Soldiers Watching ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’

WSJ [$] – ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ Has Recruited Unlikely Audience: U.S. Soldiers

John Atkins isn’t the sort of person one would expect to find crowding into the Cameo Theatre here to see Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” The 26-year-old U.S. Army machine gunner from Fort Bragg voted for President Bush. A graduate of the University of Colorado-Boulder, he enlisted last year “to serve my country” and expects to go to Iraq later in 2004. “That was pretty thought-provoking,” Spec. Atkins says after a showing of Mr. Moore’s documentary. “I guess I’m a little disillusioned. I’ve got a lot more questions than answers now.”

Every day since “Fahrenheit 9/11” opened here more than two weeks ago, military men and women have swarmed to the 125-seat Cameo. “Everyone thinks the military is so staunchly Republican,” says Staff Sgt. Brandon Leetch, a military-intelligence specialist who spent time in Afghanistan. “What this shows,” he says, looking around the theater before the movie, “is that we’re not all the same.”

Indeed. People often fall prey to the ecological fallacy, staff sergeant. Soldiers are disproportionately Republican; that doesn’t mean any given soldier is a Republican.

Although a nearby suburban multiplex has started screening “Fahrenheit 9/11,” too, on two screens — meaning Fayetteville residents have their pick of 10 shows a day — most of the tens of thousands of troops living in the area probably won’t see the film. But soldiers and their families make up well over half of each audience at the Cameo, cinema owner Nasim Keunzel estimates.

How does that compare to a typical film at Cameo?

That surprises Peter Feaver, a political scientist and military specialist at Duke University in North Carolina. There is a sense in the military that “the media is stabbing us in the back as they did during Vietnam” and Mr. Moore’s film would seem “Exhibit A,” he says.

From what I’ve gathered, the film is anti-Bush propaganda, not anti-soldier.

Most viewers are coming from Fort Bragg, just up the road. But often a few Marines from Camp Lejeune, about two hours away, join them. The night Spec. Atkins attended, three soldiers arrived from South Carolina well after the 7:30 show had, as usual, sold out. The ticket seller set up chairs in an aisle.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” is a harshly satirical and controversial portrait of the Bush presidency, although it has sympathetic scenes of combat soldiers and their families. Critics say it distorts facts to make its point. It opened in 868 theaters during the week of June 25, and is showing in more than 2,011 theaters across the country. The movie opened in the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Switzerland last week.
The U.S. Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which distributes films at 164 theaters on bases around the world, is trying to book “Fahrenheit 9/11,” spokesman Judd Anstey says. “Our policy is that if a film is popular in the U.S. and we can get our hands on a print, we’ll show it,” he says. Currently, all prints are in commercial theaters. He says it took about a month to get another recent surprise hit, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”

Yep. Soldiers want to see films for the same reasons civilians do. Including the fact that it’s generating buzz.

The Cameo isn’t a usual stop for Fort Bragg soldiers. Ms. Keunzel and her husband turned a dilapidated downtown Fayetteville building into a two-screen theater because they loved foreign and independent films and were tired of driving to Raleigh to see them. Ms. Keunzel didn’t even advertise the opening of “Fahrenheit 9/11” in the Fort Bragg newspaper. The film’s area distributor told her, “Military people won’t want to see it.” But the first two scheduled shows sold out so quickly she added a midnight show. The next day, she added more screenings, for a total of five a day. They all sold out, even though the new times were never published.

Staff Sgt. Billy Alsobrook, 28, a missile repairman in a support battalion, drove to the Cameo one afternoon in his fatigues to get tickets for the evening show so he could take his wife. “I hear they’ve got a lot of interviews with soldiers,” says Sgt. Alsobrook, whose one-year tour in Iraq ended in February. He expects to return in September. The Florida native said: “I want to see another point of view on Bush. It never hurts.”

Not necessarily representative soldiers, but soldiers.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. joy says:

    Heh. That part of downtown Fayetteville where the Cameo is, can probably be best described as “artsy” by Fayetteville standards. There’s a few restaurants, some neat 20’s architecture and the biggest thing that opened when I lived there was the Huske Hardware House. In other words, it’s a place where I’d expect Specialists with college degrees to go hang out.

    It’s about a good 20-25 min from post, so you’d definitely need a car to get to downtown.

  2. 42nd SSD says:

    This is very probably a good thing, both because it shows that soldiers aren’t “all the same”… and the film, despite its obvious flaws, does encourage thought and discussion about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

    It’s unfortunate that Mr. Moore can’t stick to the facts to tell his stories. He’s certainly a very decent filmmaker and he knows how to engage an audience. I enjoyed “Roger & Me” when it aired on PBS way back when, but I was severely disappointed to learn that the entire premise of the film was a lie. The deliberate distortions turn what could be an enjoyable story into a sad example of the “Loony Left”.

    Honest discussions about the issues surrounding the September 11 attacks and our motivations for taking out Saddam are very useful, but I feel deliberate attempts to cloud the issues with vitriolic garbage are, at best, unhelpful. I’m really getting fed up with the deliberate polarization on both sides of the issues.

  3. Tranny386 says:

    I don’t quite understand James’ twisted logic, which seems to be asserting that the soldiers who went to see the film are Democrats. Shoddy journalism there, even by blog standards.

    Not much of a Moore fan either, but he clicks with the working class that’s is likely to dump those Bush elites this time around. I saw 9-11 outside of Jacksonville and there were more bandanas and Nascar kerchefs than suits. http://www.moveon.org had a table set up and a lot of those folks were picking up pamphlets and buttons.