Here comes the story of the Hurricane… the man the authorities came to blame

IT’S been a few days since the death of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, the American boxer whose wrongful murder conviction was the subject of the amazing Bob Dylan song ‘Hurricane’.
And it’s been a few days to assimilate what his death means to me as a passionate devotee of Dylan’s music.
‘Hurricane’ was the stand-out song on Dylan’s 1975 album Desire, one I have played hundreds of times and used in school lessons to highlight racial prejudice and the injustice of the US judicial system.
For me, Carter and Dylan will always be inseparable.
Rubin Carter, who had prostate cancer, died in his sleep at home in Toronto, last Sunday, aged 76.
He spent a quarter of his life in prison for three murders he did not commit. His imprisonment also ended a promising boxing career.
Carter’s nightmare dates back to the night of 16 June 1967, when three white people were gunned down at the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey.
Moments later, hometown boxer Rubin Carter and his friend John Artis were pulled over by the police, who took the two men to a nearby hospital to see if one of the dying men could ID Carter and Artis as the gunmen. The victim did not.
Within weeks the Grand Jury investigating the Lafayette murders declined to indict either man.
But three months later, career criminal Alfred Bello, who had been lurking around the Lafayette on the night of 16 June, and was looking for leniency from police, told prosecutors he could identify the two black men as the killers.
On 27 May 1967, with no motive offered by prosecutors, Artis and Carter were convicted on three counts of murder by an all-white jury and sentenced to life in prison.
“How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game.”

Eight years later in 1975, Rubin Carter sent Bob Dylan a copy of his autobiography The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to #45472.
Dylan visited Carter in prison within a month of receiving the book.
“The first time I saw him, I left knowing one thing … I realized that the man’s philosophy and my philosophy were running down the same road, and you don’t meet too many people like that,” said Dylan in a later interview.
And so the song was born.
Within a few days of the meeting Dylan sat down with producer Jacques Levy and the two men quickly penned ‘Hurricane’.
Part protest song, part historical document, Dylan’s eight-minute epic reads like a legal brief, as the singer punches holes in the prosecutor’s Lafayette killings case, spitting out the lyrics with passion and contempt.
After attorneys at Dylan’s label, Columbia Records, asked for slight changes in the song to avoid possible lawsuits, ‘Hurricane’ was quickly shipped out to radio, where it received heavy airplay.
Dylan also featured the song heavily in his 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour, which made a stop at the New Jersey prison where Carter was held to show their support.
The Revue, which featured Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Mick Ronson, Allen Ginsberg and Roberta Flack, went on to play massive benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden and the Houston Astrodome to raise funds for Carter’s legal defence.
After Dylan played ‘Hurricane’ on virtually every date of his Rolling Thunder tour, Carter’s incarceration became an unavoidable subject of national discussion.
It also intertwined Dylan and the song permanently with Carter’s own life and campaign.
But what it didn’t do, was set Carter free.
In 1976, following Bello’s recantation, the initial convictions were overturned; Carter and Artis were given another trial. But they were convicted and imprisoned again.
After nine years of submitting appeals, Carter’s case was finally heard for the first time in a federal court in 1985.
The judge ruled that prosecutors had “fatally infected the trial” by promoting a theory of racial revenge without evidence, and withheld evidence that disproved the witness’s identifications.
“The extensive record clearly demonstrates that the petitioners’ convictions were predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure,” the judge said.
The convictions were overturned on constitutional grounds and Carter was set free. (Artis had been released on parole four years earlier.) The charges were formally dismissed in 1988.
But ‘Hurricane’ wasn’t just a legal brief set to music.
It’s also a great song, a musical freight train that picks up terrifying speed and fury as it roars down the track.
In its unapologetic anger, it remains reminiscent of songs Dylan had written in the early 1960s.
Perhaps it was closest to “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” about a poor Baltimore maid who died after a rich drunken white man William Zanzinger hit her with his cane. Zanzinger was jailed for just six months.
After his release, Rubin Carter moved to Toronto and became active around issues of inequality in the criminal justice system.
He founded Innocence International in 2004 and published a second autobiography, Eye of the Hurricane: My Path From Darkness to Freedom in 2011 with a foreword by Nelson Mandela.
In 1999, he was portrayed by Denzel Washington in Norman Jewison’s film The Hurricane.
Rubin Carter remained active in criminal justice causes until the end of his life.
In February this year, he wrote a column for the New York Daily News campaigning for the exoneration of a Brooklyn man David McCallum who has spent nearly three decades in prison on murder charges.
“If I find a heaven after this life, I’ll be quite surprised,” he wrote.
“In my own years on this planet, though, I lived in hell for the first 49 years, and have been in heaven for the past 28 years. To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all.”
Hurricane: https://vimeo.com/53933900

