with your posting. It’s not with the truth of your prediction that Moore’s movie would negatively impact morale. I agree with you and think you are right. My beef is that you think Moore is 100% responsible for this, when I think that the soldiers (all rational adults, capable of discerning right from wrong, fact from fiction, bias from truth) that choose to watch the movie, and their superiors who allow it to be shown to their soldiers on active duty in Iraq, and even the situation of their daily reality in the midst of war that they can relate to the content of the movie — these must also all be accorded some responsibility for the decline in troop morale after viewing this movie as well.

I like to think that soldiers and their superiors are smart enough to be discerning about the bias and the impact that Michael Moore’s film will have. I don’t watch porn flicks and I don’t let my daughters watch movies like the Terminator. Guess why? Because I know that these movies will affect my (and my daughters’) sensibilities and values in ways that I object to. Do I blame Linda Lovelace or Arnold Schwarzenneger (or the directors/producers) because they made these movies? No. If I or my daughters see such things, it is because I want to see such things or permit my daughters to see it. The blame and responsibility, ultimately, is with me. And on this point, Bryan, I wholeheartedly agree with conservatives. Responsibility lies with the individual for their own actions, not with someone else and what they say or do - and certainly not with Michael Moore.
This is currently where the discussion stands. I'll keep you posted and informed of any subsequent exchanges that we may have. It just strikes me as ironic that conservatives typically emphasize individual responsibility when it comes to personal behavior, often times chastising minority group leaders for laying the blame and pointing the finger elsewhere for problems that plague their communities and families and societies. Also, most conservatives extol the virtues of minimal government intervention in the dissemination of information and personal opinion, as biased or as controversial or as misrepresentative as it may be. The contradictions between these traditional conservative positions and the reactions of supposed conservatives like Bryan Preston to Michael Moore's film expose the inconsistencies of thought that often plague rightwingers so caught up in their own little world of warped logic and self-righteous, unidimensional patriotism.

UPDATE: 7/28/2004 3:30pm CST: - Here's the latest exchange between me and the JYB on this subject (citations come from the same comments board linked above. Bryan Preston responded accordingly to my last posting:
Dealing with Moore is pretty simple, actually. If he were shunned by both major parties as a lying pariah not fit to be seen with in public, that would send a pretty powerful message that his tactics, smears and lies are outside the bounds of acceptable political discourse. But that isn’t what is happening. The Democrats lined up a bunch of spinners to lobby the MPAA to lower the film’s rating, and have all but given it their official seal of approval. DNC Chair MacAuliffe espouses Moore’s wacky Afghanistan war theory, and they put him in the presidential box next to Jimmy Carter at the DNC convention.

They have embraced him and his poisons. That sends the wrong message, and puts AAFES in a bind. As I’ve written before, AAFES is in charge of Army and Air Force military theatres. Since F*** 9-11 is embraced by one political party and either ignored or disparaged by the other, AAFES could legitimately be accused of political censorship if it decided not to run the film in its theatres. Just imagine what the Democrats would do with that story—”Bush censors film; keeps military from seeing his dirty laundry” or whatever. It would be THE AD for the Dems this year, even though Bush had no role in “censoring” that piece of trash. So AAFES runs the film, because it has no choice but to run it.

Jimmy, Moore’s poisons are being fed to our troops indirectly by the party you support and want to put in power. All they would have to do is cut their support for him, but they won’t because they risk losing the hard left Naderite vote and that’s a segment they know they can’t win without—so they keep Moore in their fold in spite of the damage he is doing. Contrary to what you say in comments on another post, I don’t believe most Democrats are willingly or knowingly helping the enemy, though I do believe Moore is. But in helping Moore, who is demonstrably helping the enemy, who is your party helping? And who is your party hurting?

The Democrats have made some awful choices in the past year, and one of your worst was to choose to embrace Michael Moore as a legitimate voice for your party. Our troops are paying for that choice.
Here is my reply:
I understand your sentiments, Bryan. But, again, I go back to the question of personal responsibility. Our troops are not paying for the choices of anybody’s but their own. Heck, they’re even not paying for Bush’s “choice” to send them into harm’s way. They are grown-up people who chose for themselves to join the military with full knowledge of the risks that are entailed. They are also fully capable of “choosing” to marginalize and ignore Moore and his film if they want to, especially knowing what kind of propagandist and what kind of politics Moore professes. It seems to me that you so badly want to assign blame for the loss of troop morale to anything else that completely absolves the soldiers, their superiors, and their civilian leaders within the administration for any share of the responsibility in this disheartening quandary we find ourselves in. And Moore is the most obvious target. I don’t know what the military teaches about leadership, but I would imagine that one of the characteristics of leadership is rallying and maintaining troop morale. Moore’s movie certainly hurts that process, but there is responsibility to be shared all around, including personal responsibility by the soldiers themselves as well as responsibility by the Bush Administration for the way it has, in my mind, mishandled the impact of war and its aftermath on the psychological well-being of the soldiers and their families. Just because Moore doesn’t act more responsibly doesn’t mean the Bush amdinistration or the soldiers themselves don’t have to.
I'll keep you updated as long as there is something to update.

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