Saturday, November 08, 2014

Anti-War Music in History

As we enter the "Nobody Knows What the Fuck We're Doing" phase of the third Iraq Was I thought it might be fun to look at some old-timey war songs.

All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight - Civil War
All quiet along the Potomac," they say,
Except now and then a stray picket
Is shot, as he walks on his beat, to and fro,
By a rifleman hid in the thicket.
'Tis nothing—a private or two, now and then,
Will not count in the news of the battle;
Not an officer lost—only one of the men,
Moaning out, all alone, the death rattle.
Written as a poem by Ethel Beers in 1861 and set to music by the prolific John Hill Hewlett in 1863. As the lyrics state, to generals the death of a common foot soldier is hardly worth mentioning.

I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier - World War I
I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,
To shoot some other mother's darling boy?
Written in 1915 by Alfred Bryan and Al Piantadosi, a couple of Tin Pan Alley professionals. It was popular in pacifist circles and reviled by war mongers like Teddy Roosevelt and so was banned from music halls across the United States. The song quickly became popular in England and Australia where the Great War was killing off the cream of their youth. It became the subject of numerous parodies. A joke told by Groucho Marx regards a card playing mother who says, "I didn' raise my boy, he had a joker."

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda - World War I
They collected the wounded, the crippled, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind and the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And when the ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thank Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity 
This is not contemporary with the war, it was written by Eric Boyle in 1971, but no one can write about war songs without mentioning this as it is one of the most haunting songs I have ever heard. The story of the song is a hobo who joyfully traveled the outback with his swag. He was caught up in war mania, enlisted, and was shipped off to fight in the Battle of Gallipoli. Struck by a Turkish artillery shell and "when I awoke in me hospital bed and saw what it had done, I wished I was dead. I never knew there was worse things than dying." The photo is of the hospital for the wounded soldier of Gallipoli.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition - World War II
Down went the gunner, a bullet was his fate
Down went the gunner, then the gunners mate
Up jumped the sky pilot, gave the boys a look
And manned the gun himself as he laid aside The Book, shouting
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
During the Great Patriotic War none of the waring nations would permit anything like an anti-war song. The closest anyone got was Nazi Germany with the original lyrics to Lili Marlene.  The above ditty was written by famed songster Frank Loesser while serving in the U.S. Army as a propagandist.

I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag - Vietnam War
Come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, and don't hesitate
To send your sons off before it's too late.
And you can be the first ones in your block
To have your boy come home in a box. 
The Vietnam War era was the golden age of war songs. There were pro-war songs (Ballad of the Green Berets) and a plethora of anti-war recordings. Country Joe McDonald wrote this song in 1967, copying the music from a 1927 rag.

Light Up Ya' Lighter - Iraq War

So come on come on, sign up, come on 
This ones nothing like Vietnam 
Except for the bullets, except for the bombs 
Except for the youth thats gone
Michael Franti continued the tradition of thoughtful war songs in 2005 with this cut from his album Yell Fire.

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