Come you masters of war… I just want you to know I can see through your masks

white poppy

AS a lifelong pacifist I have regularly argued on this blog against our ongoing glorification of war and imperial aggression.
Last November I published a piece entitled: I Saw That His Face Looked Just Like Mine, which chided the charade of Remembrance Sunday and the wearing of red poppies.
For the millions of wearers of these poppies they believe it is a good and noble cause to remember “those who died to protect our freedom”.
I too mourn the loss of these soldiers’ lives, but I also mourn the loss of the lives of soldiers from Germany, Italy, Ireland, Iraq, Argentina, North and South Korea, Afghanistan, Russia and many other countries.
And I mourn the 142 million innocent men, women and children killed in these wars.
I stand by the line of Wilfred Owen’s famous World War 1 poem: To children ardent for some desperate glory, the old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.
To translate from the Latin: the old lie: It is sweet and right to die for your country.
Why should dying for one’s country be a sweet, right, noble and heroic thing to do?
Because some warriors once drew lines in the earth determining where a country begins and ends?
Or because some politician or monarch has ordered you to fight?
Or because your skin is a different colour to someone else’s… or you speak a different language?
I published the words to Bob Dylan’s song John Brown, which in a simple narrative explodes the glory and hypocrisy of war.
I also published a short poem called Red or White, which explains why each November I wear a white poppy.
The white poppy is an ongoing challenge to the continuing drive to war.
And lest we forget, there is a message of support for Remembrance Sunday from the world’s second largest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, conveniently sited in the underground station below Portcullis House where Members of Parliament have their offices and round the corner from the Cenotaph.
You see, making war is a big and highly profitable business; little wonder then that financiers, manufacturers, trade unions and of course the military and now the growing band of support charities are loath to call for peace and disarmament instead demanding more body armour, tougher boots and more helicopters to rescue the wounded.
The irony lies heavily, because 100 years ago the distinguished economist JA Hobson, neither socialist nor pacifist, saw World War 1 as rational only for the capitalist ruling classes who stood to benefit from the “ever-worsening burden of armaments”.
Many critics of the war also understood that it was being waged for stakes outside Europe in great tracts of colonised land in Asia and Africa.
While it is necessary to acknowledge the sacrifices made by soldiers from these regions, it is dishonest to assimilate them into the popular narrative of “everybody’s war for freedom”.
These were colonised subjects whose war this was certainly not, and in whose countries Britain was doing anything but defending freedom – its own occupying troops as unwelcome as German ones in Belgium.
So in January this year I had another pop at the glorification of war in a piece ironically entitled Dulce et Decorum Est.
My article came after Conservative Education Secretary Michael Gove defended the 100th anniversary ‘celebrations’ of the start of World War 1, publicly demeaned respected historians, then rewrote history himself by stating how the four years of carnage was indeed a ‘Great War’.
But why exactly, Mr Gove, are we using £50 million of public money to commemorate a catastrophe from which, in 2014, there are no survivors?
And if we honour the fallen Allied soldiers of the 1914-18 conflict, will we do the same for the German soldiers or indeed the dead of the Crimean War, Waterloo, the Boer War, the battles of Bannockburn and Culloden or the dead from the English Civil War, Agincourt, Crecy or even the Battle of Hastings?
Where does logic and reality stop and politics and propaganda begin?
And does Mr Gove really know the difference between the Dardanelles and the Somme?
The reasons given for this year’s World War 1 commemoration is that yet again we must remember our dead. “They died for us and our freedom. The cost of sacrifice. Remember Passchendaele. Never forget.”
As a child I remember sitting on my Great Uncle Jack’s knee as he told me tales of the Somme and the mud, horror and death. He showed me the 11 inch scar on his back where a German sniper had almost taken his life as he crawled back to his trench from no man’s land. And he also told me of his older brother Bernet who died from typhus fever in the trenches at the Somme, like many thousands of his compatriots.
There was no glory, no heroism, just the mechanised slaughter of millions of young working class men.
As Wilfred Owen wrote: ‘the poetry is in the pity’.
In the four years of World War 1, Britain endured 658,700 fatalities, 2,032,150 wounded and 359,150 men missing in action. This adds up to total of over three million casualties from one side alone.
Add to this the four million fatalities from the German side and other civilian deaths, the total death toll was in excess of 16 million.
No glory, just death and suffering.
As Lloyd George, Prime Minister in 1916, said: “If the people really knew the truth the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and can’t know.”
Today the British Government stands out in Europe for its flag-waving jingoism in relation to the centenary. Most Europeans are more sophisticated.
The superb ‘In Flanders Fields Museum’ on the battlefield of Ypres/Passchendaele in Belgium presents the war as a collective human tragedy which we need to understand. A ‘Path of Peace’ runs along the old trench-lines of the Isonzo Front in Slovenia’s Julian Alps. The twinned towns of Newark in Britain and Emmendingen in Germany plan to recreate the 1914 Christmas Truce football match.
And there is much more: places, exhibits, and events which seek to present the war – causes, course, and consequences – as it really was, and to use the commemoration to foster internationalism and peace.
Public money should be used in ways that help us remember the victims, lament the waste, and learn the lessons.
Poetry is again central to how many people regard World War 1.
The No Glory in War movement has arranged a special night of poetry to commemorate Conscientious Objectors’ Day on 15 May.
They have lined up a fine array of speakers, including AL Kennedy, Blake Morrison, Michael Rosen, George Szirtes and Samuel West.
They’ll read from both their own work and that of the war poets and talk a bit about the No Glory campaign.
Given the recent attacks on the war poets by Mr Gove and the Tory Government-backed revisionist historians, it’s important to reclaim their centrality to our memory of that war.
The event is called Cold Stars Lighting – taken from Wilfred Owen’s poem (I Saw His Round Mouth’s Crimson)
So if you’re near London, why not go along. You can book tickets here: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/262403#.UwfWaYXiS8c
Check out this website too: http://www.ppu.org.uk/remembrance/index.html

You know, capitalism is above the law…“It don’t count ’less it sells”

