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Will They Ever Trust Us Again?
Michael Moore
London: Allen Lane, 2004.
£12.99, 240 pages, ISBN 0-713-99854-7 (hardback).

Jacques Coulardeau
Université Paris Dauphine


The “Letters from the Front” genre has been used a lot in history. It is a complex genre that can lead to many things. Letters from GIs in the Second World War were used by linguists to analyze many linguistic points concerning the linguistic competence of young American men of average and low education, for example. Michael Herr, for his part used letters from the Vietnam war to write his book Dispatches,. Here Michael Moore uses solicited letters he received via email on his website from various military personnel in Iraq, then in other countries around the world, then from relatives and friends of the aforesaid. The sole subject of these letters is the war in Iraq, even if many touch other subjects, and the book was published as part of Michael Moore’s campaign against the reelection of George W. Bush as President of the US in November 2004, Bush II as Chomsky calls him in his recent book Hegemony or Survival, America’s Quest for Global Dominance (2003). So Michael Moore’s book is more of a pamphlet than just a plain collection of letters, especially with the six-page appendix and all the actions people can do to “Support Our Troops.” If it were only that, the book would not deserve any coverage here. But it is a lot more besides, and I am going to point out a few elements that have to be taken into account to assess the real value of the book.

A New Prophet?
The book sounds personal from the very start because nearly all the letters praise and thank Michael Moore for his good work and ask him to go on with spreading the good word. They are particularly laudatory about the film Farenheit 9/11. They treat Moore as a prophet and they rely on him for the struggle and battle they see ahead. This is typically American, this Christian inspiration in the wake of Old Testament prophets. He speaks and they approve and follow. What is at stake here is democracy. It does not work properly in the US. Instead of following prophets or preachers, people should think by themselves, then unite and start working together towards their common goal. This first impression is the very caricature of democracy we can see so often in the US: the individual politicians do all the thinking, preaching their “truth” and then people vote. History is full of aborted democratic elections that led to catastrophes. Hitler was elected.

A New Medium
And yet the book is a revolution in our political democracy. Why is that? Because it illustrates the emergence—in an emergency mind you—of the new medium that the Internet is becoming. Everyone has the power to speak their words, to express their opinions and to circulate them all over the world to millions of people. This new medium builds what Noam Chomsky calls the second superpower in the world, public opinion. And here the letters are crystal-clear about the traditional media that do not carry out their mission to bring the news, all the news and nothing but the news to the people. They do not, and the President has even banned some news from being published. This emergence of the Internet transforms the problem of political consciousness and political action. “An interactive website where soldiers are able to express themselves freely” [19]. It is the Internet that showed the first pictures of the tortures in American prisons in Iraq or even in Guantanamo. The world has not been globalized only at the military level after the fall of the Wall in 1989. The world has been globalized by the invention of the Internet that enables anyone to have some weight in the world. This public opinion can be moved and the Internet is becoming the modern tool of expression for those who had been systematically rejected into silence in the old days. The “silent majority” of not too long ago has to be reexamined. This idea makes the book all the more pathetic, symbolic and admirable, because the world is changing and the Internet has become a battleground at the level of the world with the World Summit on Information Society that is being prepared in Geneva and that is to take place in Tunis in November. In Tunis of all places, where a good dozen young people have been thrown in jail for having downloaded sites that were forbidden. You should follow these debates in Geneva to understand. Three groups of stakeholders, the Governments (the UN), the Private Sector (business) and Civil Society (NGOs from all over the world). One of the stakes is Internet Governance at the present moment in the hands of ICANN, based in California, gathering the main Internet related businesses and under the authority of the Department of Commerce in Washington DC. It is little known that this Department of Commerce asked ICANN to obliterate the root “iq” at the beginning of the war, hence cutting all Internet relations between Iraq and the world and in Iraq itself. The protest was strong enough to make them back down. This book is the tip of an enormous global iceberg and an alliance seems to be in the building intelligently led by China that easily gets third world countries and many others behind her, represented as she is by Mrs. Hu, a University Professor, today a Counselor on these questions in Beijing who personally knew the inventors of the Internet in California 35 years ago.

