Heartrending Antiwar Songs

What makes for a heartrending antiwar song? Is it a doleful poetic and folkloric lament, or is it a driving martial beat with piercing raging lyrics of protest? Does it need a woman’s plaintive voice to make your heart ache with pain, or a man’s fierce growl to give you that gut-wrenching sinking feeling? I suppose it all depends on your kind of musical ear, and on your own situation with regard to the hazards of war.

I will offer a sequence of antiwar songs here, which for one reason or another have given me pause. Why do this?: because I like music, and because I think it important that none of us ever forget the proper attitude towards war and the prospect of war: rejection and rebellion. Peace is emotionally and politically turbulent when you are stubbornly antiwar, because war is the grease of imperialist capitalism.

The nuclei for this project are the first two songs listed, which both pull on my heartstrings. High Germany is a Celtic song where a Scottish lass laments the loss of her soldier lad to the First World War. This particular song really gets me because the lyrics are so poignant, and because the singer — my younger daughter — does such a good job of conveying the emotion that was very real 100 years ago in Scotland, and, sadly, remains just as real all over the world today.

High Germany
https://youtu.be/2QybAQVv6jE

Soldier, We Love You is an original composition by Rita Martinson, who performed it so eloquently and memorably in the 1972 movie F.T.A. (officially “Free The Army,” and understood to be “Fuck The Army”). F.T.A. starred Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and a collection of performers and musicians banded together in a touring satirical revue performing at coffeehouses and parks near American army bases, for G.I.’s opposed to the war in Vietnam. Though I was never a soldier (by pure luck) I have been so touched by Rita Martinson’s performance, and I gratefully wish her a happy life and satisfying career, wherever she is.

Soldier, We Love You
https://youtu.be/7iMusPYq83g

As you will see below, I quote some of the commentary on these songs by people I found on the Internet, many of them veterans, who had offered their suggestions.

“The Robert Shaw Chorale sing Shenandoah, a heartrending soldier’s lament from the American Civil War. The very first, and among the very best of antiwar songs ever… We lost a lot of relatives and close family friends in WW1, WW2 and in Vietnam.” — Fred Wilson

Shenandoah – The Robert Shaw Chorale
https://youtu.be/IBH2QrUyz7o

Eva Cassidy was a gift to us from the universe, of pure soulful heart through song. She left us far, far too early. Her rendition of Danny Boy unfolds the sheer tragedy carried by the lyrics with a radiant vocal eloquence (self accompanied on guitar), and most admirably without any showy attention-seeking bombast. The lyrics present a dead soldier’s call for remembrance and love, from his grave, and Eva had the grace and the perception to honor that sentiment.

“As a full blooded Irish man who has heard this song sung hundreds of times by family and friends at weddings, funerals and every other occasion when Irish people gather together to sing, I can honestly say I have never heard it sung better and with more feeling than sung here by Eva.” — Belfastsoul

Eva Cassidy – Danny Boy
https://youtu.be/oSKM0YiU8LU

War rips apart families, and mothers, who are the hub of their family wheels, are heavily burdened with those painful losses. So it is natural for a woman’s voice to express that universal pain, and to this Joan Baez has lent her beautiful artistry and passion.

Joan Baez – Weary Mothers
https://youtu.be/hqQcaWpwCrM

If war is so bad why does it exist? Why does anyone allow themselves to become a soldier, a lethal tool and sacrificial victim in the war-schemes of the Big Money? Who, ultimately, is responsible for inflicting the scourge of war on humanity? Buffy Sainte-Marie plunges to the core of this question, and arrives at the painful truth (Pogo’s realization).

Buffy Sainte-Marie – Universal Soldier
https://youtu.be/VGWsGyNsw00

Many of the antiwar songs here are from the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, “a time I remember oh so well” since I was nearly swallowed up in it. The songs of that time which I list either had a sound or some turn of phrase that imprinted on my mind either because I heard them so many times during those bright days of hopeful youth, and stoned drunk nights of dreams or despair, or because hearing them coincided with moments of incredible euphoria or tension. Basically, this song-listing exercise is neither a scholarly assemblage of the historically significant, nor a production based on logic. It’s about visceral memories and their reverberations in songs.

