In addition to his work as a mega-bestselling author, Michael Moore is an award-winning director. He lives in Michigan.
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DUDE, WHERE'S MY COUNTRY
By Michael Moore
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
I love listening to people's stories about where they were and what they were
doing on the morning of 9/11, especially the stories from the ones who, through
luck or fate, were allowed to live.
For instance, there's this guy who had just returned the day before from his
honeymoon. That night, on September 10, his new bride thought she'd make him her
special homemade burrito. The burrito was horrible, like eating tar stripped off
the center line of the Major Deegan expressway. But love ignores all of that and
what counts is the gesture, not the digestion. He told her how grateful he was
and how much he loved her. And he asked for another.
The next morning, September 11, 2001, he's on the subway from Brooklyn to his
job on one of the top floors of the World Trade Center. The subway might have
been heading to Manhattan, but the burrito was heading south, and I don't mean
the Jersey shore. He starts to get sick, real sick, and decides to get off just
one stop before the World Trade Center. He runs up the subway stairs in a
desperate search for facilities. But this is New York and that was not to be.
And thus, on the corner of Park Row and Broadway, he became a poster boy for
Embarrassed and humiliated-but feeling much better!-he flagged down a gypsy cab
and offered him a hundred dollars to take him home ($9 for the ride, and $91
toward the price of a new car).
When the man got home, he ran inside to take a shower and to put on a new set of
clothes so he could get back to Manhattan. Coming out of the shower he flipped
on the TV and, as he stood there, he watched the plane slam right into the floor
where he worked, where he would have been right now had his loving wife not made
him that wonderful-that absolutely perfectly incredible amazing ... He broke
down and began to cry.
My own 9/11 story wasn't so close a call. I was asleep in Santa Monica. The
phone rang around 6:30 a.m. and it was my mother-in- law. "New York is under
attack!" is what I heard her say through my half-awake ear. I wanted to say,
"Yeah so what's new- and it's 6:30 in the morning!"
"New York is at war," she continued. This made no sense other than, again, it
always feels like war in New York. "Turn on the TV," she said. And so I did. I
woke up my wife and as the television faded on there were the towers, on fire.
We tried to call our daughter back home in New York, no luck, then tried to call
our friend Joanne (who works near the World Trade Center), no luck, and then we
just sat there stunned. We didn't leave the bed or the TV until five that
afternoon when we finally found out that our daughter and Joanne were okay.
But a line producer we had just worked with, Bill Weems, was not okay. As the
networks started to run a scroll along the bottom of the TV with the names of
those who were on the planes, along came Bill's name on that screen. My last
memory of him was the two of us horsing around at a funeral home where we were
shooting a piece about the tobacco industry. Put two guys with a dark sense of
humor around a bunch of undertakers and you've got what we would call nirvana.
Three months later he was dead and-how do they say it?-"life as we knew it
Really? Did it? How has it changed? Is there enough distance from that tragic
day to ask that question and find an intelligent answer? Things certainly
changed for Bill's wife and his seven-year-old daughter. There's the crime,
right there, to have her daddy taken from her at such a young age. And life
changed for the loved ones of the other 3,000 who were murdered. They will never
lose the sorrow they feel. They are told that they "must move on." Move on to
where? Those of us who have lost someone (and I guess that's eventually
everyone) know that while life does "move on," the sock in the gut, the sorrow
in the heart, will never leave, so ways must be found to embrace it and make it
work for you and the living.
Somehow we all work our way through our own personal losses and we get up the
next morning and the morning after that and fix the kids' breakfast and do
another load of laundry and pay the bills and ...
Meanwhile, in faraway Washington, D.C., life is changing, too. Taking advantage
of our grief, and our fear that "it" may happen again, an appointed president
uses the dead of 9/11 as a convenient cover, a justification, for permanently
altering our American way of life. Is that why they died, so that George W. Bush
can turn the country into Texas? We've already conducted two wars since 9/11,
and an upcoming third or a fourth is not all that unlikely. If this is allowed
to continue, then all we will have accomplished is to dishonor those 3,000-plus
dead. I know Bill Weems didn't die so he could be used as an excuse to bomb
innocents overseas. If his death, his life, is to have a greater meaning from
this moment forward, it is to make sure that no one else like him will have to
lose his or her life in this insane, violent world, a world we now seem
hell-bent on running any way we damn well please.