REGULAR readers of my blog will know that my passions in life are clear: my family and friends, the words and music of Bob Dylan and my home town football team Brighton and Hove Albion.
Behind those Earthly passions I am a lifelong pacifist and a socialist.
But sometimes I can’t help but wonder what’s happening to my country, my world and my companions.
I look around me and watch our welfare state being torn apart by David Cameron’s politics of austerity. The NHS, welfare benefits, the post office, local councils, social services, education, the fire service – nothing has been safe from their axe.
The Labour Party, who should be standing and campaigning against all this, have failed again and again to do so. They have even joined in with attacking the poorest, instead of the real culprits: the rich and the bankers who ruined the economy while lining their own pockets.
Even our trade unions are distancing themselves from Labour in digust.
No one should have to choose between heating and eating, no one should have to pay for their healthcare or education – and everyone should have a roof over their head. It’s that simple.
And neither have we learned the lessons of Iraq or Afghanistan. Once again we are hanging onto the coat hem of the USA in taking an aggressive stance against Russian involvement in the Crimea, while supporting a fascist Ukraine. We don’t need thousands more deaths of innocent people by any military posturing or worse still involvement.
As I hinted in my earlier post this week: https://seagullnic.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/all-he-believes-are-his-eyes-and-his-eyes-they-just-tell-him-lies-2/ and in another post: https://seagullnic.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/youre-the-one-that-reached-me-youre-the-one-that-i-admired/ I have lost confidence with any major political party in this country to provide social and just government and turn back the cruel tide of capitalist politics.
I found myself agreeing with Russell Brand that either we need a bloodless revolution to change the status quo or I remain sitting on my backside and give in to nihilism.
Or is there another option? Is there a realistic left wing alternative?
I think I may have found one.
For the first time since I was 20 years-old I have joined a political party to help give meaningful hope and action in the bleakness around me.
I have joined Left Unity.
“This is a new kind of party, with feminism, socialism and environmentalism at its heart. It’s a party that supports the campaigns and struggles of ordinary people, for public services, for equality, and for real democracy.”
Left Unity was only formed last November and already its membership is burgeoning.
Here I post its two founding statements. Much more can be found on the party’s website at: http://leftunity.org/. If you agree with me, please consider joining too.
Statement one
1. Left Unity stands for equality and justice. It is socialist, feminist, environmentalist and against all forms of discrimination. We stand against capitalism, imperialism, war, racism, Islamophobia and fascism. Our goal is to transform society: to achieve the full democratisation of state and political institutions, society and the economy, by and for the people.
2. Our immediate tasks are to oppose austerity policies designed to destroy the social and economic gains working people have made over many decades; to oppose the scapegoating which accompanies them; to defend the welfare state and those worst affected by the onslaught; to fight to take back into public ownership those industries and utilities privatised over the last three decades; to fight to restore workers’ rights; and to advance alternative social and economic policies, redistributing wealth to the working class.
3. We are socialist because our aim is to end capitalism. We will pursue a society where the meeting of human needs is paramount, not one which is driven by the quest for private profit and the enrichment of a few. The natural wealth, and the means of production, distribution and exchange will be owned in common and democratically run by and for the people as a whole, rather than being owned and controlled by a small minority to enrich themselves. The reversal of the gains made in this direction after 1945 has been catastrophic and underlines the urgency of halting and reversing the neo-liberal onslaught.
4. We are feminist because our vision of society is one without the gender oppression and exploitation which blights the lives of women and girls and makes full human emancipation impossible. We specify our feminism because historical experience shows that the full liberation of women does not automatically follow the nationalisation of productive forces or the reordering of the economy.
5. We are environmentalist because we recognise that if humankind is to survive, it has to establish a sustainable relationship with the rest of the natural world – of which it is part and on which it depends. We recognise that an economy based on achieving maximum profits at the lowest cost in the shortest possible time is destroying our planet. The current operation of industry and economy is totally incompatible with the maintenance of the ecosystem through the growing loss of bio and agro diversity, the depletion of resources and increasing climate change. The future of the planet can only be secured through a sustainable, low carbon industrial base designed to meet people’s needs on a global basis.
6. We are opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether on the basis of class, gender, race, impairment, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, religion, age or politics. The current economic onslaught disproportionately affects already disadvantaged groups and we oppose their persecution and oppression. We support the introduction of legislation and social provision to make this intention a reality. No society is just and equal while some people remain without the support needed to achieve their full potential.
7. We work for and support strong, effective, democratic trade unions to fight for full employment, better wages and salaries, for improved living standards, for better working conditions and stronger, more favourable, contracts of employment. We believe that the strength of the union is the people in the workplace; that what each person does at work matters – to make the job better, to make the service provided more effective, to persuade workers to combine for greater strength. Going on strike (including mass/general strikes), occupying workplaces and solidarity between workers (in different unions and/or workplaces) can be effective tactics in winning individual disputes and changing society.
8. Our political practice is democratic, diverse and inclusive, organising amongst working class communities with no interests apart from theirs, committed to open dialogue and new ways of working. We will campaign, mobilise and support struggles on a day to day basis, recognising the need for self-organisation in working class communities. We recognise that support for our party and its electoral success will only advance to the extent that it is genuinely representative of working class communities, has no interests separate from theirs, and is an organic part of the campaigns and movements which they generate and support.
9. We will engage in elections offering voters a left alternative – where any elected representatives will take an average wage and be accountable to the party membership – while understanding that elections are not the only arena or even the most important arena in which political struggles are fought. We aim to win political power, not to manage it. We will not participate in governmental coalitions with capitalist parties at a local or national level.
10. We are an internationalist party. There are no national solutions to the problems that humanity faces. Capitalism is an international system, highly organised and globalised and its defeat requires not only international solidarity but the linking up and coordination of struggles across Europe and the world. We will work with left organisations and movements in Europe and internationally that share our aims. We will also seek to learn from the experience of those parties in Latin America which have challenged and rejected neo-liberal economic policies and are establishing a social and economic alternative in the interests of the majority of their people. We stand against imperialist wars and military intervention, against the exploitation of other countries for economic gain, and for a drastic reduction of military expenditure for the benefit of social spending, and for a foreign policy based on peace and equality.
Statement two
The Ken Loach appeal launched in association with his film The Spirit of 45 and calling for a new left party has resulted in over 8,000 responses nationally. The film informs us that in 1945 the Labour Party pledged to put an end to the social evils of disease, idleness (mass unemployment), ignorance, squalor (slum housing) and want (poverty) and, despite the legacy of wartime debts, achieved significant reforms. Britain today, along with the rest of Europe and North America, is far wealthier in human and technological resources than it was in 1945. Yet as a result of over 30 years of so-called free-market policies, culminating in a chronic economic and financial crisis since 2007, all those evils have returned.
Our most urgent task is to defend and reclaim the gains won by the labour movement during more than a century of struggles. We believe that there is no prospect of the Labour Party today doing that effectively. Elsewhere in Europe left parties such as Syriza in Greece are winning mass support for resistance to austerity. In Britain we also need to create a new Left Party founded on the following political principles and policy commitments:
1. On the Immediate Economic Crisis
• We are against austerity programmes which make the mass of working people, the old, the young and the sick, pay for a systemic crisis of capitalism.
• We are for policies to restore full employment through measures such as reduced working hours for all; spending on public housing, infrastructure and services; and the public ownership of, and democratic collective control over, basic utilities, transport systems and the financial sector.
2. On Public Services
• We are against the creeping privatisation of the NHS and Education, the sell-off of the Royal Mail and the marketization of the public sector as a whole.
• We are for free provision of education (from nurseries to adult and higher education), the arts and all forms of healthcare.
3. On The Environment
• We are against an economic system which prioritises short-term profit over the future of the planet, and which is responsible for accelerated climate change and ecological crisis.
• We are for sustainable development, an end to energy and transport policies which contribute to global warming and for an agricultural system which is committed to animal welfare and environmental protection.
4. On Employment
• We are against the casualization of employment conditions and laws which restrict the right of workers to organise effectively and take industrial action.
• We are for the ‘living wage’ as a minimum for all, an extension of employment rights for all workers and support for workers’ cooperatives.
5. On Tax and Welfare
• We are against cuts in benefits and measures such as the bedroom tax, changes to disability allowance and cuts in legal aid, hurting the poorest.
• We are for a tax and welfare system based on the principles of social justice, universal benefits and steeply progressive and effective taxation.
6. On Equalities
• We are against all forms of discrimination and oppression whether on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexuality, (dis)ability or national identity.
• We are for an inclusive society with equal citizenship rights for all, including asylum-seekers and refugees, and support for all those in need.
7. On Internationalism
• We are against fascism, war, imperialism and an international economic system dominated by the wealthy and militarily powerful nations.
• We are for the right of national self-determination for oppressed nationalities such as the Kurds and Palestinians and solidarity with all those resisting austerity and oppression. We are for ‘fair trade’ and recognise the necessity for global solutions to global problems such as climate change.
8. On Anti-Capitalism
• We are against a system whose benefits go disproportionately to 1% of the population and which is responsible for devastating economic and ecological crises across the planet.
• We are ultimately for a radical social transformation based on the principle of ‘people not profit’ and drawing on the best of the cooperative, radical democratic, feminist, green, and socialist traditions (although we may disagree on how such a transformation can eventually be achieved).
9. On a New Party
• We are against the bureaucratic centralism, corruption and sexism to be found in many existing political parties.
• We are for a mass, democratic and inclusive party which unites campaigners and trade union activists, supports collective direct action and self-organisation, and has close links with similar parties or movements resisting austerity and ‘freemarket’ policies across Europe and elsewhere.