Barry McGuire and Buffalo Springfield gave us clues, in 1965 and 1967, of what we high school boys in those years were in for. I was not looking forward to facing the draft when I reached 18.

Barry McGuire – Eve Of Destruction
https://youtu.be/qfZVu0alU0I

Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth
https://youtu.be/gp5JCrSXkJY

Country Joe McDonald spelled out rather explicitly why I did not like being 1A during 1969. The Doors punctuated that feeling of dread all too perfectly.

Country Joe McDonald – I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag
https://youtu.be/3W7-ngmO_p8

The Doors – The Unknown Soldier
https://youtu.be/6LSCoBk8hgU

“I remember the nightly ‘kill’ numbers on the news.” – Andre R. Newcomb. The evening television news broadcasts would give the awful weekly totals of U.S. soldiers killed. Totals of enemy dead issued by the U.S. military were complete fabrications, but the unknown quantities of Vietnamese dead were definitely very very high; America had the most superior firepower. Three Five Zero Zero, a song from the musical, Hair, takes off from its initial reference to a body count. Have you heard as scathing an antiwar song in recent years? And it no, why do you think that is?

Hair – Three Five Zero Zero
https://youtu.be/FAdq3Z-9bsg

As we know from President “Bone Spurs” Trump, Dick “Too Busy Four Deferments” Cheney, George “AWOL” W. Bush, and others of our immune ‘privilatti’ class who breezed past the Vietnam War, “getting out of the draft” in a culture dedicated to materialism and the instinctive worship of power is more easily arranged the more elevated your association to the economic and political hierarchy. Creedence Clearwater Revival give a spirited expression of this class-war truth.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son
https://youtu.be/ec0XKhAHR5I

For the callow petit bourgeois youth of the time, like me, who felt a continuous sinking feeling of “circling the drain” before ever really stepping into adulthood and savoring the sweet fruits of life, there arose an intense desire to find somebody to love and be loved by, at least for a while before “the end.”

Jefferson Airplane – Somebody to Love
https://youtu.be/5Jj3wZVc7nw

Phil Ochs was a songwriter and political activist of sharp wit, sardonic humor and earnest humanism, whose songs were graced by insightful lyrics of literate elegance. He wrote hundreds of songs in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1976 at the age of 35 he succumbed to his own demons, and left us. Phil Ochs was a man of very keen perception, and immersed in the bubbling cauldron of intense antiwar activism during the Vietnam War, I think his psyche was eventually overwhelmed by that searing experience. I think the reason more of us “ordinary people” — those with reasonably decent moral character — don’t go completely mad over the poisonous nature of American politics and national character is because we are shielded by duller wits from perceiving the full reality of the kind of society we live in. There are hazards to being a seer.

Phil Ochs – Draft Dodger Rag
https://youtu.be/tFFOUkipI4U

“Funny thing is I’m in the Army and I don’t know anyone in my unit over 30 years old who doesn’t know all the words to this song [I Ain’t Marching Anymore]” – ‘Joe Blow’

Phil Ochs – I Ain’t Marching Anymore
https://youtu.be/gv1KEF8Uw2k

Phil Ochs – The War Is Over
https://youtu.be/ZOs9xYUjY4I

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968, and many large, deadly and terribly destructive urban riots broke out and continued for weeks. Federal troops were called out, and the television images of them patrolling the streets of burning cities was a hellacious realization of “bringing the war home.” Up to 1968 half of the American casualties in the war were made up of ethnic minorities, mainly Blacks and Latinos, despite their much lower proportions of the national population. This was a rather ugly manifestation of America’s formative — and apparently forever — race and class war. Edwin Starr gave voice to the deep resentments by Blacks over their exploitation as cannon fodder, in his song War.

Edwin Starr – War
https://youtu.be/dQHUAJTZqF0

On 4 May 1970 the Ohio National Guard, called out to Kent State University during a mass protest by unarmed college students against the bombing and invasion of neutral Cambodia by United States military forces, fired approximately 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds at the demonstrators, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Ohio (1970, Kent State University)
https://youtu.be/68g76j9VBvM

The Vietnam War ended with the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. The Vietnamese would then continue to sort out their politics without the overt highly destructive interference of the United States (the covert interference would continue). What did any of all this mean to a young American war widow? Was it worth her pain and sacrifices? Of course not, but this was always a knowable truth. So where was justice?

