Michael Moore and the U.S. military: Veterans and civilians respond to "G.I. Joe Critics," by Bill Warhop, and "The 'Fahrenheit' Boiling Point," by Andrew Exum.

Published July 16, 2004 8:05PM (EDT)

[Read "G.I. Joe Critics," by Bill Warhop, and "The 'Fahrenheit' Boiling Point," by Andrew Exum.]

The soldiers who saw "Fahrenheit 9/11" with Bill Warhop were almost certainly all young, highly motivated and proud of their service. (They also, of course, have a strong motivation not to piss off their chain of command.)

When I was a young infantry trainee at Fort Benning, I might well have agreed with their assessment of the movie. Now, at the age of 35, with plenty of life experience under my belt and years to reflect on my service (fortunately as a medic, rather than an infantryman) in Desert Storm, I agree completely with what Moore is trying to accomplish. And I fervently hope that these brave young soldiers have a chance to grow up before they die.

-- Daniel Dvorkin

Salon missed the boat on "G.I. Joe Critics." The real story is how people on every side of the political spectrum are trying to hijack the symbolism of the military uniform to garner support for use in their numerous political debates.

I'm a newspaper reporter in Hinesville, Ga., outside Fort Stewart, and I can find you soldiers with every possible position you can find on Bush, terrorism, this movie and the war.

As a veteran of two deployments myself (as an army public affairs specialist), here's my take: The movie was biased like a sloppy newspaper editorial is biased. Moore's got some good points, but he never finishes anything he starts, and I don't blame the interviewed troops for being confused.

That said, here's the reason I believe everyone should see it: The pictures of the bombing of Baghdad during the shock and awe campaign. The attack on the Fallujah contractors. The bombing victims in the donkey cart. See the movie, but not to be treated to a work of rhetorical brilliance. See it for the images the U.S. media has self-censored out of its own reports, and most people in our strangely sanitized, generally comfortable country perhaps know exist but never go out of their way to see.

-- Catherine Caruso

My father was a two-tour Vietnam veteran from 1966 to 1968. Upon returning home, he was refused service at two local car dealerships, and a restaurant in his hometown displayed a sign reading: "No Pets. No Military." This was in rural north Georgia.

Having grown up in a Reagan-cheering neighborhood in Tennessee, then educating myself at a left-wing northern university, it is disturbing to see leftist filmmakers appropriate the venom and logical shortcomings of fire-breathing Southern Baptists. Michael Moore is the Pat Robertson of the new left, Dog Eat Dog his 700 Club.

-- Anthony Sims

Congratulations, Salon, on publishing Andrew Exum's article. It takes guts to publish opinions not necessarily in line with your readership.

However, I take issue with the article. Mr. Exum seems to have missed what I think was and should be a larger part of all of these recent documentaries or, as Mr. Moore called his, "Op-Ed pieces." Where are the soldiers? It is absolutely correct, although I'm not sure a revelation, to note that soldiers do not fit into one simple stereotype. Like everyone else, they have a million reasons for being where they are when they are, and for taking part in this war. To me the question is, what are they doing with that choice?

As long as they continue to fight and silently toe Bush's false line, they must lose some integrity in the public's eye. On the other hand, I too witnessed some distressing mob mentality at my screening of "Fahrenheit," and I too was disappointed in Mr. Moore's choices with his newest movie. Please, fellow left-wingers, choose reason over passion. You cannot fight lies with more lies and expect to come out with the truth.

-- Megan Koster

If anything, Michael Moore went out of his way to make it clear that he had the utmost respect for our troops.

When he shows footage of soldiers blasting the Bloodhound Gang in their tanks, he is showing us young men whose attitudes toward war were informed by the army's video game recruiting ads and Rumsfeld's idea of "surgical bombing," both of which are total bullshit. Later, he shows us soldiers reacting to reality of war.

America's troops, like our citizenry as a whole, were sold a painless cakewalk and got a real live bloody war instead.

When Moore shows the abuses of Iraqi prisoners, he puts the blame right at the feet of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. He blames these leaders who put too few troops on the ground to win the war, stressing our soldiers to the point of losing their humanity at times. I for one walked out of "Fahrenheit 9/11" with greater respect and empathy for the soldiers fighting in Iraq as well as greater anger toward the chicken hawks who put them there.

-- Rob Formica

Andrew Exum writes, "But I fear the American left is beyond the highly nuanced, sophisticated arguments they have always embraced in the past (occasionally to their detriment). For now, they just want to be angry."

I think this unfortunately sums up what it is like to be liberal these days. Our reward for maintaining nuanced, sophisticated, and I'll add balanced and fair arguments over the last 20 years is that conservatives have taken over the media, the government and the country with their much more accessible propaganda of half-truths and bombast.

So, our anger at playing fair and getting trounced for it is quite understandable, as is our admiration for those who are willing to stand up and fight the injustice of it.

One other point: If Americans are only going to listen to those who shout the loudest and the longest, then we are getting exactly what we deserve in our public discourse, and it is no wonder the rest of the world looks on in dismay and disappointment.

-- Dan Schreiber

I was disappointed by Andrew Exum's "The 'Fahrenheit' Boiling Point." I can understand his concern about the reception returning veterans will receive, but his implication that criticism of the Bush administration's actions will lead inevitably to "buckets of red paint tossed by antiwar protesters" is speculation supported only by a single alleged name-calling incident, the facts of which are in some dispute.

I believe that those who take the oath to defend our republic deserve the most capable, most careful leadership when being asked to risk their lives. The Bush team falls so far short of that it's appalling.

A few misguided people may call veterans names when they come home, but the overwhelming majority of the American public knows exactly who deserves the blame. I just wish the public had the right to greet the soldiers who come home to Dover AFB in boxes, to thank them for their service no matter how foolishly they were led.

-- David Stevens

While's Exum's treatise about the possible return of Vietnam-era "blame the veteran" syndrome is timely and succinct, he commits logical leaps and overlooks a central historical fact: Stories of Vietnam veterans being spat upon and denigrated are largely an urban myth. According to Chris Hedges' "What Every Person Should Know About War," 99 percent of Vietnam veterans reported receiving a friendly reception from friends and family and 94 percent reported a positive reception from their peers. The age-old story about the vet who gets spit upon at the airport appears to be apocryhphal (no research confirms such an event ever occurred).

Nevertheless, Exum touches upon a powerful topic. The cultural chasm that separates vets from non-vets in America is very real and very divisive, particularly in certain, shall we say, more liberal sectors of our society. As a literature graduate student one of my professors responded to my declaration of Marine Corps service with a "Dear God!" and a look of utter disdain. Upon further questioning, she asserted that only the lowest 10 percent of society goes into the military.

It is clear to me that the societal bias against those who choose to serve, extant since Vietnam, is distinct from the Iraq issue and manifests itself in a more covert and pernicious manner than Exum describes. The cartoonish displays of protesters are the least of our worries.

-- David Morris

By Salon Staff

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