You’re the one that reached me you’re the one that I admired

blog tony benn
THE death of Tony Benn is a watershed in British politics.
He was the last truly great parliamentary socialist, and a man of courtesy, decency, principle, integrity and vision.
And he was a true hero of mine.
During my years as a newspaper journalist I was fortunate enough to interview Tony three times, and each interview was a joy.
Unlike many of his contemporaries – including former chancellor Denis Healey and ex PM Jim Callaghan – he did not waffle over his time in office or make excuses and like younger MPs he did not obscure with sound bites or spin.
Instead he told things as they were and imprinted his vision of equality and fairness in words of insight and candour.
The interviews were all in the 1990s, so during the latter time of his 50 years as a member of parliament, but he was still fresh and relished argument and fought for justice.
After each interview I felt like I had been speaking with a friend.
And I have another reason for loving Tony Benn.
In 1994, 41 MPs signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons praising my year-long investigation into the link between the test firing of depleted uranium tank shells and local clusters of cancer.
The same tank shells provided a link to Gulf War Syndrome in the first Gulf War.
Some of my political heroes signed that EDM including Alan Simpson, Ken Livingstone and Dennis Skinner. But the sixth signature on that motion was Tony Benn. His name next to mine was like a personal shield of honour. A treasure I will keep till the grave.
Tony was true fighter for ordinary working people from the moment he was elected an MP in 1950. He was a privileged and educated aristocrat turned man of the people.
From his successful fight to remain in the Commons upon the death of his father Viscount Stansgate – a Viscountcy which Tony was to be forced to inherit – through to the Hovercraft, Concorde, TSR2, nuclear power, special edition postage stamps, tape-recording his own interviews and speeches, he was every inch the dashing, eloquent and unafraid hero.
Tony Benn was one of the few British politicians who became more left-wing after having actually served in government.
When Labour lost power in the 1979 General Election, Tony became the authentic voice of the radical left with the press coining the term Bennite to describe the policies espoused by those resisting attempts to move the Labour Party to the middle ground.
As such, he became a bogeyman for the right in British politics, with delegates to Conservative conferences displaying Ban the Benn badges in the style of CND’s Ban the Bomb logo.
Later in life he became a folk hero as well as a campaigner for a number of causes, particularly opposition to UK military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was blamed by many for contributing to Labour’s lack of electoral success during the 1980s.
Tony Benn was a totem for those who rejected the shift to the right widely seen as necessary if the party was to regain power.
This shift was eventually completed under Tony Blair, who pushed through the abandonment of clause IV and redefined Labour as a party comfortable with privatisation and free market economics.
Tony Benn was unrepentant in his opposition to the changes saying: “We are not just here to manage capitalism but to change society and to define its finer values.”
With a typically memorable turn of phrase, Tony then signalled the end of his parliamentary career in 1999, when he announced he would not be standing for re-election at the next general election. Asked whether he would be taking his place in the House of Lords, the former Viscount Stansgate replied: “Don’t be silly.”
His final speech to the House of Commons as MP was an appropriately eloquent farewell, in which he talked widely on his view of the role of parliament and the wider question of democracy.
He said: “In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person – Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates – ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.
After his retirement from parliament, Tony became the public face of the Stop the War coalition.
In one edition of BBC TV’s Question Time, his exchanges with US Republican John Bolton included this broadside: “I was born about a quarter of a mile from where we are sitting now and I was here in London during the Blitz. And every night I went down into the shelter. 500 people killed, my brother was killed, my friends were killed. And when the Charter of the UN was read to me, I was a pilot coming home in a troop ship: ‘We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.’ That was the pledge my generation gave to the younger generation and you tore it up. And it’s a war crime that’s been committed in Iraq, because there is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons.”
He died and will forever live as the Honorary President of the Stop the War Coalition, leading the greatest mass movement in British history. He was the greatest leader Labour, and Great Britain, never had.
Tony’s legacy must now be a catalyst for the left and working people.
The UK is the sixth richest country on Earth, but now has half a million people dependent on food banks; wages haven’t fallen for so long since the Victorian era; the next generation faces being poorer for the first time in a century.
“The flame of anger against injustice and the flame of hope that you can build a better world” is what drives social change.
Appropriately Tony Benn once said: “Modern Britain does not lack anger, but the left’s real mission is surely hope. Charismatic and inspiring leaders will inevitably be mourned. But the injustices that drove them don’t die, and so neither will the need to continue their fight.”
Rest in Peace Tony, you were a legend in your own time.