Steve Goodman – Penny Evans
https://youtu.be/K0I59AN_z2k

It is important to realize that the most significant reason the American government withdrew from its Vietnam War effort was because of the widespread and persistent rebellion against it by active duty military personnel, and the ferocious activism of the antiwar veterans who had returned from that war. The civilian antiwar activism and public demonstrations helped to increase a public consciousness in sympathy with the military rebellions, most ad hoc and personal. Rank-and-file soldiers who had come face-to-face with the realities of that war, and who took their Soldier’s Oath seriously, realized that their duty to protect and defend the United States was actually at odds with the dictates from their military chains of command and from their country’s political leadership. Their duty was to the people of the United States, not to one of its transitory government administrations whose policies were clearly not in the interests of the American people, even though there were special interests who profited from them.

The British Soldier is a “song about the troubles in Northern Ireland. It was written and performed by folk singer Harvey Andrews, and banned when it was released. It is based on an actual event which occurred in the early ’70s.” — SuperNutty23. “Remember Sgt Michael Willets GC of 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment whose sacrifice inspired this song.” — Archie Carter

Harvey Andrews – The British Soldier (1972)
https://youtu.be/8NpaT5LDFgM

Eric Bogle wrote and performed the song My Youngest Son Came Home Today. “When I played this during an interview on Cairns FM89.1, Eric asked me if I had heard Mary Black sing the song. When I said I hadn’t he said her version was far better, as a woman can put more emotion into a song.” — Johnson28316

Mary Black – My Youngest Son Came Home Today
https://youtu.be/1H6-OrLpiPk

99 Luftballons is a German protest song against nuclear war, written in 1983. “The premise was that 99 balloons crossing over the Berlin Wall would be mistaken by radar as an attack, causing jets to scramble, starting a war that would leave both sides in ruins. The singer, walking through the ruins, finds one balloon, is reminded of her lover and lets it slowly fly away.” – TheJenr8tr

This song, band and performance are from before the Berlin Wall fell (9 November 1989), when tactical nuclear-tipped U.S. missiles stationed in Western Europe, and similar Soviet Russian missiles poised in Eastern Europe, had Germany between them under the potential arcs of their flight paths, and also very obviously in the crosshairs of their targeting in the event of a boiling over of the Cold War.

An English translation of the German lyrics of 99 Luftballons is given immediately below; it was made by my wonderful daughter-in-law, Sabrina García, from the Black Forest.

Nena ‎- 99 Luftballons
https://youtu.be/La4Dcd1aUcE

99 Luftballons
(translation by Sabrina García)

Do you have some time for me?
Then I’ll sing a song for you
About 99 air balloons
On their way to the horizon
Do you perhaps think of me just now?
Then I’ll sing a song for you
About 99 air balloons
And how one thing comes from another

99 air balloons
On their way to the horizon
Mistaken for UFOs from space
Therefore a general sent
A squadron after them
To raise the alarm if they had to
Yet there on the horizon were
Just 99 air balloons

99 fighter pilots
Each one was a great warrior
Regarding themselves as Captain Kirk
There were great fireworks
The neighbors didn’t understand anything
And thought they were under attack
Yet there on the horizon they fired
At 99 air balloons

99 War Minister
Matches and gasoline cans
Regarding themselves as smart people
Already smelling a big fat prey
Crying “War!” and wanting power
Man, who would have thought
That it would ever get this far?
Because of 99 air balloons
Because of 99 air balloons
99 air balloons

99 years of war
Left no room for winners
There are no more War Minister
And no fighter pilots either
Today I’m doing my rounds
I see the world in ruins
I’ve found a balloon
I think of you and let it fly….

A classic antiwar song is Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, by Pete Seeger. Marlene Dietrich, who was deeply and very visibly committed to antifascist activity during World War II, included Seeger’s song in her one-woman musical show, which toured the world. Burt Bacharach had arranged many songs of interest to Marlene, to accommodate the limited vocal range of her contralto voice. This enabled Marlene to continue as a singer during her later years, and she was quite open about gratefully giving Bacharach credit for this.

