Two things really moved me in Michael Moore’s film Where To Invade Next. He visited prisons in Norway and interviewed inmates and staff. Prisons there are extremely humane. There is no capital punishment, no life sentences, and little or no rape and violence in the prisons. Each inmate has a cell with a door they can lock with a key.
When they get out, they have to be fit to live in society, and the prisons work toward that end.
In comparison, when you think about American prisons cheaply warehousing huge numbers of minority inmates, run by corporations for profit, providing cheap labor, allowing rape and violence to occur, it’s easy to see Michael Moore’s point that our prisons are a socially condoned, legal form of slavery.
The other moving thing was his visit to Germany to see how it deals with its history of Holocaust. Students learned empathy for a Jewish man who had to put the belongings he most cherished into one suitcase, because Nazis were forcing that onto him. The students then put their most cherished belongings into a suitcase. One by one, in went the cell phones, photos, keepsakes, etc. You could see it made a deep impression on them.
Coming to terms with the Holocaust is part of every German’s education. Taking responsibility, even when the students are immigrants without Nazis among their ancestors, is part of becoming German. The nation as a whole bears the shame of its history, and the determination for it never to happen again – and the training so that it actually never does.
American history books avoid fully exploring the fact that our country was built on genocide against Native Americans. We may learn a few facts, but not empathy for what the victims experienced. We learn about slavery, but not what it was like to be a slave, and not responsibility to make sure it never happens again. There’s still so much denial about this. “Get over it.” Trauma doesn’t get resolved that easily. Genocide and slavery are the shadows of our national identity. Only bringing them into the light and feeling the pain will move us as a people to make sure they don’t ever happen again, that Americans don’t do that.
I know that at least one of my ancestors killed a young Native American man in hand-to-hand combat. I feel for his family and tribe’s loss. I know that some of my ancestors owned slaves. I feel for their tremendous suffering.
I feel shame about these behaviors. I apologize on behalf of my ancestors, fully understanding that these words are specks in comparison to the harm done.
The only consolation I’ve ever received about this family history was from an anthropologist/teacher, who assured me that further back in time, some of my ancestors were victims of genocide, and some of them were slaves, because we humans have done these things to each other for millennia.
I want to believe that the human race is slowly, slowly learning not to commit genocide and not to enslave other humans. It takes films like this, that visit other parts of the world, to help us see ourselves more clearly and show us there are other ways. Even when they were American ideas in the first place!
Thank you, Michael Moore, for making this film. I wish it was in theaters longer, hope goes to Netflix soon, and would like to see it become required viewing in American history classes.