May 30, 2005
Memorial Day 2005
Mark Steyn noted the passing of an important date a few days ago:
A week and a half after the VE Day anniversary, here's a date that will get a lot less attention: May 19th 2005. On that day, the war on terror will have outlasted America's participation in the Second World War. In other words, the period since 9/11 will be longer than the period of time between Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the Japanese surrender in August 1945.
Does it seem that long? For the most part, no. The war on terror has involved no major mobilization of the population at large. In contrast to Casablanca, Mrs Miniver, I'll Be Seeing You, Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Victory Polka, Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition and There'll Be A Hot Time In The Town Of Berlin, American popular culture has preferred to sit this one out, aside from Michael Moore's crockumentaries and incoherent soundbites from every Hollywood airhead who gets invited to European film festivals.
Mark's right. American pop culture has largely chosen to sit out this war, though it threatens our civilization in every bit an existential way as World War II did.
But this isn't entirely true. While popular music and films haven't really rallied to the cause, there is another outlet of pure unadulterated vox populi that has proven more than willing to take up the cause of rallying the American people and our allies on to victory.
Of course, I speak of the blogosphere. Where else do you find "Milblogs" -- many of them written by the warriors themselves -- while deployed? Where else can you find the Good News from Iraq series compiled by Australian Arthur Chrenkoff? Where else can you find "Fallujah, The Music Video" [http://boswell.web.aplus.net/falluja.mpg]? Where else can you find a bit -- just a small bit -- of triumphalism at successful Iraqi elections [http://adamkeiper.blogs.com/comparevideo/files/Iraq_Election.wmv]? The blogosphere is where our heroes are most celebrated, where our enemies are most pilloried, and where we keep the unfaithful in check.
While journalists may conceitedly tell themselves that they write the "first draft of history," I predict that future cultural historians will spend much more time reading milblog archives than they will the archives of any newspaper.
Why is this the case? Perhaps other arenas of cultural expression are too corporate, too top-down-dictated, too stale to offer such raw, unrefined opinion on the war.
Well, this Memorial Day, I'd like to light a fire under you by bringing to the blogosphere some of the best folk music from World War II.
In high school, I was browsing in a music store and came across a CD titled, That's Why We're Marching: World War II and the American Folk Song Movement. This was a compilation of American folk songs written before, during, and after the US entry into World War II. I snapped it up and it has proved a great purchase ever since, for here is a narrative of changing popular conceptions of the war told by a chronological record of popular folk songs. Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, the Union Boys, Lead Belly, and many more who are largely absent from our popular consciousness today, play large roles in the album. Compiled by Smithsonian/Folkways, it is truly fascinating. I've put a link to the album in the sidebar, but you can also buy it straight from the Smithsonian and listen to excerpts from the songs here.
The first few songs are written before the US entered the war and show a distrust of the motives for involvement. They offer a glimpse into the old pre-war isolationism and its ties to the Depression. Take Billy Boy for example, recorded in March of 1941 by the Almanac Singers, in sort of a call and response style. It shows that folks were not committed to dying overseas, suspicious of war, and even concerned at the vast corporate interests involved in its prosecution:
Q: Will you go to the war, Billy boy, Billy boy?But such sentiments didn't last long!
Will you go to the war, charming Billy?
A; It's a long ways away
They are dying every day!
Chorus: He's a young boy and cannot leave his mother!
Q: Can you use a bayonet Billy boy, Billy boy
Can you use a bayonet charming Billy?
A: No I haven't got the skill
To murder and to kill.
Q: Don't you want a silver medal, Billy boy, Billy boy,
Don't you want a silver medal, charming Billy?
A: No desire do I feel
to defend Republic Steel!
Q: Don't you want to see the world, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Don't you want to see the world, charming Billy?
A: No it wouldn't be much thrill
to die for DuPont in Brazil!
Q: Girls would like your uniform, Billy boy, Billy boy!
Girls would like your uniform, charming Billy!
A: They wouldn't get much chance to love me
With six feet of earth above me!
Q: Are you afraid to fight, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Are you afraid to fight, charming Billy?
A: You can come around to me
When England's a democracy!
Q: Will they take you from my side, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Will they take you from my side, charming Billy?
A: Don't you worry, mother dear,
I'm a stayin' over here!