“Marlene Dietrich performed a German language version of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? during her 1960s tour of Israel. She sang in German only after receiving the consent of the audience, thus breaking the unofficial taboo against the use of that language in Israel. Many in the audience were German expatriate Holocaust survivors.” — Hollie Willetts

Marlene Dietrich – Sag Mir Wo Die Blumen Sind – with English Subtitles
https://youtu.be/YIoF-Q6yGpk

Well, the political management class of the United States managed to survive the “Vietnam Syndrome” years of popular distaste for war and opposition to foreign adventures that might require the use of military forces, mainly from 1975 to 1979, during the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations. But Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981, was able to convince Jimmy Carter to initiate the first action of what would become our current Forever War in Central Asia: the covert arming of the mujahideen in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion there in January 1980. And so Osama Bin Laden got his start.

As the US and allied wars of the 1980s and 1990s metastasized into our Forever Wars, new antiwar songs sprouted from the dragon’s teeth of pain and death sown in the wake of those wars.

Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms (1985)
https://youtu.be/Dqok5m4lqeE

Scorpions – Wind Of Change (1990)
https://youtu.be/n4RjJKxsamQ

“The video of ‘Smile Empty Soul – This Is War’ hits me very hard. I am a combat veteran who now advocates for peace. I took part in the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War, Fallujah 2004. My heart broke in that place, though it took me years to realize it.” — Lucas B.

Smile Empty Soul – This Is War
https://youtu.be/-PFk4SXpb-8

And so it goes. There will certainly be antiwar songs from other times, from many cultures and in other languages, which I would not know about. I am sure that the fundamental sentiments of all such songs are universal, because they spring from the deepest and most fundamental aspirations and disappointments of the human experience.

The antiwar songs of the pop music supernovas Bob Dylan (Blowin’ in the Wind, Masters of War, The Times They Are A-Changin’) and John Lennon (Give Peace a Chance, Imagine, Happy Christmas, I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier) are so well known that I feel no need to say more about them.

Every instance of war is a failure of political leadership. Good antiwar songs can help us all see this, and motivate us to find better leaders, to devise better politics, and to reawaken feelings in our hearts of genuine human connection to everyone.

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Criminalated Warmongers

Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn (20 June 1909 – 14 October 1959)

The Dawn Patrol is a 1938 film about British World War I fighter pilots, roistering and dying in an aerial war of attrition in France with their German counterparts. It was directed by Edmund Goulding from a screenplay written by Seton I. Miller and Dan Totheroh, which was adapted from a story by John Monk Saunders. The film starred Errol Flynn (Captain Courtney), Basil Rathbone (Major Brand), David Niven (Scott), Donald Crisp (Phipps), and Morton Lowry (Donnie Scott), and was produced by the Warner Brothers Studio as a remake of their earlier 1930 film of the same story.

The film features wonderful aerial combat sequences, filmed in 1930 with real and old World War I fighter planes, and with additional realistic scenes of action in the air and on the ground filmed in 1938. This film has no female characters at all, which was also true of the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, also a World War I spectacle.

While ostensibly an action picture set in wartime, with the riotous camaraderie among young, enthusiastic, free-spirited, gung-ho, fun-loving and serially drunk air aces, The Dawn Patrol unfolds as an increasingly grim and unrelenting Greek tragedy of the loss of human connections and human lives into the maw of a vast industrialized plague of mechanized warfare. I think this film reflected the end of the period of unanimous American antiwar isolationist sentiment prior to World War II (1939-1945), which was most vividly reflected by the 1930 film All Quiet On The Western Front, which was based on Erich Maria Remarque’s incredible and timeless 1929 book of that title.

The Dawn Patrol is an excellently made film, it never drags as the sequence of scenes, whether action-packed, comedic, tense or reflective, flow smoothly across the viewing screen to present us with the braided threads of the story.

