Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Vietnam: 45 Years After the War Finally Ended – Country Joe McDonald’s Passionate Woodstock Anti-War Song Inspires Presidential Candidate Howie Hawkins

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How refreshing! Howie Hawkins, an eco-Socialist candidate in the November 2020 USA Presidential General Election, recalls a funny, sarcastic and moving Country Joe McDonald song which went worldwide in 1969 after a stunning live performance at the Woodstock Rock Music Festival. The biting realism spoke to hundreds of millions, motivating them to act in thousands of ways against the Washington War Machine.

Country Joe Rouses the Woodstock Audience in 1969:Against the Vietnam War

I can’t remember when, exactly, I first heard McDonald’s brilliantly sung call to action – probably before attending my first USA Embassy Demonstration in Ballsbridge Dublin against the Vietnam War.

I was shocked, and pleasantly impressed, to meet some some fellow school students at this venue – one of those “what are you doing here? moments” – and was even more stunned to see my teacher of Italian, Sydney-Bernard Smyth, reciting his own poems from the platform.

The anti-capitalist spirit of McDonald’s song is captured here :

Come on wall street don’t be slow
Why man this war is a go-go
There’s plenty good money to be made by
Supplying the army with the tools of its trade
Let’s hope and pray that if they drop the bomb,
They drop it on the Viet Cong

A strength of the Hawkins account is that the support he offered to the anti-imperialist cause is and was critical – the national liberation struggle led by the Vietnamese Communist Party and its leader Ho Chi Minh was a just cause, but it was not perfect or flawless. This practical intellectual framework is badly needed today. Many people outside Ireland watch the Donald Trump led horror story in America, and the honourable, but flawed, electoral left-flavoured opposition which was headed by Bernie Sanders. Sanders now takes sides in a useless reactionary contest between TweedleBiden of the Democrats and TweedleTrump of the Republicans, bringing to mind the dismal and barren electoral contest between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey in 1968. Many enduring lessons were taught in the USA and across the globe by the mass movement against the Vietnam War. – John Meehan

“What are we fighting for?” – Country Joe McDonald
When I had to prepare for a 7th grade classroom debate on the Vietnam War in Spring 1965, President Johnson had begun escalating the war with the massive bombing of Operation Rolling Thunder and the deployment of a few thousand Marines to Da Nang, the first of what would become nearly 200,000 US troops by the end of 1965 and over 500,000 in 1968. I learned that the US had signed the 1954 Geneva Accords, which provided for an election in 1956 to unify Vietnam and establish an independent government. But I also learned that the US had prevented the election because it knew the winner would be Ho Chi Minh, the Communist leader of the Viet Minh, the nationalist coalition for independence that had defeated the Japanese and then the French imperialists. The Viet Minh controlled the North, but the French had retaken the South when the Japanese left with US military support from the Truman and Eisenhower administrations until the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and gave up their colonies in Indochina. I read the 1945 “Vietnamese Proclamation of Independence from Japan and France.” Ho had drafted and modeled the proclamation after the American Declaration of Independence in consultation with operatives from the OSS (predecessor of the CIA), who had been helping the Viet Minh fight the Japanese during World War II. None of this was on the nightly news, which broadcast Johnson’s justifications for the war. I was outraged at the hypocrisy of the pro-war US political leaders who talked of democracy and self-determination but were opposing it in Vietnam. What are we fighting for?
When the Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, all of these violations of America’s professed values were more thoroughly documented by internal Pentagon documents. What also became clear in those leaked documents is that US political leaders knew the whole time that the US could not defeat Vietnamese nationalism and win the war. Yet they continued to send young Americans to die in Vietnam so they didn’t appear soft on Communism in domestic politics. What are we fighting for?
When my draft number came up in 1972, I enlisted in the Marine Corps and in the GI resistance to the war. When I got to Quantico for bootcamp for officer candidates, I was training with a lot of Vietnam combat veterans now in college on the GI bill and coming back in the Marines to become officers—and most of them opposed the Vietnam War. They loved the anti-war anthem of the Navy veteran, Country Joe McDonald. His “Feel Like i’m Fixing to Die Rag” captured the hypocrisies of the US war in Vietnam and the spirit of the anti-war movement inside as well as outside the military. For the military rank-and-file, the song gave voice to their real feelings about how they were treated as expendable pawns by the military brass and the country’s political leaders. What are we fighting for?
It took 19 years after the 1956 election that the US prevented for the Vietnamese, with the assistance of the anti-war movement and the GI resistance, to finally expel the last US forces 45 years ago on April 30, 1975. US leaders said we were fighting Communism. Washington’s aggressive war the cost of lives of nearly 4 million Vietnamese. The Communists won and today preside over a predominantly capitalist economy. What are we fighting for?
Today multinational corporations from the US, China (Vietnam’s millennial-old colonial nemesis), Japan, South Korea, and other nations locate factories in Vietnam to exploit cheap labor and environmental laws so lax and unenforced that the legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap, who had led the Vietnamese People’s Army in defeating the Japanese, French, and finally US occupiers, became Vietnam’s most prominent a environmental, pro-democracy, and anti-corruption dissident, criticizing Vietnamese state and party leaders on these issues until his dying day in 2013 at the age of 102. What were we fighting for?
And what are we fighting for now? It’s not for us regular people. We are not why the US now has over 800 foreign military bases. We are not why the US is officially engaged in 7 endless wars and covert special operations in well over 100 foreign countries. We are not why the US is continuing to impose economic sanctions on countries that need aid and trade right now to fight the coronavirus. The US war machine is not about defending Americans in our homeland. It is about making the world safe for profiteering by US-based global corporations.
What are we fighting for? We should be fighting to dismantle the US Military/Industrial Complex. Instead being the world’s military empire, we must demand that the US become the world’s humanitarian superpower. Let’s make the US use its wealth and knowledge in a multi-lateral Global Green New Deal that reverses climate change and provides for the basic needs of all. Let’s make friends, instead of enemies. Let’s make peace, instead of war.
— Read on howiehawkins.us/vietnam-45-years-after-the-war-finally-ended/

An accidental beginning :

The audience largely ignored his eight-song set. His tour manager said that since nobody was paying attention, why not do the number he was saving for tomorrow night? The singer walked back out, alone, and called to the masses, “Give me an F!”

That got their attention. They knew the routine. The crowd at Woodstock, half a million strong, rose to their feet and joined in Country Joe McDonald’s antiwar war cry, chanting along from the opening expletive all the way to the “Whoopee! We’re all going to die” capper. Captured in Michael Wadleigh’s Oscar-winning 1970 documentary “Woodstock,” the three rousing minutes of Mr. McDonald’s acoustic version of “The ‘Fish’ Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” became the premier Vietnam War protest anthem.

“I never had a plan for a career in music, so Woodstock changed my life,” Mr. McDonald, now 75, said in an interview from his home in Berkeley, Calif. “An accidental performance of ‘Fixin’-to-Die,’ a work of dark humor that helps people deal with the realities of the Vietnam War, established me as an international solo performer, then the movie came out and the song went on to become what it still is today.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/10/opinion/country-joe-vietnam-woodstock.html

One Response

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  1. Watched this again recently, thinking about Extinction Rebellion. Couldn’t help feeling sorry for the boys in the crowd – how many of them “came home in a box” ?

    AOL

    May 5, 2020 at 1:21 pm


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