I'm lucky, I guess, that I even get to write these words you are reading. Not
just because I get to live in the most wonderfulest country in the whole wide
world!, but because after 9/11, my former publisher, Regan Books (a division of
HarperCollins which is a division of the News Corp which owns Fox News and it's
all owned by Rupert Murdoch), was trying its hardest to make sure my career as
an author would come to an early end.
The first 50,000 copies of Stupid White Men came off the printing press the day
before 9/11, but when the tragedy struck the next morning, the trucks that would
carry them to the nation's bookstores never left the loading dock. The publisher
then held the books hostage for five long months-not simply out of good taste
and respect (which I might have been able to understand), but out of a desire to
censor me and the things I wanted to say. They insisted I rewrite up to 50
percent of the book and that I remove sections that they found offensive to our
leader, Mr. Bush.
I refused to change a word. A standoff ensued until a librarian in New Jersey
heard me talking about the phone call I had just received from the Murdoch
publisher telling me that it looked as if they had no choice, thanks to my
stubbornness, but to "pulp" and recycle all 50,000 copies of my book that were
gathering dust in a warehouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I also was told by
others not to expect much in the way of a book career after this, as word would
spread that I was considered "trouble," a royal pain in the ass who wouldn't
This librarian, Ann Sparanese, a woman I did not know, sent out an e-mail to a
list of librarians, telling them that my book was being banned. Her letter shot
around the Internet and, within days, letters from angry librarians were
flooding Regan Books. I got a call from the Murdoch police.
"What did you tell the librarians?" "Huh? I don't know any librarians." "Yes you
do! You told them about what we are doing with your book and now ... we're
getting hate mail from librarians!" "Hmm," I replied, "I guess that's one
terrorist group you don't want to mess with."
Fearing there would soon be a crazed mob of wild librarians storming down Fifth
Avenue and surrounding the HarperCollins building, refusing to leave until
either my book was liberated from the Scranton warehouse or Murdoch himself was
drawn and quartered (though I would have settled for making Bill O'Reilly wear
his underwear on his head for a week), the News Corp surrendered.
They dumped my book in some bookstores with no advertising, no reviews, and the
offer of a three-city tour: Arlington! Denver! Somewhere in New Jersey! In other
words, the book was sent to the gallows for a quick and painless death. It's too
bad you wouldn't listen to us, one Murdoch operative told me, we were only
trying to help you. The country is behind George W. Bush and it is
intellectually dishonest of you not to rewrite your book and admit that he has
done a good job since 9/11. You are out of touch with the American people, and
your book will now suffer as a result of it.
I was so out of touch with my fellow Americans that, within hours after the
book's release, it went to number one on Amazon- and within five days it had
gone to its ninth printing. It's in its fifty-second printing as I write this.
The worst thing to tell a free people in a country that's still mostly free is
that they are not allowed to read something. That I was able to be heard-and
that my book would go on to be the number-one selling nonfiction hardcover book
of the year in the United States-screams volumes about this great country. The
people will not be intimidated and they will not be bullied by those in charge.
The American people may look like they don't know what's going on half the time,
and they may spend too much time picking out different-colored covers for their
cell phones, but when push comes to shove, they'll rise to the occasion and be
there for what is right.
So here I am now with this new book at none other than AOLTIMEWARNER and Warner
Books. I know, I know, when will I learn my lesson? But here's the good news.
During the entire time I've been writing this book, AOL has been trying to get
rid of Warner Books. Why would a media company want to get rid of its book
division? What did Warner Books do to upset the gods of AOL? I figure if AOL
wants to dump these guys, they have to be okay. Plus, the other Warner folks in
this tangled web-Warner Bros. Pictures-are the people who distributed my first
film, Roger & Me. They were good and decent and they never threatened to "pulp
Okay, I'm rationalizing. Six media companies own everything. Break up these
monopolies for the good of the country! The free flow of news and information in
a democracy must not be in the hands of just a few rich men.
Yet, I have to say, they seem to be behind me here 100 percent. 1000 percent!!
Not once have they said I was "trouble." But then, It's not me they really need
to worry about. IT's the librarians. And you.
Excerpted from DUDE, WHERE'S MY COUNTRY
by Michael Moore
Copyright © 2003 by Michael Moore.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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