I’ve learned to hate Russians all through my whole life

WHEN I was a much younger man, I was a rebel with a cause… so many causes in fact, I actually lost count.
Now in the so-called autumn of my years, my causes are few: to protect my family and fight against injustice.
But, perversely, my canvas is much wider now, because ‘injustice’ is a shopping bag of multiple sins: the machinations of capitalism and state imperialism, the nuclear industry, violence in all its forms and bigoted prejudice of race, creed and sexuality.
And it is the machinations of the capitalist west and its media propaganda which irritates me the most, especially when I look at the injustices and indifference to Israeli atrocities on the West Bank and in Gaza and balance that against the world’s zeal like attention on the Ukraine.
In the days since Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into the Crimea, it has been amateur hour in Washington and London while the western press seeks to set out an Us versus Them scenario in the crudest terms possible.
In the past 48 hours, Putin has been demonised as “a bully”, “a war monger” and “a dangerous dictator” for his actions in trying to protect Russian citizens living in Russia’s back garden.
When you compare seizing Crimea to the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, as Leonid Bershidsky did at Bloomberg View this week, you can see the frightening level to which this political punditry has already grown.
And, as in post 9/11, Britain is hanging on to the coat tails of US foreign policy and acting like a spoilt child because the bigger game of western influence is temporarily out of our control.
Only yesterday, Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that Britain is boycotting the next G8 summit, due to be held in Moscow, in protest at Russia’s activity in the Crimea.
The sea of foreign policy punditry – already shark-infested – has reached new lows in fear-mongering, exaggerated doom-saying and a stunning inability to place global events in any rational context.
Even the most soft-slippered of so-called democrats on both sides of the Atlantic have attacked Putin’s actions as aggressive and “typically Soviet”… pushing us to the brink of a new Cold War.
Do we forget so quickly US aggression in Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Guatemala, Grenada, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan and its special forces which undermined elected regimes in Chile, the Lebanon, Egypt and now Venezuala?
Putin is acting in Russia’s best interest, albeit in a heavy handed manner. The situation in Crimea is currently none of our concern.
Our interests lie in a stable Europe, and that’s why the US and its European allies created a containment structure that will ensure Russia’s territorial ambitions will remain limited… it’s called NATO. Even if the Russian military wasn’t a hollow shell of the once formidable Soviet Red Army, it’s not about to mess with a NATO country.
Any US problems with Russia are the concerns that affect actual US interests. Concerns like nuclear non-proliferation, or containing the Syrian civil war, or stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Those are all areas where Moscow has played an occasionally useful role.
The territorial integrity of Ukraine is not nothing, but it’s hardly in the top tier of US policy concerns. It is Russia’s back garden far more than Basra, Seoul or Saigon was ever a legitimate concern for the USA.
Putin has initiated a conflict that will, quite obviously, result in greater diplomatic and political isolation as well as the potential for economic sanction.
He’s compounded his loss of a key ally in Kiev by further enflaming Ukrainian nationalism, and his provocations could have a cascading effect in Europe by pushing countries that rely on Russia’s natural gas exports to look elsewhere for their energy needs.
Putin is the leader of a country with a weak military, an under-performing economy and a host of social, environmental and health-related challenges. Seizing the Crimea will only make the problems facing Russia that much greater.
You don’t have to listen to the “do something” western lynch mob. These are the same politicians and pundits convinced that every international problem is a vital interest of the US and the UK; that the maintenance of credibility and strength is essential, and that any demonstration of weakness is a slippery slope to global anarchy.
It’s all about control, and when every western leader from Nixon to Obama or Thatcher to Cameron felt they were losing control, they made it global… and if we haven’t learned anything from Afghanistan or Iraq, that is really frightening.

Now, he’s hell-bent for destruction, he’s afraid and confused
And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill
All he believes are his eyes
And his eyes, they just tell him lies
(Bob Dylan 1983)

Where have all the leaders gone?

