Three songs for Ukraine

Events in Ukraine continue to dominate the news, and my thoughts inevitably drift to the anti-war movement and the peace songs of my youth. I am, at heart, a child of the 60s, and the anthems of those heady days still resonate with me. In those far off times we were convinced that the world could be a better place, if only those in power would listen to our pleas and give peace a chance.

We were, of course, hopelessly naรฏve in the belief that our message would be heard by those in a position to make the necessary changes. Fifty years on the world is a very different place, but as recent events demonstrate, not a lot better.

Photo Credit: by Miha Rekar on Unsplash

Don’t get me wrong, I believe absolutely that, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, gender or sexuality, the vast majority of human beings are fundamentally decent people. But not everyone, and when bad people get into positions of power, bad things can still happen. The evidence is all around us right now.

Much of the anti-war sentiment that prevailed as I grew up in the 60s and early 70s came from the conflict in far-off Vietnam, but for many Brits memories of WW2 were also raw. I remember my father telling me of the occasion when his unit came under intense aerial bombardment and one of his terrified buddies completely lost his mind, leapt onto the bonnet of his jeep, shook a furious fist at the attacking planes and screamed “Death, where is thy sting?” The poor guy found out soon enough.

And I recall, too, my mother’s horrific account of how the family house was destroyed in one of the first air-raids of the war, and of how she and her parents were forced to flee across London to her auntie’s home with all the possessions they had left in the world bundled up in a single tattered bedsheet.

In the circumstances it is no surprise that, when I first heard Edwin Star‘s rendition of War I immediately felt a connection with his words, including:

 War, I despise
'Cause it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tears to thousands of mother's eyes
When their sons go off to fight
And lose their lives
I said, war, huh (good God, y'all)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing...
War can't give life
It can only take it away

In fact, the song wasn’t written by Starr himself, but was penned instead for the Motown label by Norman Whitfield and Barret Strong. Although first recorded by The Temptations in March 1970, it was Edwin Starr’s powerful version three months later that took the anti-war movement by storm, reaching #1 for three weeks on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, and #3 on the equivalent UK chart (see note #1 below).

Sadly, War’s lyrics seem just as relevant today as they did when I first heard them half a century ago.

The invasion of Ukraine has brought to mind other anti-war songs from the same era. Bob Dylan‘s Masters of War, for example, an angry attack on those who seek to profit from conflict without any concern for the suffering of those caught up in it (see note #2 below). Can you spot the connection with recent events in Ukraine? No? Then look harder!

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly...

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

And finally, my mind turns to John Lennon, who told the world in 1969 that we should Give Peace a Chance. A couple of nights ago we changed television channels a little early to watch the evening news, and caught some tail end coverage of a Rugby Union match. The game itself was over and the studio pundits were raking over the embers, as they always do. And in the background was John Lennon with his Plastic Ono Band, belting out his anthem for peace across the stadium’s sound system.

It can’t have been a coincidence: whoever chose to play that track at the end of that rugby match must have had Ukraine on his mind. And my overwhelming reaction was one of immense sadness, sadness that, nearly 50 years after Lennon laid the track down, we still feel the need to play it.

All we are saying is "Give Peace a Chance"
All we are saying is "Give Peace a Chance"

___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

Note #1: Other notable covers of War include recordings by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984: YouTube link here) and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (1986: YouTube link here). YouTube also boasts compelling amateur footage of the Boss performing the song live alongside Edwin Starr: enjoy it here).

Note #2: Notable covers of Masters of War include a recording by The Flying Pickets (1984: YouTube link here) and this acoustic YouTube version by Ed Sheeran (c.2013).

23 comments

  1. blhphotoblog · March 16

    My song to sum up this dark time Black Sabbath ‘War Pigs’ check out the lyrics ๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’›

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 16

      Thank you for directing me to this track, which I wasn’t familiar with. The lyrics are bang on the money, very appropriate for the dark, dark days of March 2022. Interesting that it dates from 1970 (Paranoid album), so although different in musical style from the tracks I featured it has its origins in the same era, when popular anti-war sentiment was so strong.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Laurie Graves · March 16

    How terrifying and heartbreaking it must have been for your mother and her family! And all their possessions in one tattered bed sheet. Excellent selection of songs. I’m listening to “War” right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 16

      Mum’s hair turned grey before she was 20, which she believed was due to the trauma of the air raid. Neither of my parents spoke much about the war, but when they let their guard down I could see in their eyes that they were still haunted by the experience. When times get tough for me I try to remind myself that my parents’ generation had it much, much tougher…there are occasions in the 21st century, I think, when those of us living relatively comfortable lives complain too much while understanding too little!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laurie Graves · March 16

        You bet! Lately I’ve been thinking about how all my struggles seem so trite compared with what folks in Ukraine are going through. (And what your mother and her family went through.) Also, there is always the fear that nuclear weapons will be involved. Scary times!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · March 16

        One of consequences of my retiring from work, which happened almost exactly 4 years ago, is that it’s left me with more time to reflect. This is good insofar as it better enables me to put my life and experiences into perspective, but not so good when it leads to regrets about things I have done and have not done. So, for example, I regret not speaking more to Mum and Dad about their wartime experiences…maybe it would have helped them unburden themselves. To be sure, there are millions of people caught up in the events in Ukraine who will be deeply traumatised, and will need to unburden themselves at some point. Scary times indeed!

