I listened to AM radio when I was a kid in North Miami Beach, in what was then called Dade County, in Florida. Years after I moved on, Dade County became Miami-Dade County.
For context, back in the days of Dade County, I’d turn on my tiny transistor radio and play tunes on the cheap with a free battery I’d get every month from the local Radio Shack.
A buddy and I would walk past the open-air shopping center at 163rd Street, and dodge traffic to continue our march to get our battery. We had to present a card, which the Radio Shack employee would punch. The card listed each month of the year so we couldn’t get more batteries than the store was prepared to give us.
A few of the songs from that AM-era still come to mind, such as George Harrison’s, “My Sweet Lord”, and an early Bee Gees song, “Lonely Days, Lonely Nights.”
But the song that resonated with me as I turned 62 — on April 22– is an anti-war anthem by Country Joe McDonald.
I liked the song when I was in sixth grade and then junior high school because it had an upbeat, playful sound to it. I don’t think I fully grasped the words as I probably had some kind of learning disability before it was fashionable to discuss such a topic in public.
I’ll cite one song as proof of my inability to understand the lyrics when I was young. My trusty radio used to play a song called “Indiana Wants Me.” I now believe the tune was about a guy on the run from the law. As a kid, though, I thought I was hearing the performer sing, “If the animals could speak.”
I’m sharing this embarrassing detail about my learning abilities to make a point: I dug the Country Joe song; I thought it was groovy because it was lively and fun to hear.
Now, though, I grasp the possibly profound nature of the tune, which makes fun of the forces in society that lead us into war with ease and support aiming weapons of mass destruction at people who don’t live in the United States.
As Uncle Joe Biden and President Trump prepare to battle each other for the presidency this fall, I want to offer a simple idea for the political class to consider. Six decades of living have taught me that Democratic politicians and Republican politicians are equally skilled at leading our country into war.
So, here is my suggestion: A mainstream political leader, maybe Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the “moderate” Democratic politician from Arizona, should introduce a resolution compelling our leaders to play the Country Joe song, and ponder its meaning before voting to spend trillions of dollars on war.
I realize the words and the mocking nature of the tune probably won’t change many minds. But I think Sinema is the perfect politician to make such a proposal in Congress.
About two decades earlier, she was an anti-war activist in Arizona, opposing the Iraq War. Now she is older, wiser and a moderate, reasonable Democrat in a key battleground state.
Other moderate, reasonable mainstream Democrats — such as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Joe Biden — supported wars they eventually opposed.
Dade County is now Miami-Dade County; Clinton and Kerry opposed the Vietnam War at some point, just as they backed the Iraq War before opposing it.
Their changing positions echo the nature of the general public — polls for most of my life show that many Americans support the latest war before they experience the consequences and turn sour on the battle.
This reality teaches me that we evolve slowly as individuals and as a society. I suspect a Democratic or Republican leader may tell us that “Uncle Sam Needs Your Help Again” before I leave this planet. And, chances are, many Americans will support that war before they oppose it.
All I ask these Americans is this: go to a yard sale and buy a trusty old transistor radio. Maybe wise radio stations around the country will play the Country Joe song to keep our spirits up and give us something to consider before we start another war that does not involve self-defense.
With respect and appreciation, here are the words to the song:
Well, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
Yeah, he’s got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun,
Gonna have a whole lotta fun.
And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.
Yeah, come on Wall Street, don’t be slow,
Why man, this is war au-go-go
There’s plenty good money to be made
By supplying the Army with the tools of its trade,
Just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb,
They drop it on the Viet Cong…
Well, come on generals, let’s move fast;
Your big chance has come at last.
Now you can go out and get those reds
‘Cause the only good commie is the one that’s dead
And you know that peace can only be won
When we’ve blown ’em all to kingdom come…
Come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, and don’t hesitate
To send your sons off before it’s too late.
You can be the first ones in your block
To have your boy come home in a box.