With the first wounds of the U.S. invasion of Iraq still fresh, Madonna decided to grab the salt. Her 2003 video for “American Life” was set to debut just two weeks after the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and it was designed to be a scathing, hardline critique against war, materialism and all the societal ills that have eroded the American Dream. In the video, militant-looking models strut the catwalk at a fashion show amid cutaways of dropping bombs and devastated war victims. And the original cut of the video capped off with the Material Girl tossing a grenade into the audience, only to have it land in the hand of then-president George W. Bush – who uses the lit fuse to ignite Saddam Hussein’s cigar. Subtle.
The backlash was immediate and unforgiving. The video was dubbed “unpatriotic” and “insensitive” by critics, leading Madge to offer a statement clarifying her intent: “I am not Anti-Bush. I am not pro-Iraq. I am pro Peace,” she said. But with the political climate rapidly chilling Madonna ended up pulling the video from airwaves. In another statement, she said: “Out of sensitivity and respect to the armed forces, who I support and pray for, I do not want to risk offending anyone.”