To my mind the gem among these scenes is one where Errol Flynn, as Squadron Commander Captain Courtney, is speaking privately with a fresh replacement pilot with no combat experience, Lieutenant Donnie Scott, played by Morton Lowry. Captain Courtney is welcoming this new man into the squadron, and giving him a feeling of full inclusion into the camaraderie of his fighter pilot group, before Donnie Scott’s first mission the next day, which will also sadly be Donnie’s last as we learn later. Courtney’s little speech is quiet, warm, personal, friend-to-friend and bracingly honest about the war, instead of being officious, patriotic and militaristic, from a superior to a junior officer. Courtney tells Donnie that:

The war is “a great big noisy rather stupid game that doesn’t make any sense at all. None of us know what it’s all about or why. Here we are going at it hammer and tongs, and I bet you those fellows over there feel exactly the same way about it, the enemy… Then one day I suppose it will all end as suddenly as it began. We’ll go home till some other bunch of criminalated sitting around a large table shoves us into another war and we go at it again… Do you remember my father used to be a professor of biology at Queen’s? He always used to say: man is a savage animal who periodically to relieve his nervous tension tries to destroy himself.”

When I first heard this monologue, I heard “criminal idiots” for “criminalated.” But over many repeated listenings to the recorded monologue, I could only hear 5 syllables as in “criminalated” and not 6 as in “criminal idiots.” Is “criminalated” an English word that has fallen into disuse, or is perhaps archaic?

In the trailer to The Dawn Patrol, which includes a part of this scene, one clearly hears “criminal fools,” which would be logically appropriate but is only 4 syllables. In the actual film itself the recorded speech of that scene contains the 5 syllable word which I can only decode as “criminalated.” This is true on 2 separate DVDs issued by Warner Brothers, one of the complete movie, The Dawn Patrol, and one of a documentary on Errol Flynn, The Adventures of Errol Flynn, which includes this entire scene.

Through the wonders of the Internet I learned that “criminalated” appears in the text of The Enchanceried House, a short story for juvenile readers written by Edith Nesbit (1858-1924), and included in her 1905 book Oswald Bastable and Others. One of the features of Nesbit’s stories was the misconstruction of words spoken seriously by the fictional boy Oswald Bastable, for a comedic effect on the reader. “Criminalated” appears as follows:

“No English gentleman tells a lie — Oswald knows that, of course. But an English gentleman is not obliged to criminalate himself. The rules of honor and the laws of your country are very puzzling and contradictory.”

We can imagine that Donnie Scott was born in 1897, and as an 8-year-old in 1905 read The Enchanceried House. So, in 1915 as an 18-year-old hearing from superior officer Captain Courtney, probably four years older at 22, about the meaning of World War I, that Courtney would characterize the criminality of the perpetrators of the catastrophe that would engulf them both, by using a childhood and childish reference — “criminalated” — to belittle the remote statesmen who blundered Europe into that early 20th century effort of man to destroy himself.

Men and women filmgoers in their 40s in 1938, who had read and remembered Oswald Bastable stories, could easily have recognized the “criminalated” reference in Captain Courtney’s monologue to Donnie Scott. If so, it would have given the scene added poignancy for them, since it would cast the tragedy of World War I fighter pilot deaths as a meaningless sacrifice of children.

In 1938, when Errol Flynn gave one of his best performances in The Dawn Patrol, his biologist father, Theodore Thomson Flynn, served as the Chair of Zoology at Queen’s University of Belfast. It seems Flynn’s script included a reference to his real father-son relationship, as an inside joke.

Regardless of whether one hears “criminalated,” “criminal fools” or “criminal idiots,” the accuracy of Captain Courtney’s description of the futility and criminality of World War I is indisputable. This is a gem of antiwar expression that remains relevant to the present day, within a fundamentally antiwar film that connects with its mass audience as an exciting aviation action cinema entertainment.

World War I, “the war to end all wars” lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. It ended 101 years ago today.

The Dawn Patrol (1938 film)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dawn_Patrol_%281938_film%29

The Dawn Patrol (1938)
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0030044/

The Dawn Patrol — Trailer
https://youtu.be/RGQYpP60J70

“But an English gentleman is not obliged to criminalate himself.”
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Oswald_Bastable_and_Others_-_Nesbit.djvu/141

High Germany
25 February 2018
https://youtu.be/2QybAQVv6jE

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