A New Outlook on American Troops
American troops are far from being united in their way of looking at the war. An important proportion is shown as opposed to the war and some facts are given to support this atmosphere. Most of these soldiers come from poor families living in poor neighborhoods. Most of them enlisted to discover the world, to get some training, and to get a free college education. The recruiting officers told them that they would never really be engaged in a war. They believed them and then found themselves in a war. The book reveals they were carried away by the patriotic enthusiasm that followed the tragic attacks of September 11. But they were also convinced of their mission to defend the Constitution and democracy at home and everywhere in the world. Then they saw what was happening. They discovered they had been lied to by the President, their Commander in Chief, about WMDs. They discovered that they did not have enough defensive and offensive equipment, even personal reinforcements for their protective clothes. They discovered that they were not fighting against soldiers who deserted as soon as they were seen arriving, but against civilians. “He killed a civilian woman his first week in Iraq and didn’t have the stomach to fight after the incident.” [176] “It’s hard listening to my platoon sergeant saying, ‘If you decide you want to kill a civilian that looks threatening, shoot him. I’d rather fill out paperwork than get one of my soldiers killed by some raghead’” [24]. “Everyone here [South Korea] is excited about going so that they can kill someone” [44].

American soldiers going to war discover that if a wounded soldier dies in the plane transferring him or her outside Iraq, or later, he or she will not be considered as a war victim, as having died in action, and no statistics are given about these wounded soldiers who die later on. The casualties are underestimated. And they also discover that even medical equipment is short and that some medical personnel must ask their relatives in the US to make and send some scrubs to have enough sterile scrubs for their work [190]. What’s more they discover PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the fact that it destroys the life of soldiers after the battle, when they are back from the war and there is practically no military help for them. There are many other elements about this destroyed morale of the soldiers in Iraq. We find that these poor young people got into the army as a way to negotiate the financing of their college education, more than anything else, and that the American people were living with the conviction that war was no longer an option after the end of the Cold War. The result is a total lack of morale, resentment against the Commander in Chief and the “pussy” Rumsfeld. The surprising element is the very short time it took for these professional or reserve professional soldiers to become disabused, disenchanted and discontented. These letters reveal the army is crumbling from inside. The reported cases of censorship inside and outside, the rebukes the soldiers get when they are critical inside are signs of this crumbling morale.

A New “Class Consciousness”
But the letters are short in ideological analysis. They remain strongly patriotic and they do not question war as such, but this war in particular. Their vision of their society is clear-cut but also short-sighted. They oppose the poor to the rich, and they believe the rich are in power to enable the rich who are not in power to get the contracts in Iraq that the war fought by the poor is supposed to bring in. Bush and his associates come first, “Blackwater, Kellog Brown and Root, Halliburton, on and on” second, and soldiers third. They do not see that they have to be slightly more sophisticated to be effective. They do not understand what political work is, that a presidential campaign cannot be fought on one issue, that you must have an alternative and Kerry does not seem to satisfy the authors of these letters. They do not even understand that they have to take part in the political process of building up issues and consensual solutions. They at most envisage private discussions with family and friends, rarely picketing or other public actions, certainly not a battle for a political awakening. This explains the sadness you feel all the time in Will They Ever Trust Us Again? The book shoots heavy guns at Bush II, but Bush was reelected, not by a landslide victory but reelected all the same. So what happened? The book is rich in retrospect: it shows all the shortcomings of this anti-war-in-Iraq movement. It prevented a landslide victory but it could not bring a defeat: it could not bring together a majority on all the political, social and economic problems facing the American people: there was no alternative. This anti-war-in-Iraq movement sounds in these letters as some limbos in which discontented people were, and the opposition between the poor and the rich was not enough to explain Bush’s victory, won in the mountains and plains, and the South, whereas his opponent won New England and the Great Lakes. In other words Bush won the poorest states, whereas Kerry carried the richest ones. Why? The reference to God is probably the answer, and it is ever present in the book. The rural and urban poor, particularly if they are white, have a tendency to look for a conservative religious Christian discourse or belief to compensate for their very frustration and poverty, and that is exactly the honey Bush used to catch the flies that elected him.

So Abraham Lincoln was right: “If you give the people the facts, the Republic will be safe.” But there is a provision for this to be true. People have to take off their warping ideological glasses to see the facts, otherwise the Republic is in danger. This is exactly what happened. Americans all kept their ideological religious glasses on and they voted against their own interest, or did not vote at all. It takes more than one prophet to change the world. Jesus—and he was no prophet—had twelve Apostles, thirteen with Paul.

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