Hey, Wait A Minute

Wesley & Me

Ever seen Bowling for Columbine, General?

Background check, anyone?

Who’s the political odd couple of the campaign season: Judy and Howie? John and Teresa? Try Wesley Clark and Michael Moore. The union between the Silver Star winner and the self-described peacenik was consummated last week on the stump in New Hampshire. Clark embraced Moore’s support, calling the best-selling author a “fantastic leader.” In the press release, Clark’s campaign lauded—in the first line no less—the “Academy Award winning director,” whom the general himself described as an “enormous talent.” For his part, Moore promised to do everything he could to help get Clark elected.

Moore hasn’t always been so taken with Clark, at least if his Oscar-winning film Bowling for Columbine is to be taken at face value. Indeed, the documentary repeatedly slams the shining moment in Clark’s career: stopping Serb aggression in Kosovo, the highlight of his tenure as NATO supreme allied commander. In fact, Moore suggests that the bombing tactics employed by NATO—and thus Clark—were in part to blame for the massacre at Columbine.

An intriguing theory, to say the least. Moore starts the case against Clark in the opening monologue of the film. “It was the morning of April 20th, 1999,” our narrator intones. “And it was pretty much like any other morning in America. The farmer did his chores. The milkman made his deliveries. The president bombed another country whose name we couldn’t pronounce.”

Actually, as any Clark supporter will tell you, the general can pronounce “former Yugoslavia” quite well. It’s no secret Clark’s role in the conflict is one his campaign stresses. On Clark’s official Web site, author David Halberstam is quoted on Kosovo: “On the military side, the dominant figure had been Wes Clark.”

Back in America, Moore finishes off the narration: “And out in Littleton, Colorado, two boys went bowling at 6 in the morning.”

Thirty minutes later, Moore trots out exhibit B. For this, the director turns to primary-source documents: news footage from April 20, 1999. A montage begins: We see TV clips of helicopters, bomb targeting systems, and structural damage. “Largest one day bombing by U.S. in Kosovo War,” reads the subtitle.

Cue voice of heavily accented reporter: “22 NATO missiles fell on the village of [inaudible name] … deadly cargo was dropped on the residential part of the village.”

Cut to Bill Clinton: “We’re striking hard at Serbia’s machinery of repression while making a deliberate effort to minimize harm to innocent people.”

Cue reporter’s voice, more carnage: “On the hit list were [a] local hospital and primary school.”

Another subtitle reads: “One hour later.”

Back to Clinton: “We all know there’s been a terrible shooting at a high school in Littleton, Colorado. …”

The connection is clear—the Columbine shooting coincided with the Kosovo bombing, violent acts that happened on the same date. One was committed at the hands of two disturbed teenagers, the other on the orders of Wesley Clark.

Not convinced? Moore soon enlists Marilyn Manson (who unfairly shouldered some blame for Columbine) to link the tragedy to Kosovo (admirably shifting the blame away from himself).

Manson: “The president was shooting bombs overseas, yet I’m a bad guy because I sing some rock ’n’ roll songs. And who’s a bigger influence, the president or Marilyn Manson? I’d like to think me, but I’m going to go with the president.”Moore: “Do you know the day Columbine happened, the United States dropped more bombs on Kosovo then at any other time during that war?”Manson: “I do know that, and I think that’s really ironic. Nobody said [that] maybe the president had an influence on this violent behavior.”

This brings us to a plausible reason for Moore’s endorsement, one that the film supports—if the president does have great influence on violent behavior, then what better way to stop violent behavior than by helping to influence who the next president will be?

Moore anticipated criticism of his pick. In his endorsement letter, he headed off attacks from readers who might be inclined to e-mail comments like “Mike! He voted for Reagan! He bombed Kosovo.” Moore assures them that Clark is now staunchly “anti-war.” (Forget the 30-year Army veteran’s authorship of Winning Modern War and Waging Modern War.) The Reagan thing? That’s “tit for tat sniping.” Besides, writes Moore, who cares what Clark did 20 years ago? In fact, Moore doesn’t appear to care what Clark did five years ago. Or what he said in a film that won him an Oscar last year. “Why expend energy on the past when we have such grave danger facing us in the present and near future?” An interesting point for a documentary filmmaker to make.

So has Clark actually watched Bowling for Columbine? It’s hard to say. Clark staffer Jamal Simmons says that Clark “is generally a fan of Michael Moore” but mostly his earlier works. Clark did defend Moore’s Oscar acceptance speech on CNN (the reason, Moore wrote in September, that the general won his heart). But that was Clark standing up for Moore’s right to dissent, not endorsing the film’s Kosovo critique. Could the campaign ask the general if he saw the movie? Nope. Too busy, says Simmons, pointing out that Clark doesn’t “pre-screen the views” of all who support him. A suggestion for Team Clark: If you’re not going to pre-screen a supporter’s viewpoint, at least pre-screen his movie. Heck, it won an Academy Award.