Thursday, November 6, 2008

With God On Our Side

Forty years from King’s assassination on 4/4 to 4/11 & we get our 44th president. A long march in 4/4 time. From Grant Park in ‘68 to last night, once again, the whole world was watching. The commentators didn’t recognize the orchestral flourish after Obama’s victory speech. It’s Dylan’s great antiwar anthem, with God on Our Side. 1st verse is uncanny on many levels. This & Michele’s black & red rising & setting sundress is a good signal, however cautious a general election campaign they ran, that the Obama presidency will be just as audacious as conceived. So we’ve paid an emperor's ransom to redeem our republic. Good deal. Lost the world to regain our own soul?  That’s my idea of manifest destiny.

"With God On Our Side" (complete lyrics-

Oh my name it is nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I's taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And the land that I live in
Has God on its side.



Zeb said...

What do you mean in the newsletter, "For all you who have kept the faith, Democrat or Green, we salute you." What is your gesture to Republicans, like me, who may have voted Obama, and more importantly have been buying ethically for years?

Nom, nom, nom! said...

I think I'll buy an Obama shirt and give it to my friend to make into underwear. Oh, no, wait, I already gave her like 26 T-shirts to make underwear out of because I have waaaaaaaaaaay too many T-shirts and no way to get underwear except underwear made by slaves or by my poor overworked friend.

If only one of the companies out there adding to the huge global glut of cotton knit T-shirts would turn their attention to making "ethical" underwear (of which there is currently none on the planet Earth) out of the exact same material they're currently using to make T-shirts (of which the surplus is about the size of the state of Rhode Island)! Oh, if only somebody somewhere would pay a worker to make a pair of underwear. Somebody other than that jerk Dov Charney from whom I obviously can't buy "ethical" underwear since he doesn't MAKE it since he's a union-busting chauvinist pig. If only somebody would pay someone to make underwear, I wouldn't be forced to choose between going commando or supporting slavery! I hope now that Obama has become the leader of the free world that somebody will communicate the idea that it would be SO MUCH MORE USEFUL TO MAKE UNDERWEAR THAN TO MAKE T-SHIRTS to someone in charge of one of the fair-trade clothing companies.

yours for the Change We Need,

Nom, nom, nom!

True Blue and Red All Over said...

Yes, despite my Midwestern stoicism and cultural propensity towards pessimism, I teared up. I screamed and jumped up and down with my sister-in-law. I kissed my husband and we had a little “terrorist fist-bump”. I called my mom. I called my best friend. We all marched down to the local townie bar, screaming and cheering, feeling as close to perfect strangers as we’d ever felt. I hugged the guy who runs my local, independent, esoteric video rental joint- I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know my name and I sure as hell can’t remember his, but he hugged back- with the gusto of victory; the sort of pure victory that can only come from a bloodless revolution. We were (are) happy, and we were (are) hopeful. I’m not too jaded for that. And, yes, I thought I heard the Dylan song, only to have it confirmed by a buddy at the bar, later that night- or, early the next morning… we had a lot of celebrating to do.

The next morning, however, the irony of the song choice struck me. Seriously? “With God On Our Side”? That song is about fervent nationalism backed up by religion, being used as an excuse for war! For example:

When the Second World War came to an end
We forgave the Germans and we were friends
Though they murdered six million in the ovens they fried
The Germans now too have God on their side.

And then this happy little verse:

But now we got weapons of the chemical dust
If fire them we're forced to then fire them we must
One push of the button and a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions when God's on your side.

Probably some of Dylan’s more bitter lyrics. A second generation American Jewish man whose family fled from the Ukraine and Lithuania to escape anti-Semitism- I’m not saying his bitterness isn’t founded, it just made me think. Did Obama or his campaign pick that tune on purpose? Was the irony supposed to strike me as poignant, or did someone just miss the point? It reminded me of Reagan using Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”- a bitter song about Vietnam vets returning to a country that forgot their sacrifice, as a patriotic anthem to his campaign. The liberal Springsteen requested that the conservative politician stop using it, as a hero of the downtrodden and working class, he was not a fan of Reagan.

I was pretty surprised no one picked up on it, and tried to spin it into Obama being ashamed of his country or secular, and therefore amoral- not that I agree. On the contrary, I think that recognizing your countries’ flaws and imperfect history is the first step to actively improving it- the real measure or patriotism. If you want to talk about irony, consider Dylan’s hero- Woody Guthrie, who wrote “This Land is Your Land”. Everybody seems to remember the lines they sang in kindergarten:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

What people don’t remember are the oft skipped over and formerly banned lyrics:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

Like “God On Our Side” and “Born in the USA”, “This Land is Your Land” was meant as a voice for the disillusioned Americans who know our country is far from perfect. Even the most sincere of patriotic anthems have bitter irony. Most people know that “This Land is Your Land” was meant as a response to what Guthrie saw as the saccharin-sweet “God Bless America”, which was on the radio at the time he wrote “This Land…”, having just been written by Irving Berlin. What people don’t know is that Irving Berlin’s real name was Israel Baline, a Russian Jewish immigrant who adopted his new, gentile name aware that our “land of opportunity” had some serious anti-Semitism that might impede his professional career. How’s that for irony?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m not forgetting our flaws and all the work we have to do as a nation. Dylan, Springsteen, Guthrie and Berlin were all patriots, and I am too. I just want to be the sort of patriot who doesn’t blindly accept my victory and forget the hard road ahead, or the brutal past behind me. I am filled with hope, but also high expectations. And so, I’ll leave you on a final note from another Midwesterner, the great Robert Zimmerman (Hebrew name Shabtai Zisel ben Avraham):

So now as I'm leavin' I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin' ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head and fall to the floor
If God's on our side he'll stop the next war.

Amen to that, Bob.

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