[Chorus x 2]
Later songs, like I'm Gonna Put My Name Down, were commissioned by the CIO labor union to show that labor members were just as supportive as everyone else:
I got a brother in the infantry,More than just asking the home front to do all it can, some songs taunt the enemy, like The Fuhrer, which is written in 1944 from the perspective of a German soldier:
I thought you knowed
I got a brother in the infantry
He's a way down that road
I got a brother in the infantry
And he smokes cigarettes just like me
And I'm gonna put my name down!
I'm gonna put my name down brother,
Where do I sign?
Each and every month I lay my money on the line!
Gotta keep those tanks a-rollin'!
The airplanes a-hummin' and the dollars a-comin'
And I'm gonna put my name down!
Tell me my Fuhrer,That one seems relevant to some of the stories in the news lately, like the one about the jihadi's using Down's syndrome youth as suicide bombers, or the news buried in a New York Times article not long ago that some recent suicide bombers had had their hands and feet duct-taped to the steering wheels and accelerators of their vehicles. Certainly some of them must be singing a similar tune.
What can I do?
My hands are freezing,
My nose is blue!
I'm dying of cold,
You never can tell,
Cause when the Russians come,
They make it hotter than hell!
I got a touch of Pneumonia,
I got a terrible cough,
If I sneeze once more
It's bound to carry me off,
When the Russians are coming,
They always take us by storm,
And there's nothing like running,
If you want to get warm!
I want to go back to what's left of Berlin!
Sick of a war that I ain't gonna win
I've seen the big red star
that scared the pants off the tsar
I want to go back to Berlin!
Now listen my Fuhrer,
I'm dead on my feet
I've got no place for sleeping
I've got nothing to eat
We've gone and finished
all the food that we brought
And there's nothing here for miles around
but food for thought
I've tightened my belt
it damn near cuts me in two
I've slept on my feet
til my boots wore through
when I get thirsty
I melt snow in my cup
Well I may be going hungry,
But I'm all fed up!
Now tell me my Fuhrer
How in the hell can I be brave
I've got one foot in Russia
I've got one in the grave
I got snow in my rifle
I got lead in my pants
I'm so lonesome for a touch of romance!
Well, I went to a village
And I spotted a gal
I made a pass at her
Just to boost my morale
I've got one broken ankle
I've got two black eyes
Why couldn't she pick on somebody her size!
By far, my favorite of the songs is The Martins and The Coys, which seems to say, that hey, if even the Martins and the Coys, the classic feuding mountain clans, can unite behind the war, then we all can! It also draws on the amusing imagery of Hitler being treed like a raccoon.
Oh the Martins and the Coys have quit their feudingSo, this Memorial Day, I'll take a page from the Martins and the Coys and hope for unity to defeat the jihadists, because as we all know, whether this is a "generational conflict" or a "long, hard slog, "
They don't live in West Virginia anymore
You won't never find them in
Cause they're headed for Berlin
And they're fighting in a different kind of war!
Oh the Martins and the Coys
They were reckless mountain boys,
They take up family feuding when they please,
But now for the duration
They have changed their occupation
And they're fighting side by side til Hitler's treed!
Mr. Coy shook hands with Mr. Martin,
And he said "We won't be safe til Hitler's through
"So suppose we call a truce,
"Until we cook his goose,
"Cause I hate him even worse than I hate you!"
And then up spoke old Grandpappy Martin
With his whiskers waving proudly in the breeze
Said, "If I have to capture Tokyo,
"I guess that's o-kee-do-kee-o,
"I'm just waiting til they send me overseas."
Then up spoke Little Cousin Abner,
He'd been drunk since eighteen hundred ninety-eight
He said, "Boys, I'm staying sober
"Until the shootin's over,
"If you don't mind, I'll take my water straight."
Uncle Charlie Coy was sleeping in the henhouse,
But he jumped up when he heard that bugle call,
Now he's over in the Alps
And he's chasin' Hitler's scalp
Cause he wants that mustache hanging on his wall!
Now to people this all points a lesson,
See what the Martins and the Coys agreed to do:
They have given up their feudin'
For another kind of shootin'
And if they can do it I guess that we can too!
Posted by Chester at May 30, 2005 10:22 AM
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