I don’t relish violence. I find the concept of men spending all their energy trying to kill each other nauseating. Yet I find pacifism more inhuman and cold than all the arms races and MAD in history. It is human to defend your family or loved ones if those precious few are attacked. Given the choice, I believe most people would kill to keep those loved ones alive. It’s not about what you want or what you are most comfortable doing. It’s a question of doing what is morally necessary.
In the sixties and seventies, there were huge war protests and much upright condemnation of our actions in Vietnam. Songwriters poured out their frustration at our foreign policy in their lyrics, from the poetically vengeful:
"And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead"
To the straight up ridiculous:
"(C'mon)Ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout
Minister, Sinister, Banisters and Canisters,
Bishops, Fishops, Rabbis, and Pop Eyes,
Bye bye, Bye byes
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance"
I don’t believe for a minute that Lennon or Dylan were interested in America’s withdrawal from Vietnam in order to aid the spread of Communism, although that has been offered as an explanation of their songs to me several times. I think it had more to do with a misplaced and poorly thought out sense of righteousness, a belief that if America stopped fighting, stopped killing, that some kind of peace would emerge. The horrifying side of pacifism is that it only appeals to decent people; that if it takes hold the good people will do nothing and evil will freely reign over the weak. The peace that Lennon and Dylan advocated was a Neville Chamberlin style situation where peace means we can turn our heads, look away, and really believe everything will be alright. The minstrels of the sixties inculcated their obsessive desire to avoid reality into the naïve youth of America, penetrating the fog of their drug induced stupor long enough to pound a message into their brains. War is not the answer. But what is the answer? To stand by and watch as millions perish because taking up arms to protect them would further the cause of violence? The true brutality of pacifism is its preoccupation with the self, with ensuring that everything stays comfortable. Seeing the numbers of the dead read off the TV at night was too hard for men like Dylan to handle, and in their anger they condemned the people who were running the war badly, not the men who were causing it. Dylan said
“Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do”
It makes me wonder. Dylan and people like him were a major factor in our withdrawal from Vietnam. If Dylan had seen the legions of Vietnam’s refugees, the “boat people”, who came drifting across the water without hope or purpose, lost souls in a world that took their families and their homes--maybe he would have said that to himself.