Celebs speak out about the war. As bombs fall in Iraq, Bruce Springsteen, Heath Ledger, and others make political statements

By Brian Hiatt
Updated April 01, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

As bombs began to rain on Baghdad Wednesday night, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band began their Melbourne, Australia, show with a downcast acoustic version of his oft-misinterpreted antiwar anthem ”Born in the U.S.A.,” and then his cover of Edwin Starr’s crystal-clear protest song ”War” (as in: ”What is it good for?”). Springsteen, who reportedly expressed his concern for the safety of U.S. and Australian troops as well as Iraqi civilians, may have been the first celebrity to speak after the war’s start, but he was far from alone.

Also Wednesday night, the conservative Citizens United Foundation released a new pro-war TV commercial featuring ”Law & Order” star and former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson. In the clip — which, ironically, hardly aired as networks yanked advertising to cover the war — Thompson suggests that the time has come for Americans to unite behind the war effort. Quoting a poem that’s widely circulated on the Internet, Thompson says, ”It’s the soldier not the campus organizer who’s given us freedom to demonstrate…It’s the soldier who serves under the flag that defends the protester’s right to burn the flag. Isn’t it time to demonstrate that we support our troops? If not for the brave, there’d be no land of the free.”

Despite such sentiments, celebrities against the war will continue their plea for peace, says Robert Greenwald, co-founder of the activist group Artists United to Win Without War, which includes Martin Sheen, R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, and others. ”There will be civil disobedience that individual members will participate in,” he vows, without naming names. The organization is also distributing peace symbol pins that some stars will wear at the Independent Spirit Awards and the Oscars.

The latest actor to condemn the war is Aussie Heath Ledger, who, like Springsteen, spoke from Melbourne, Australia. At a premiere for his film ”Ned Kelly,” Ledger called his country’s decision to support the U.S. effort ”ridiculous,” the Associated Press reported: ”They’re sending 250,000 troops over there; why should we send our 2,000? It makes no difference.”

Meanwhile, Fred Thompson is not the only pro-war celebrity. Bruce Willis has reportedly said that he thought about enlisting to join the war effort, and Kid Rock told the New York Daily News that he doesn’t understand those who oppose the conflict. He said of Saddam Hussein: “Slit his throat. Kill him and the guy in North Korea.” Rock presumably doesn’t talk politics much with his Grammy duet partner Sheryl Crow, who donned a ”No War” guitar strap for their performance.