Michael Moore: Why I Became Anti-War
The following is an excerpt from Michael Moore's new book, Here Comes Trouble.
I can’t quite remember when I turned against the idea of war, but I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that I didn’t want to die. From pretty much the sixth grade on, I was firmly, solidly, against dying.
But up until then, I spent many years dying with verve in our neighborhood. The favorite game to play on our street was War. It beat Bloody Murder by a mile because it had weapons. Bloody Murder was really just a game of hide-and-seek (when you found the person hiding, you would yell “Bloody murder!” and everyone would try to make it back to touch the home pole before those who were hiding could tag you).
War was the real deal - and girls couldn’t play. The rules were simple. A group of boys, ages four to ten, would divide up into two groups: the Americans and the Germans. We each had our own set of toy machine guns, rifles, and bazookas. I was much admired for my fine stash of hand grenades that came complete with the pin you could pull out as you tossed it, accompanied by a very loud “explosion” that would come out of my mouth.
None of us minded whether we were chosen to be a German or an American - we already knew who was going to win. It became less about winning and more about coming up with creative and entertaining ways to kill and be killed. We studied Combat and Rat Patrol on TV. We asked our dads for ideas but none of us got much help as they didn’t seem to want to talk about their war experiences. We all imagined our fathers as well-decorated war heroes, and it was just assumed that if we ever had to go to war we would be every bit the brave defenders of freedom they were.
I was particularly good at dying, and the other kids loved machine-gunning me down. Especially if I was playing a German; I’d stand for as long as I could, taking as many of their bullets as I could, and, long before Sam Peckinpah arrived on the scene, I was going down in a slow-motion agony that gave all the other boys a thrill for offing my sorry Nazi ass. And when I hit the ground, I’d roll over a couple times and, in a fit of spasms, I would expire. As I lay there, eyes open, motionless, I felt a strange sense of satisfaction that I played an important role in seeing one more nasty Nazi bite the dust.
But when I played an American, I would try to stay alive as long as possible. I would find some way to sneak in behind enemy lines, hide in a tree, and then take out as many of the Germans as I could. I especially loved lobbing the grenades from above; it was so upsetting to the “Nazi” boys who could not figure out where all these little bombs were coming from. I would make sure to leave one or two of them alive so they could shoot me. Then I could die a hero’s death, cut down in my prime, maybe taking one last “Nazi” with me as I fell on them, pulling the pin off my final grenade, blowing both of us to bits as we hit the ground.
But by 1966, as the pictures on the evening news seemed nothing like what we were acting out on our little dirt street, “playing” war became less and less fun. These soldiers on TV were really dead - bloody and dead, covered in mud, then covered by a tarp, no slow-motion heroics provided. The soldiers who remained alive, they looked all scared and disheveled and confused. They smoked cigarettes, and not one of them looked like he was having much fun. One by one, the boys in the neighborhood put away their toy guns. No one said anything. We just stopped. There was homework and chores to do, and girls seemed distantly interesting. The Americans won The Big War That Counted, and that was enough.