Pete Seeger
TWO days on and I am still finding it hard to come to terms with the death of Pete Seeger.
Okay the old buffer was 94 years-old, and his passing was surely imminent; but like Nelson Mandela of a similar vintage, his death is more than sad.
He touched countless lives singing for unions, children and presidents and ordinary working people.
He turned a Bible verse and an African chant into hit records, travelled with Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly and championed Bob Dylan.
He also adapted a gospel song to sing for union workers and created a timeless anthem for civil rights with We Shall Overcome.
As a singer and songwriter, Seeger led the re-emergence of folksong performance during the 1950s and was a key figure in the folk revival in the 1960s.
A multitude of artists recorded and performed his work across six decades, including Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary.
He recorded more than 100 albums himself.
But above all, Seeger, blacklisted in the mid-1950s at the height of McCarthyism, was a radical and a true leader of dissent against what is/was wrong in our world.
Seeger made his first recordings in New York in 1940 with the Almanac Singers and the group recorded popular anti-war ballads.
But war is war, and Seeger was drafted into the US Army and was drafted to the Pacific in 1942. The following year he married his lifelong sweetheart Toshi Ohta.
In 1948, together with Lee Hays and other veterans of the Almanacs, Seeger formed the Weavers.
They quickly became one of the most successful musical acts in America.
But then came the anti-communist blacklist.
The Weavers were banned from radio and television.
As the US wide paranoia grew and with their scheduled appearances and commercial recording contracts cancelled, the group dissolved in 1953.
In the 1960s came the folk revival, and later the folk-rock boom caught up with him. Covers of songs he wrote or recorded became global hits.
The newer generation of more commercial musicians owed him a deep debt: Peter, Paul and Mary regarded themselves as the Weavers’ successors, and singers from Joan Baez and Judy Collins to Joni Mitchell, Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan have all paid tribute to him.
The 2005 Martin Scorsese documentary No Direction Home contains insight from Seeger, Bob Dylan and others into that legacy.
Seeger’s political activity increased after his blacklisting in the 1960s, with the challenges to liberalism and the division of the US over the Vietnam War.
Despite musical progression, Seeger remained a favourite at demonstrations, teach-ins and sing-outs of all kinds for the next 40 years.
He continued to adapt to changing situations and political issues.
In 1969 he launched the sloop Clearwater in the Hudson, beginning a 30 year campaign to clean the river, which was close to his home in Peekskill, New York, and to publicise the ecology movement.
Over the past few years he spoke out strongly against US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Through all this, Seeger endured and performed steadily.
During the inauguration weekend for Barack Obama in 2009, Seeger, on stage with Springsteen, delivered a rousing version of the Woody Guthrie favourite This Land Is Your Land.
It was an extraordinary moment in American life with the singer-rebel at the very centre.
But it was also steeped in deep irony, as like Bob Dylan before him at Bill Clinton’s inauguration Blue Jeans Bash in 1993, here was the leader of counter-culture hand in hand with the leader of the corporate world he so deeply distrusted.
And the similarities don’t end there.
At his death we have a world tangled up in blue, a world gone wrong, a world in the grip of greedy bankers, corrupt politicians, wall to wall pornography, war mongers and global murderers, a police state set fast in imposed capitalist ethics.
Pete passed on the folk protest movement baton to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964 as the ‘younger generation’.
Bob may have dropped that baton a few times and the music has moved on, but others such as Billy Bragg, Michelle Shocked, Ani DiFranco, Tom Robinson and Paul Weller have picked it up and tried to carry it.
But with Pete’s passing we lack a global leader… a living spirit of musical protest.
Even my own hero Bob Dylan is almost 73, and his political candle never burned as brightly as Pete’s.
Something is missing… or more poignantly, someone is missing.
We need the oxygen of a new leader to help us learn how to think and question this insane world we live in.
We live in a corporate world begging for the individual to make a difference.
Music and true word can do that.
RIP Pete… never forgotten

Dulce et Decorum Est

Uncle Jack
AS Conservative Education Secretary Michael Gove crawls from the wreckage of his incoherent and indefensible ramblings of how World War 1 was indeed a Great War, why are we using £50 million of public money to commemorate a catastrophe, from which, in 2014, there are no survivors?
And if we honour the fallen Allied soldiers of the 1914-18 conflict, will we do the same for the German soldiers or indeed the dead of the Crimean War, Waterloo, the Boer War, the battles of Bannockburn and Culloden or the dead from the English Civil War, Agincourt, Crecy or even the Battle of Hastings?
Where does logic and reality stop and politics and propaganda begin?
And does Gove really know the difference between the Dardanelles and the Somme?
The reasons given for this year’s World War 1 commemoration is that we must remember our dead. “They died for us and our freedom. The cost of sacrifice. Remember Passchendaele. Never forget.”
As a child I remember sitting on my Great Uncle Jack’s knee as he told me tales of the Somme and the mud, horror and death. He showed me the 11 inch scar on his back where a German sniper had almost taken his life as he crawled back to his trench from no man’s land. And he also told me of his older brother Bernet who died from typhus fever in the trenches at the Somme, like many thousands of his compatriots.
I have my Uncle Jack’s pencil written letters from the front – and from hospital – at my side as I write this blog.
There was no glory, no heroism, just the mechanised slaughter of millions of young working class men.
As World War 1 poet Wilfred Owen wrote: ‘the poetry is in the pity’.
One example of the mindless killings occurred on the 24 and 25 September 1915 when the 4th Black Watch was decimated at Loos.
“Haig had ample warning that an unprepared attack by two untrained divisions was unlikely to succeed. And so the stage was set for a repetition of the charge at Balaclava. For the set-piece attack of the 11th Corps was as futile and foredoomed as that of the Light Brigade. There had been 12 battalions making the attack, a strength of just under ten thousand, and in the three and a half hours of the actual battle their casualties were 385 officers and 7,861 men. The Germans suffered no casualties at all.”
Little wonder the Germans called the battlefield “Leichenfeld (field of corpses) von Loos”.
Perhaps in war, it’s the names that count. Dead soldiers had no gravestones before the Great War, unless they were generals, admirals or emperors worthy of entombment in Saint Paul’s Cathedral or Les Invalides. The soldiers were simply dumped into mass graves.
At Waterloo, the remains of the dead were shipped back to England to be used as manure on the fields of Lincolnshire – sometimes tilled by their unsuspecting farmer sons. No posthumous glory for them.
It is perhaps easier to believe that the names will “live for evermore” even though hundreds of thousands of World War 1 British and French and Germans and Austrians and Irishmen in British uniform and Hungarians and Indians and Russians and Americans and Turks and even Portuguese have no graves at all.
The last words of Nurse Edith Cavell, shot in Brussels by the Germans for rescuing Allied soldiers behind enemy lines, are inscribed on her monument beside the National Gallery: “Patriotism is not enough.”
In the four years of World War 1, Britain endured 658,700 fatalities, 2,032,150 wounded and 359,150 men missing in action. This adds up to total of over three million casualties from one side alone.
Add to this the four million fatalities from the German side and other civilian deaths, the total death toll was in excess of 16 million. About two million deaths were from disease and infection.
No glory, just death and suffering.
Historian Phillip Knightley wrote that during the war: “More deliberate lies were told than in any other period of history, and the whole apparatus of the state went into action to suppress the truth”.
When war broke out in 1914, it did so to flag waving and patriotism. Men were promised honour, glory and a conflict over by Christmas.
This was the Great War, to end all wars!
These were times of great social inequality and disenfranchised boys from the poorest communities could, for the first time, be useful. The army offered food, clothing, camaraderie and the respect of the nation.
Enlistment was a collective endeavour – many battalions were made up of men from the same villages. They joined together and died together.
There was no way out. Not to join was cowardice – a treacherous act which would bring shame upon their family and nation.
And they would be fighting against an identifiable evil.
The British propaganda painted German Kaiser Wilhelm as the devil incarnate. The Daily Mail of 22 September 1914 portrayed him in separate reports as a “lunatic”, “madman”, “barbarian”, “monster”, and “modern Judas”.
The German soldier raped, mutilated and tortured. Stories of Hun atrocities in Belgium were front page news despite there being little proof of their occurrence.
The Times of 8 January, 1915, stated: “The stories of rape are so horrible in detail that their publication would seem almost impossible were it not for the necessity of showing to the fullest extent the nature of the wild beasts fighting under the German Flag.”
This was the absolute necessity of conflict; ironically the same necessity that Michael Gove now points to as he rewrites the history of the war and instills his own propaganda.
Cambridge history Professor Richard Evans accuses Mr Gove of gross oversimplification: “How can you possibly claim that Britain was fighting for democracy and liberal values when the main ally was Tsarist Russia? That was a despotism that put Germany in the shade and sponsored pogroms in 1903-1906.”
Unlike Germany – where male suffrage was universal – 40 per cent of those British troops fighting in the war did not have the vote until 1918.
“The Kaiser was not like Hitler, he was not a dictator… this was not Nazi Germany,” he added.
So when we read about the heroism of all those dead men, when we pause to consider their sacrifice we should remember also a propaganda system which romanticised and demonised, misled and obfuscated.
As Lloyd George, Prime Minister in 1916, said: “If the people really knew the truth the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and can’t know.”
And what they don’t know, can’t hurt, can it, Mr Gove?

