top of page

Oh Good Old Fashioned War!

By Baruchi Malewich

At December 10th we celebrate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). This year, it will be 68 years since its adoption by the UN General Assembly, and it remains, to this day, one of the most astounding achievements of that organization, and—dare I say—of mankind. Of course, it leaves a lot to be wanted, and there’s plenty of room for criticism, but celebrations are indeed in order. Having said that, I would like to focus today on one aspect of criticism raised by several major human rights organizations, and that is the absence of a ‘right not to kill’ from the declaration. While it is implied by UDHR article 18 (‘right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’), the right to disobey military orders to kill other people, or to conscientiously object a draft, is not explicit in the declaration. The wording here is important, because not having an explicit ‘right not to kill’, means to not have the freedom not to kill, which also means others (states, organizations) have the authority to order you to kill; and this I have a problem with. Which is why I decided to devote this week’s playlist to anti-war, and more particularly anti-draft songs. It features some absolute classics, so don’t forget to enjoy the music while you reflect on this topic.

A classic counterculture soul song, Edwin Starr’s War is probably the penultimate anti-Vietnam song of all times (I still have a problem weighing it against CCR’s Fortunate Son which featured in an earlier playlist). Originally recorded by The Temptations to feature on their album ‘Psychedelic Shack’, the song didn’t truly fulfil its potential until Starr came along and it gave a far more power rendition, with his unique James-Brown-esque shouting style and with the heavy brass and percussions that make the song so iconic. War quickly became a number one hit in the American charts, and later inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was covered by Bruce Springsteen and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and featured in numerous films and TV-shows.

[CONTAINS SPOILERS] How effective is the right song in a soul-crushing movie scene? Jarhead, one of my favorite anti-war movies of all times ends on such a soul-crushing scene. The Jarheads, that is the US marines, who just came back from the 1991 Gulf War, take a victory lap in their army bus around the town. One person gets on the bus, his jacket covered in military-style patches. It’s clear he’s a veteran, maybe from Vietnam, maybe from a later conflict. He sits down and looks confused, whispers a ‘hurrah’, we—the viewers—realize he’s still not over the war, and that our ‘heroes’ won’t be even in many years to come. Tom Waits’ A Soldier’s Things always makes me think about that scene, even though I completely forget that actually IS the song playing throughout it, because that scene and this song work together so well. The sense of bitter nostalgia, of realizing the meaninglessness of what you were once told is of utmost importance, is well-reflected in both. The movie ends on the astute observation ‘we are still in the desert’, both literally—referring to the 2003 war in Iraq—and figuratively, as we still haven’t found the promised land, where we won’t have to kill or be killed.

Pink Floyd released ‘The Wall’ in 1979, following it up with a huge concert tour that resulted in their breakup. And yet, in 1982, following the tumultuous events of the early 80’s (Falklands War, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Israeli invasion of Lebanon are all mentioned specifically), they came together once more to record ‘The Final Cut’, an anti-war album through and through. Much like ‘The Wall’, It is a very Roger Waters-heavy album, emphasizing lyrics over music and shaking off almost completely from the psychedelia of the early Pink Floyd materials. In fact, ‘The Final Cut’ includes some song that were rejected from ‘The Wall’, and are told from the perspective of the school teacher who goes to war. Waters obviously relates heavily to his personal history: his father was a conscientious objector at the first stages of World War II, and then had a change of heart and joined the British military only to be killed in battle shortly after. Waters was only five-months old. The Gunner’s Dream is told from the perspective of an airplane gunner who falls to his death, and his final hopes and wishes for mankind, for a world where ‘no one kills the children anymore’.

[CONTAINS SPOILERS] Perhaps the most iconic cultural piece of the anti-war generation, the musical (and movie) Hair is an ode to hippie-culture, a criticism against racism, classism, gender issues and, of course, against the war in Vietnam. In the film (the plot of the musical is quite different) Claude Bukowski (portrayed by John Savage) comes to the city to spend his few last days before the draft, where he befriends a group of hippies. As he joins the army, and shortly before being sent to Vietnam, one of the hippies, Berger (Treat Williams), arrives to replace Bukowski so he could go hang out with the other before going away. However, as Berger is imposing as Bukowski, the troops are being sent to the war. In long lines, boarding the military airplanes, the soldiers sing The Flesh Failures. After we learn that Berger died in the war, we see the group—Claude included—standing next to his grave at Arlington Cemetery, and singing Let the Sunshine In. The movie ends with a full-scale anti-war protest in front of the White House.

Jimmy Cliff’s Vietnam is a very simple song: in its music, in its lyrics, in its story and even in its message. And yet it is incredibly effective and touching. How effective, you ask? Bob Dylan declared it is the best protest song ever written. Need I say more than that?

Baruchi Malewich is an Israeli expatriate currently residing in the UK. He completed his BA is Government and Diplomacy from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya and his MPhil in International Relations from the University of Cambridge. He was a DJ in the student radio of both schools, and is an avid music fan. He is currently working on PhD applications and on an online publication devoted to researching the role of theory in the

social sciences.


bottom of page