Thu, Jul 22, 2004 - Page 9 News List

The lie that killed my son

Lila Lipscomb believed in Bush's case for war in Iraq. But when her son died in fighting that he saw,and that she now sees, as useless, her faith was shattered

By Emma Brockes  /  THE GUARDIAN , London

YUSHA

Two years ago, if you had asked Lila Lipscomb what she stood for, she would have referred you to the flag in her garden and her four grown-up children. Her priorities were, in descending order of importance, family, faith, country and a place where all three met that she might have called "service": two of her children were in the military and she worked in the public sector, at an employment agency designed to get people off welfare.

She is, as she puts it, "an extremely strong woman. And I've raised my daughters to understand that they come from a long line of strong, independent women. So the men in our lives have to be very unique. Hence Pops."

Pops is her husband, Howard, an autoworker. He accompanied Lipscomb to London recently by way of moral support and sits across from her in the hotel suite, eyes brimming. What she is saying is not easy for either of them.

Lipscomb describes an event that changed their lives and forced a seismic shift in their political perceptions; a shift that she hopes millions of her fellow Americans will be making between now and election time in November.

To her surprise, and the surprise of all who know her, Lipscomb is becoming a figurehead in the fight to oust US President George W. Bush.

It has been a few weeks now since Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's polemic on Bush and the war in Iraq, was released in the US, and in that time Lipscomb's voice has emerged as the film's most powerful.

As with any project generated by Moore, the film will be loved and loathed in equal measure, but whatever one thinks of him, it is hard to resist the testimony of Lipscomb, 50, from Flint, Michi-gan, who still flies a flag in her garden, but is down to three children and a handful of ruptured assumptions where certainties used to be.

The scenes in which she recounts the story of her son Michael's death have had cinema-goers sniffling into their sleeves. "For many years," Lipscomb says , "I thought I had to control everything. I had a real controlling spirit. But, boy, when the army stands in your house and tells you that your oldest son is killed, all that flies out the window. Over this last year and a half, I've been known to cry a bit."

The power of Lipscomb's story lies in the sharpness of the U-turn she made and her eloquence in speaking about it. Initially, she supported the war, on the assumption that the government knew best.

But just two weeks into the conflict her 26-year-old son, an army sergeant, was shot down while serving as a door gunner in a Black Hawk helicopter.

Five other soldiers died with him.

A week or so later she received his last letter, in which he told her he thought Bush had lost the plot and that they shouldn't be in Iraq, that the whole thing was folly.

Moore got wind of it when Lipscomb and her family were featured in Newsweek, and he flew to his hometown for a meeting.

"Michael Moore said he'd already been around America interviewing all different types of people. It was the most incredible experience; he was sitting in our living room and all of a sudden, during the talking and sharing, a tear fell from his eye. His producer said afterward, `Michael found it, he found it, he found what the movie was going to be about!'" she said.

Lipscomb should by rights have been suspicious of Moore. She is a Democrat, but a conservative one. She is, or at least was, conformist enough so that even now if the draft was enforced she says she wouldn't urge desertion, because that would be breaking the law.

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