from Counterpunch – “Mothers and Military Lies”:
I only started singing two years ago. I came to realize the power of a song. People will listen to a song with words they wouldn’t want to read or hear in a speech. I realized if I am going to invest my time in learning a song, it should be one that might make a difference. One that might wake up a soul or two. That might touch people in a way to at least plant a seed in their soul that maybe there is more to this war thing than pressing “reset” and starting over.
When I first heard the song, John Brown, it smacked me awake, and woke me up to a new reality. He wrote it in 1963, years before the Vietnam War peaked, although talk of it was in the air. It is a timeless message. And a painful one. I think it carries a message that many of us would like the world to know. It’s a message we’d like other mothers, fathers, sons and daughters to understand BEFORE it’s too late.
It’s one thing to go to Vegas and drop a chunk of money on slots or blackjack. The gambler at least knows the worst case possibility of how much he or she may lose. It’s important for enlistees and their parents to truly understand that enlistment in the military is a gamble, with the highest stakes imaginable. The enlistee is agreeing to gamble on the loss of his or her mind, body, and soul.
Diane Rejman served in the US Army from 1977-80. She is a lifetime member of Veterans’ for Peace. She holds a MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and has been listed in Who’s Who in America. She also spent 10 years supporting the building of the Apache attack helicopter. She can be reached at email@example.com.
John Brown went off to war, to fight on a foreign shore,
his mother, she sure was proud of him!
he stood so straight and tall, in his uniform and all,
His mother’s face broke out all in a grin.
”Oh son, you look so fine, I’m glad you’re a son of mine—
You make me proud to know you hold a gun.
Do what the captain says and lots of medals you will get,
We’ll put them on the wall when you come home.”
When that old train pulled out, John’s ma began to shout,
Tellin everyone in the neighborhood:
“That’s my son that’s about to go, he’s a soldier now, you know,”
she made well sure her neighbors understood.
She got a letter once in a while, and her face broke into a smile,
As she showed them to the people from next door,
And she bragged about her son, with his uniform and gun,
And this thing she called “a good old-fashioned war.”
“Lord, lo-ord, good old-fashioned war.”
Then his letters ceased to come, for a long time they did not come
They ceased to come for about nine months or more.
Then a letter finally came: sayin “Go down and meet the train—
Your son is coming home from the war.”
She smiled and went right down, she looked up and all around,
But she did not see her soldier son in sight.
but as all the people passed, she saw her son at last
And when she did, she could hardly believe her eyes.
His face was all shot up, and his hands were both blown off,
And he wore a metal brace around his waist.
He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know,
And she could not even recognize his face.
“Oh, tell me my darling son, pray tell me what they’ve done.
How is it that you come to be this way?”
He tried his best to talk, as his mouth could hardly move,
And his mother had to turn her head away.
“Don’t you remember, Ma, when I went off to war,
You thought it was the best thing I could do?
I was on the battleground, you were home acting proud.
Thank god you wasn’t standing in my shoes.
And I thought when I was there, ‘God, what am I doing here?
I’m tryin’ to kill somebody or DIE tryin’.’
But the thing that scared me most, when my enemy came close,
I saw that his face looked just like mine.
Lord, lo-ord just like mine!
Then I could not help but think, through that thunder and the stink,
I was only just a puppet in a play.
And through the roar and smoke, that string, it finally broke,
And a IED blew my eyes away.”
As he turned away to walk, his ma was still in shock,
Seein the metal brace that helped him stand.
But as he turned to go, he called his mother close,
And he dropped his medals down into her hand.
Lord, lo-ord, down into her hand.
Copyright © 1963
“John Brown” by Bob Dylan. Sung by Diane Rejman and Trond Toft