        Like

      • Laurie Graves · March 16

        Oh, yes! And sometimes people who have gone through traumatic events don’t want to talk about them.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Paddy Tobin · March 16

    This fundamental belief, which I share, that almost all people are good and reasonable, peaceful etc lead to a weakness in our society of not being prepared for the odd one out, the belligerent one who will upset our world. We should have followed the old adage of speaking softly but carrying a big stick.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. An interesting post as we often forget that song was the original broadsheet. Not familiar with Edwin Starr so you are leading me down yet another rabbit hole……

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 17

      Rabbit holes offer endless possibilities for new, exciting discoveries! Interestingly (to me at least!) although Edwin Starr was born in Nashville Tennessee he died on the outskirts of the city of Nottingham, just a few miles from my home. Not sure how this came to pass, just another of life’s endless mysteries.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. tanjabrittonwriter · March 17

    As a child of Germany, I feel horrible for what my country did to yours and to the rest of the world. I’m sorry your parents and other relatives and friends had to suffer what they did.
    While we keep saying that we want to learn from history in order to prevent a repeat of previous mistakes, we seem unable to do just that. I find it extremely hard not to despair of humanity as a collective. Individual decency will be swept down the river of madness each time, and everything good we have ever done will be eclipsed by the horrendous acts we commit on one another.
    I’m as incredulous, as perplexed, and as sad as you and so many others. ๐Ÿ˜Š

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 17

      And as a child of Britain I look back with equal dismay at what my forefathers did in the name of Empire. None of us is responsible for the actions and transgressions of the generations that preceded our own, but we can and should learn from them. However, as you say, we seem unable – collectively, at least – to do just that. It’s all so very, very sad, but those of us who “get it” need to remain strong and – wherever and however we can – try to persuade the rest to follow the path towards peace and redemption.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ThoughtsBecomeWords · March 17

    Thought-provoking post! Power, greed, thousands die through no fault of their own. And why, what for? A megalomaniac’s entry in the history books? On both sides, lessons are not being learned well enough to stop the repetition of past horrors. My cousin has an interesting theory that civilisation rises and falls, rises and falls, and we inch upward a bit each time but never high enough to gain universal accord.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 17

      I want to believe in your cousin’s theory (and indeed have postulated similar ideas myself) but in my darker moments I fear it’s just a wishful thinking, a defence mechanism designed to prevent my being driven insane by man’s repeated, wanton inhumanity to man. (Incidentally, one on my history tutors at university once suggested that “man’s inhumanity to man is surpassed only by his inhumanity to women and children” Ouch…the truth hurts!)

      Liked by 2 people

  7. ThoughtsBecomeWords · March 20

    Oh so very true.

    Like

  8. Ju-Lyn · March 20

    As I read your post and consider the songs you bring to us, I suddenly had an “Aha!” moment with the name of your blog: “Now I’m 64”. It be this way these days – it takes me a long while for things to connect, click and reach the Aha place in my brain.

    Sometimes I also wonder if anything we say and do can have any impact on the people which matter. But at the end of the day, we do because we can, because we must. It is as much for them as for ourselves that we make a stand, create noise, try to do the best we can to make a difference. Thank you for provoking these thoughts and considerations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 20

      Yes, well spotted, the name of my blog plays tribute to the Beatles at their best, Ah, those were the days!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. nationalparkswitht · March 20

    Scary times. These songs remind us that human decency survived other scary times. Hopefully it will prevail before the madness destroys us

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Carol Ann Siciliano · March 22

    Thank you for this post. My 24-year old son has renewed my appreciation of Bob Dylan, and he recently called my attention to Masters of War too. Thank you for reinforcing that. Regarding “War,” I think that’s a brilliant choice. I remember when it came out — and Bruce Springsteen’s stunning cover, which you mention.

    My song: What’s Goin’ On, by Marvin Gaye. Music matters. Your post is beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 22

      Thank you for your kind and encouraging words, Carol Ann…greatly appreciated. Although I’m familiar with “What’s Goin’ On” I’d never before listened closely to the lyrics. I’ve just corrected that oversight, and the words are so appropriate to what’s happening right now (“…war is not the answer / For only love can conquer hate”).

      You’re right, music matters, and these days I find myself increasingly finding inspiration, as well as solace, in song lyrics.

      Liked by 1 person

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