• Random Quote

    Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

    — Mark Twain

Triumph of the Shrill – Christopher Hitchens vs. Michael Moore on 9/11

Moore gives a voice to American soldiers, including several gung-ho rockers revved to kill. We also see soldiers reflecting on the violence, coming to terms with their own doubts, fears, and regrets. He introduces us to disabled soldiers in hospitals, coping with their wounds; he shows us the coffins of those who won’t be coming home. He also presents the anguish, humiliation, and grief of the Iraqis. The tears of the Iraqi woman wailing for her dead matches the tears of the American mother back in Flint facing the death of her son.

“Would he have abandoned Gettysburg because the Union allowed civilians to pay proxies to serve in their place? Would he have supported the antidraft (and very antiblack) riots against Lincoln in New York? After a point, one realizes that it’s a waste of time asking him questions of this sort.”

Hitchens has hit the Daily Double here. Unable to answer these questions lucidly, Gettysburg is lost due to the negligence of this fat fool. Imagine a catastrophic future where Southern bigots dominate American politics, and blacks remain second-class citizens, unable to vote in Florida. (Then blame it on Michael Moore.) Moore has two inexhaustible hours in his film merely limning the nexus between Bush, Osama, the Saudis, 9/11, Afghanistan, class and race, and the Iraq War, and yet he fails to answer questions on “the antidraft (and very antiblack) riots against Lincoln”.

Aside from his failure to address the Battle of Gettysburg, what else would Hitchens demand of Moore? What about the von Schlieffen plan to win the First World War on two fronts? Is Moore in or out? What of General von Paulus at Stalingrad? Could the 6th Army been saved if not for Hitler’s insomnia? Moore says nothing serious on the topic. And what of Marshal Zhukov’s pincer movement — sheer genius or old wine in a new bottle? Again, Moore is silent. According to Hitchens, it’s a waste of time asking Moore these sorts of questions — and besides, and more importantly, the guy’s a fat slob.

Can anyone take this form of ludicrous sophistry from the allegedly shrewd logician Hitchens seriously? One would have to be on very heavy sedation (or intoxicated) indeed to accept the claim that Moore’s film is a failure because he does not address Gettysburg or Lincoln.


From video interview at Baghdad School -- 1992

Iraqi School Boy


“We are shown some American civilians who have had absurd encounters with idiotic “security” staff. (Have you ever met anyone who can’t tell such a story?) Then we are immediately shown underfunded police departments that don’t have the means or the manpower to do any stop-and-search: a power suddenly demanded by Moore on their behalf that we know by definition would at least lead to some ridiculous interrogations. Finally, Moore complains that there isn’t enough intrusion and confiscation at airports and says that it is appalling that every air traveler is not forcibly relieved of all matches and lighters. (Cue mood music for sinister influence of Big Tobacco.) So—he wants even more pocket-rummaging by airport officials?”

Is Hitchens flat out dissimulating here or did he pack his head with Portland cement before the lights went down? Moore details the ludicrous contradictions of the Homeland Defense spectacle—breast milk repulsed, matches blessed, but thousands of miles of coastline undefended—to argue that the thrust of the Bush ‘anti-terrorism’ program is not about safety but about fear-mongering and manipulation of the public.

REPORTER: “Be on the lookout for model airplanes packed with explosives.”

(video of Osama smiling, woman screaming)

FOX REPORTER: And the FBI is reporting ferries may be considered particularly at risk for hijacking.

(video of Osama smiling, woman screaming. Switches to video of cows)

REPORTER: Could these cattle be a target for terrorists?

NARRATOR: Fear works?

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT: Fear does work, yes. You could make people do anything if they’re afraid.

NARRATOR: And how do you make them afraid?

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT: Well you make them afraid by creating an aura of endless threat. They played us like an organ. They raised the [level]– the orange and up to red and then they dropped it back to orange. I mean, they, they give these mixed messages which were crazy making.

PRESIDENT BUSH: The world has changed after September the 11th. It’s changed because we’re no longer safe. / Fly and enjoy America’s great, uh, destination spots.

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: We’ve entered what may very well prove to be the most dangerous security environment the world’s known.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Take your families and enjoy life.

VP CHENEY: Terrorists are doing everything they can to gain even deadlier means of striking us.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Get down to Disney World in Florida.

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT: It’s like training a dog; ya tell him to sit down or ya tell him to roll over at the same time, the dog doesn’t know what to do. Well the American people are being treated like that. It was really very very skillfully and, and ugly in what they did.

“By the same token, if I write an article and I quote somebody and for space reasons put in an ellipsis like this (…), I swear on my children that I am not leaving out anything that, if quoted in full, would alter the original meaning or its significance. Those who violate this pact with readers or viewers are to be despised. At no point does Michael Moore make the smallest effort to be objective. At no moment does he pass up the chance of a cheap sneer or a jeer.”

Hitchens swears on his children that he would never leave out anything that would change the meaning of a quote, and violators, he declares, “are to be despised.” Noble sentiments. Let’s hold him to his word. Hitchens writes, “Moore asserts that Iraq under Saddam had never attacked or killed or even threatened (his words) any American.” Here is the actual narration of the film:

“On March 19, 2003, George W. Bush and the United States military invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq. A nation that had never attacked the United States. A nation that had never threatened to attack the United States. A nation that had never murdered a single American citizen.”

Notice how “never threatened to attack the United States” mutates slyly into “or even threatened…any American”. This is more than navel-gazing over a Scrabble Board—Hitchens renders a fake quote to facilitate his attack on Moore. Now Moore, I thought, made a very broad claim in saying, “Iraq never murdered a single American citizen.” Saddam, for instance, could have killed off some poor Iraqi-American holding dual citizenship in one of his political pogroms. Would that count?


An Iraqi saw me taking photos of the momument, and offered to snap my picture.

Author visiting one of the Baathist monuments — Baghdad, Oct. 1992

The crux, however, is that Iraq has never attacked the U.S. or even threatened to attack us. By avoiding such a sweeping generalization, Moore could have muted some of the armies of teeth-gnashing nitpickers that he knew would be waiting in ambush. (At least the ones who do not lie about what he actually said.) Hitchens then piles on a whole list of disparate ‘facts,’ to wallop the transcendentally ‘ignorant’ Moore—or at least Hitchens’ version of Moore. The ‘facts’ don’t really cohere into an argument proving that Saddam menaced Americans but they seem impressive, at first glance, tumbling on top of each other.

“In 1993, a certain Mr. Yasin helped mix the chemicals for the bomb at the World Trade Center and then skipped to Iraq, where he remained a guest of the state until the overthrow of Saddam.”

Mr. Yasin, originally from Bloomington, Indiana, was initially picked up by the FBI who interviewed him and released him in 1993. He fled to Iraq where, according to CBS, he was regarded with suspicion and put in jail. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes claimed that the Iraqis twice offered to turn Yasin over to U.S. authorities who refused to take him. U.S. officials refused to comment. Neil Herman, the FBI official who headed the 1993 Trade Center investigation, acknowledged that Yasin fled to live with a family member in Baghdad. Herman added, “We looked at [Yasin] rather extensively. There were no ties to the Iraqi government.”8

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