Dulce et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.
Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod.
All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!
An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And floundering like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
Wilfred Owen
October 1917 – March 1918

I Ain’t Gonna Work on Maggie’s Farm No More (Last thoughts on Thatcher)

thatcherGETTING older gives a few new perspectives on life and self.

I was raised in the cosy middle-class environs of Sussex as the only son of a hard working father and loving mother.

I guess my father’s often right wing doctrines influenced my own, and as a teenager and college student I followed those politics quite radically.

At 21 years-old, against a typical 1970’s university backwash of Trotskyism and Marxism, I was regional vice-chairman of the Federation of Conservatives Students. I was a proud radical Tory, brushed shoulders with Michael Portillo, shared a whisky with former PM Ted Heath and fought hard in Thatcher’s election victory of 1979.

That remains the eternal shame of my youth.

But life influences and chalk face experiences over 34 years changed all that… it changed me as a person, socially, spiritually and politically.

I remember the year Thatcher was first elected, a more socially aware friend of mine warned: “There will be war in three years!”

How right she was!

In 1982 we were at war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, ostensibly to liberate islanders loyal to the British Crown, but in reality because we had discovered huge reserves of oil in the South Atlantic a few years earlier!

But it was what I discovered 14 years later as a newspaper journalist, which cast the Falklands War and Thatcher in a new light.

Not only was our prized battleship cruiser HMS Sheffield sunk while carrying nuclear depth charges, but against all international treaties to keep the South Atlantic nuclear free, Thatcher had deployed a British nuclear-armed submarine into the area.

The orders were clear: if the Argentines sunk another of our flagships, a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Cordoba was to be considered.
Just think for a minute where that might have led in 1982, at the height of the Cold War. Thatcher was prepared to risk a global Armageddon to secure her political ends.
Thankfully that scenario did not come to pass.

But it was at home where my opinions of Thatcher and her politics changed me forever.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s I lived and worked as a teacher in the small mining village of Darton near Barnsley.

Most of my pupils were the sons and daughters or miners. I played cricket each weekend with miners. My neighbours were miners. I went to football matches at Oakwell with miners. And I bought my first house from a miner.

The sound of the local pit hooter and the rattle of coal trucks woke me each morning and the coal dust got into my clothes and my life.

But what struck me then and has stayed with me ever since was the sense of community and friendship which imbued every aspect of life in that village.

If one of my charges misbehaved at school you could be sure his or her parents would know about it and he or she would be disciplined at home.
If I was ever ill in bed, a neighbour would knock at the door and ask if I needed any groceries or would leave a casserole of stew.
If the snow was deep we would all help clear each-others’ drives or pathways.
If anyone had a party in the street, the whole street would be invited, no exceptions.  And those parties were real parties with Yorkshire beer, pies, gravy and puddings.
And if my girlfriend had to walk home late at night, I wouldn’t fear for her safety.
It was a time of the greatest friendship and community I have ever known.

I moved away for misled career aspirations in 1983.

One year later, Thatcher’s brutal decision to crush the trade union movement at any cost laid waste to this community and countless more like them.
It was never to recover.

For those not familiar with this time and place, watch the movie Billy Elliot or the BBC TV series Our Friends in the North to gain a little perspective.

All that was wonderful had been lost forever due to Tory greed and Thatcher’s need for unbridled power.

We had a nation divided against itself where the rich got richer while the rest fought for the scraps.

A whole street’s belief in Sunday’s roast beef
Gets dashed against the Co-op
To either cut down on beer or the kids new gear
It’s a big decision in a town called malice.

(Paul Weller)

My politics were changing fast.

In 1987 and 1988 I was in hospital in Cardiff undergoing surgery for a malignant cancer in the right shoulder and right lung.

