"If I stopped...I would be doing my son's death a dishonor"

A Q&A with Lila Lipscomb of Fahrenheit 9/11

In April 2003, Lila Lipscomb learned that her eldest son, a Black Hawk door gunner in the U.S. armed forces, had been shot down and killed in Iraq. When we meet her in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, she's undergoing a radical change in her personal politics. Once a flag-flying patriot and backer of the Bush administration, Lipscomb is on her way to becoming a flag-flying, high-profile critic of GWB, his administration, and their war.

Since the premiere of Moore's film, Lipscomb has logged more than 300 appearances and interviews. And its in this capacity, as a member of the peace organization Military Families Speak Out, that the 51-year old will be speaking on Saturday and Sunday, July 30-31 at the Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar in St. Paul.

Interviewing Lipscomb can be tricky. It seems crass to ask her challenging questions about her politics and perspective: As she puts it, "you can doubt my convictions, but you can't doubt my grief as a mother." But that's just it: Lipscomb's politics and her maternal loss are so tightly interwoven that it's nearly impossible to question one without impugning the other.

As in Moore's film, Lipscomb is a powerful speaker. In undressed language, she expresses gratitude for the strangers who give her newspaper clippings and hugs. When asked about the skeptics, she says she's been sheltered by "my son's angel wings wrapped around me." Ultimately, it's a strange effect this antiwar activist has, delivering stark denunciations in the comforting voice of the mother of a childhood friend.

City Pages: Are you still pro-military?

Lipscomb: Absolutely.

CP: Is it a matter of these troops being used for a justifiable cause?

Lipscomb: Let me say to you that I'm not a dumb woman, and I do understand that a country needs to have a military. But a country needs military for what purpose? For protection. So going and cramming democracy down people's throats throughout the world is not what I [feel] my troops should be used for.

CP: With a year of hindsight, how do you feel about Fahrenheit 9/11?

Lipscomb: You know, I am just so blessed that I've been given this incredible opportunity to have Fahrenheit as a platform for my son's voice, and for my voice. It's a gift, and it's a gift that I don't take lightly.

CP: Did you take any issue with the way you were depicted in Moore's film?

Lipscomb: Let me just explain it to you this way. From the very beginning when I was contacted by Michael's office, I was given complete authority over my sections of the film. After the premiere in New York City, Michael came to me again and said, 'Lila, are you okay with it? I need you to really think about it and see if there's even one little thing or one word that you don't like, let me know and I'll take it out.' So throughout the entire process I was totally respected. always. And I wouldn't expect anything different from him. I'm not the president who went and killed thousands and thousands of people, so he treats me, I think, a little differently.

CP: What do you think when you meet parents who have also lost children, yet still back the war completely?

Lipscomb: It's so okay with me, that that's where they are. It's [not my place to pass] judgment on them. That's just who they are and what they believe. And just as I don't judge them, I would hope that they wouldn't judge me. The loss of a child is what unites us together. Whether you believe in the cause or not, their child is still dead, just like my child.

CP:...um...I'm trying to be as sensitive as possible since this is a delicate subject...

Lipscomb: Don't worry, you don't have to. Just be authentic.

CP: All right. Your whole campaign is to change minds, so doesn't it pain you that they're backing a cause that ultimately isn't justified?

Lipscomb: Yeah, it does. It really, really does. Because I feel that they have been blind-sided, and it really does pain me. But in the same sense that it pains me, all I can do is support them, and hold them, and share information with them, and just pray that their eyes too will be opened.

CP: Do you think they need to take solace in the "nobility" of the cause for which their son or daughter or husband or wife died?

Lipscomb: Well, the way I see that is, that's what they have to do to hang on. And one of the things I've learned in losing a son is you have do what you have to do to hang on. When my son died a very good friend of mine helped me through everything. I remember her always asking me the question, 'Lila, what is it that you need?' And I can remember my response to her every single time was, 'I need to keep going.' And I knew through all my grief that I could never stop. Because I knew that if I stopped, I would become isolated, and I would become withdrawn, and I would end up in my home. And then I would be doing my son's death a dishonor. So I couldn't do that.

You know, people that have not lost anybody in this war, it hasn't touched them. And so, they sometimes seem to be very opinionated about the war. And the reason that I'm out there is so the war doesn't end up touching them. I don't want them to have to learn things the way I had to learn things in losing a son. You know, and I still say, 'you know, we live in America, and America was founded on democracy, and they have a right to their opinion just like I do.' But don't be afraid to come to the table and have a conversation.

CP: If before the war you had had the information you have today, what sort of views would you have toward Bush and toward the proposal of war?

Lipscomb: If I had the information I had today?

CP: Yeah.

Lipscomb: I would have chained myself to the White House.

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