Increasingly I keep finding myself singing, even humming or whistling the old Graham Nash song, ‘Military Madness,’ sometimes hardly aware that I am doing so.
‘Military madness is killing my country
Solitary sadness comes over me,
War, war, war, war, war, war.’
Of course Australia has always been obsessed with war. While still ‘opening up the country’ in the Frontier Wars, euphemistically called, ‘the drive,’ we couldn’t wait to test our military mettle overseas. Involvement in the Maori Wars (1845-72) was followed by an expeditionary force sent to Sudan (1885), with Australians soon back fighting on the African continent in the Boer War (1899-1902).
These were but minor skirmishes, the real opportunity to prove our military prowess coming just over a decade later in what was to become known as ‘The Great War,’ ‘the war to end all wars.’ A mythology soon built around the exploits of the Australian troops, able to achieve things on the Western Front, beyond the abilities of other nations. Even losses became mythologised, that at Gallipoli becoming the heart of Australian understanding, as core myth.
World War II, somewhat attributable to the vindictive vengeance against the defeated Germany taken at Versailles, of which Australia’s WWI leader, ‘the little digger’ Billy Hughes, was an active player, saw Australia again off to war. The sombre tones of Robert Menzies declared that given Britain was at war with Germany, so automatically was Australia. It wasn’t our war but when that nation to whom we were bound by ties of kinship called, Australia would be there.
What has since changed is the name of the colonial master Britain, being replaced by the U.S. Unchanged is Australian fealty to a colonial master, and also our propensity to fight their wars.
That devotion has seen successive Australian governments send troops to participate in our current colonial master’s wars, from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq (twice), and Afghanistan.
With that history it would seem then that I do have good reason to sing anti war songs.
If only more would join the chorus!
There are so many to choose from:
John Lennon’s ‘War is Over,’ Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters of War,’ Country Joe’s ‘I feel like I’m fixin’ to die rag,’ Pete Seeger’s ‘Where have all the Flowers gone,’ Phil Ochs’ ‘I ain’t marching anymore’ and Barry Mc Guire’s ‘Eve of Destruction.’
Yes, I am showing my age, or is it that these types of songs, though still written, are no longer heard on the radio. The media is the message, and that message is now conducted by those whose interests lie in promoting conflict and war.
We need however, these songs, and if they won’t play them on the radio, then we’ll just have to sing them louder! After all the noise of the war-makers, the politicians, arms manufacturers, and their media supporters is being sounded at a deafening decibel level.
To their dirge of moribund death we need sound a joyous message of life, one calling out their perverse narrative for what it is. Sing! Write! Dance! Paint! Play! Make the celebration of life, and love the greatest protest against the morbid culture of death.
Let that be joined also by satire and farce.
Sometimes we need to ‘take the piss’ out of the warmonger’s insanity. Who could ever forget the hilarious, yet dark satire of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove? The U.S. president loudly informing two of those arguing in the ‘war room, ‘Gentlemen, stop! You can’t fight in the war room,’ before later on informing his Soviet counterpart that Moscow is about to be incinerated, admonishing the unheard response, ‘Yuri, mind your language.’ And of course, the final scene with Air Force Major ‘King’ Kong, astride the falling bomb, screaming in delight at the destruction about to be wrought.
Sometimes their own insanity will serve us for satire, thereby saving us the effort.
‘We had to destroy the town in order to save it,’ concluded a U.S. commander after his troops had, with bombs, rockets and napalm, obliterated the Vietnamese town, Ben Tre in 1968.
We may remember the mathematician Tom Lehrer, still alive at 95, who in the 1950s and 60s turned his hand to writing some brilliantly satirical songs. Though his songs became wildly popular his satire could not match that of the world to which he was speaking. On Henry Kissinger receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Lehrer surmised that such served as the greatest political satire, something he could never match.
To the incessant death chorus let us respond in a manner showing that chorus to be the madly atonal cacophony that it is.
Let us lift voices in seditious song, may the scribes write their dissident words and the comics lampoon in cutting satire . And may we all dance the dance of life.
For songs to sing check www.antiwarsongs.org (even I have some there).