It was a time of personal trauma, but also the making of new and lasting friendships.
Many of my new friends were former miners from the South Wales valleys. Many were suffering from lung cancer due to a lifetime working among coal dust.
But it was their tales of how Thatcher crushed the miners’ strike that will always stay with me.
Sure they blamed Scargill for getting some of the NUM tactics wrong. But it was Thatcher whom they blamed for the decimation of their lives and families.
I learned how she used MI5 and the Met Police and every dirty trick imaginable to tarnish the personal reputations of the striking miners, even down to the conspiratorial murder of a taxi driver.

When I had fully recovered from the cancer in the mid-1990s, I was prompted to travel back to my old village near Barnsley to see how things had changed.
What met me was post-apocalyptic!

All vestiges of the coal mining past had gone, the shops had steal shutters on their windows, litter blew around the main street and grey youths gathered on corners with eyes that seemed devoid of hope.

The ghost of a steam train – echoes down my track
It’s at the moment bound for nowhere –
Just going round and round
Playground kids and creaking swings –
Lost laughter in the breeze
I could go on for hours and I probably will –
But I’d sooner put some joy back
In this town called malice.

(Paul Weller)

It was a scene I later witnessed in Northumberland and County Durham where three generations of families had been unemployed since 1984.

Their former pit communities had crumbled into decay, with all manner of social problems: derelict housing, crumbling schools, drug dependency, street crime, high rates of teenage suicide and homelessness.
These villages remain, with three buses a day to their nearest towns and any chance of a better life, the lasting memory to Thatcher.

I could also ramble on about the abuse of power I discovered as a journalist with Thatcher’s henchmen… personal battles with the liars Jonathan Aitken and Jeffery Archer, the criminal ruination of anyone who stood against her, the machinations of the Duke of Argyll and Lord Willie Whitelaw and much, much more.
But then my brief story would become a book… and maybe one day it will!

For me Thatcher’s memory lies in the coal dust of the communities she destroyed.

I hold no emotion over her passing earlier this year, but I do fear that in the current Prime Minister David Cameron we are seeing Thatcher revisited.

But sadly my personal politics have moved so far to the left, that there is not one political party I feel able to vote for anymore… not even the Labour Party, whose socialist credentials were surrendered by Tony Blair almost 20 years ago.

I now feel massive empathy with Russell Brand when he recently wrote: The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change. I don’t think it does. I fervently believe that we deserve more from our democratic system than the few derisory tit-bits tossed from the carousel of the mighty, when they hop a few inches left or right…

“The US government gave a trillion dollars to bail out the big five banks over the past year. Banks that have grown by 30% since the crisis and are experiencing record profits and giving their execs record bonuses. How about, hang on to your hats because here comes a naïve suggestion, don’t give them that money, use it to create one million jobs at fifty grand a year for people who teach, nurse or protect…

“If we all collude and collaborate together we can design a new system that makes the current one obsolete.

The reality is there are alternatives. That is the terrifying truth that the media, government and big business work so hard to conceal.

I don’t mind getting my hands dirty because my hands are dirty already. I don’t mind giving my life to this because I’m only alive because of the compassion and love of others. Men and women strong enough to defy this system and live according to higher laws.

This is a journey we can all go on together, all of us. We can include everyone and fear no one. A system that serves the planet and the people. I’d vote for that.”

A system so far from the evil of Thatcherism that I would join Brand’s journey and enjoy spending my latter years fighting for it.

Come the revolution!

I saw that his face looked just like mine

white poppy

WE are approaching 11 November… in the UK it is known as Armistice or Remembrance Day.

Throughout the country people buy imitation red paper poppies to remember the soldiers from our side who have died in the many wars and armed conflicts since 1914.

For the millions of wearers of these poppies it is a good and noble cause to remember “those who died to protect our freedom”.

While I too mourn the loss of these soldiers’ lives, I also mourn the loss of the lives of soldiers from Germany, Italy, Ireland, Iraq, Argentina, North and South Korea, Japan, Afghanistan, Russia and many other countries.

And I mourn the 142 million innocent men, women and children killed in these wars.

I stand by the line from Wilfred Owen’s famous World War 1 poem: To children ardent for some desperate glory, the old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.

To translate the Latin, the old lie is: It is sweet and right to die for your country.

I could have been drawn into a long discursive piece about the evil nature of any war and why I am a pacifist and wear a white poppy.

Instead I draw my poem Red or White together with my piece about Bob Dylan, by publishing, with permission, the words to Dylan’s song John Brown. Dylan was just 22 years old when he wrote this, which speaks volumes about his talent and his insight:

John Brown went off to war to fight on a foreign shore
His mama sure was proud of him!
He stood straight and tall in his uniform and all
His mama’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, lots of medals you will get
And we’ll put them on the wall when you come home”

As that old train pulled out, John’s ma began to shout
Tellin’ ev’ryone 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 these things you called a good old-fashioned war

Oh! Good old-fashioned war!

Then the letters ceased to come, for a long time they did not come
They ceased to come for about ten months or more
Then a letter finally came saying, “Go down and meet the train
Your son’s a-coming home from the war”

She smiled and went right down, she looked everywhere around
But she could not see her soldier son in sight
But as all the people passed, she saw her son at last
When she did she could hardly believe her eyes

Oh his face was all shot up and his hand was all blown off
And he wore a metal brace around his waist
He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know
While she couldn’t even recognize his face!

Oh! Lord! Not even recognize his face

“Oh tell me, my darling son, pray tell me what they done
How is it you come to be this way?”
He tried his best to talk but his mouth could hardly move
And the mother had to turn her face 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
You wasn’t there standing in my shoes”

“Oh, and I thought when I was there, God, what am I doing here?
I’m a-tryin’ to kill somebody or die tryin’
But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
And I saw that his face looked just like mine”

Oh! Lord! Just like mine!

“And I couldn’t help but think, through the thunder rolling and stink
That I was just a puppet in a play
And through the roar and smoke, this string is finally broke
And a cannonball blew my eyes away”

As he turned away to walk, his Ma was still in shock
At 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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbLldlwYXRY