In a time of war, battles between the rich and famous over little statuettes that justify big paydays and bigger egos seem, to put it mildly, trivial — and Oscar knows it. So, out of respect for the soldiers who are, for better or worse, risking their necks in the Middle East, the producers of last night's 75th Annual Academy Awards ceremony didn't merely trot out the usual who's who of Hollywood stars; instead, they let march a parade of stars and stripes.

Right from the kickoff of ABC's three-and-a-half-hour telecast, it was obvious that the colors of the evening would be red, white and blue, not gold. In fact, host Steve Martin began his uproarious opening monologue by observing the steps that execs had taken to irritate the Iraqi forces: "You probably noticed there was no fancy red carpet tonight," he said in his winning, deadpan style. "That'll send 'em a message." Not a moment later, the good-humor man instructed the audience on what to do in case of emergency. "Writers, actors, directors — if we get stuck in here and run out of food, that's the order we'll eat people."

Shortly thereafter, winners and presenters alike turned the dais into a soapbox from which they could announce their political leanings. "The necessity for peace in the world is not a dream, it is a reality," ad libbed Y Tu Mamá También hottie Gael Garcia Bernal while introducing a clip from Salma Hayek's Frida biopic. "And we are not alone. If Frida was alive, she would be on our side against war." Still reeling from his experience playing a Holocaust survivor in The Pianist, Adrien Brody seconded that emotion. Upon taking to the stage, he planted a long, passionate kiss on Halle Berry and cracked, "I bet they didn't tell you that was in the gift bag." Then he grew serious, and went so far as to pull a Julia Roberts and stop the band from cutting him off. "My experience making this film made me very aware of the repercussions of war," he stated. So "whatever you believe in, whether God or Allah, let's pray for a quick resolution."

Showing great restraint, Susan Sarandon limited her commentary to a simple gesture — a peace sign. Bowling for Columbine director Michael Moore, on the other hand, ushered on stage all of his fellow documentary nominees, then called the U.S.'s reasons for targeting Saddam Hussein, as well as the results of this country's last presidential election, "fictitious." Before being drowned out by the orchestra (as well as a chorus of boos), Moore threw in one last Dubya dig: "Anytime you've got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up."

Meanwhile... Tinseltown's couture club displayed great fashion sensitivity, eschewing trashy threads in favor of classy costumes. Well, except for Sean Connery, the sole individual whose duds were a real dud. Seemingly inspired by Seinfeld's infamous puffy shirt, the erstwhile James Bond's tux top prompted Martin to crack that while lots of attendees were "wearing Armani, [Connery] is wearing Red Lobster." As for the leading ladies, many of their gowns' hues were so bold — Julianne Moore was decked out in forest green, Renée Zellweger in ruby red — that the only dictator on the planet who would dare tread on the dresses' wearers is frock cop Joan Rivers. And, although Geena Davis revealed more cleavage than Pamela Anderson's 2001 swimsuit calendar, the one-babe USO troupe was probably just doing her part for relief efforts. After all, if a flash of flesh doesn't raise our boys', um, spirits, what will?

Perhaps thinking the answer to that rhetorical question was them, the performers of the original song nominees pulled out all the stops as if it were their patriotic duty. First, Chicago castmates Queen Latifah and a very preggers Catherine Zeta-Jones belted out "I Move On" as more than a dozen randy dancers girated in a manner rarely seen until the wee hours of the after-parties. Then U2 delivered so impassioned a rendition of "The Hands That Built America" that it could be argued they believed another war would break out if the cut didn't, uh, cut it. (For what it's worth, our favorite tune was Martin's thoughtful, spoken-word knee-slapper, "What Is a Movie Star?" in which he suggested that celluloid celebrities can be young, like Haley Joel Osment; middle-aged, like Natalie Portman; or old, like Reese Witherspoon. Funny, funny stuff.)

Finally, throughout the course of the marathon back-slap, nerve-shattering current affairs lent added poignance to the de rigeur clip packages (no matter how dully edited they were). Short of a waving flag or Mount Rushmore, is any sight more all-American than that of Clark Gable telling off Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind or Ethel Merman crowing "There's No Business Like Show Business"? Didn't think so. And, lo and behold, when all was said and done, Nicole Kidman — an Aussie, for crying out loud — best summed up the historic proceedings: "[I was asked] 'Why do you come to the Academy Awards when the world is in such turmoil?'" she related. Her reply? "Because art is important." Now that's a dandy Yankee doodle.