For the past week, I've spent a lot of time with an old friend. His name is Phil Ochs - a protest singer who committed suicide in 1976.
It started when Chieftain reporter Patrick Malone turned me on to Michael Franti. I'm not sure Franti would appreciate the protest singer title, but I told Malone that Franti's lyrics reminded me of Ochs'. We looked up some of Ochs' lyrics on the Internet, discussed the similarities briefly and then I forgot about it.
Fortunately for me, Malone didn't. On Nov. 7, Election Day (also my birthday), I found a CD titled "There But For Fortune" by Phil Ochs on the keyboard of my computer when I arrived at work.
After working my shift and helping report the Democratic sweep of the elections, I drove my 20-minute commute home listening to Ochs. The sound of his voice and his razor-sharp lyrics brought back a flood of memories of Vietnam, civil rights conflict, assassinations of Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr. and images of thousands of protesters in the streets.
It was like rediscovering a long, lost friend. In the 30 years since he took his own life, I've thought about Ochs once in a while, but this CD brought it all back.
For the next week, I kept Ochs in my CD player and alternated between listening to conservative right-wing talk radio and equally radical 1960s and 1970s vintage Ochs anti-war lyrics like "It's always the old to lead us to the war/Always the young to fall."
I remembered the last years of the Vietnam War and talk of Vietnamization - the notion that the U.S. could pull out of Vietnam as soon as the South Vietnamese Army was able on its own to stand up to the North Vietnamese regulars. Meanwhile, talk radio hosts were ranting on about how that now the Democrats had control of both houses of Congress, Bush's "Stay the course" policy would be traded for one of "Cut and run."
Since the election, there has been considerable rhetoric about pulling out of Iraq. President Bush wants to stay until we "win." Even the Democrats are saying that though many were opposed to the war in the first place, they can't now in good conscious abandon our allies on Iraq. In the absence of U.S. troops, the country would become enmeshed in an inevitable civil war, they say.
Like in Vietnam, as a nation we're determined to stay until the new Democratic government of Iraq can stand on its own and put down the insurgents. Since all the kings horses and all the kings men haven't been successful in putting down the Iraqi insurgents on our watch, I doubt that anytime in the near future the propped-up government of Iraq will ever win that fight on its own.
I remember working on the flight line in DaNang, Vietnam, in early 1969 watching our Vietnam allies prepare to take over the war. It was a joke. Every morning a group of Vietnamese helicopter pilots were bused to the flight line to a fleet of a dozen, or so, vintage choppers.
We watched as they went from helicopter to helicopter to see which ones would start. After a while, the pilot trainees would fly off to an unknown destination. Since their helicopters were unarmed, we doubted they were contributing significantly to the war effort. At the end of the day, they would return, climb into the waiting buses and drive away.
Six years later, the U.S. withdrew its troops from Vietnam and the South Vietnamese government folded like a tent.
Listening to Ochs, Franti and Rush Limbaugh has recharged my commitment to nonviolence and anti-war principles.
We are not the cops of the world and should never have invaded Iraq in the first place. Bring the troops home now, beginning with the Reservists and National Guard units.
As Franti sings, "You can bomb the world to pieces but you can't bomb it into peace."
Juan Espinosa is a Chieftain night city editor..
© 2006 The Pueblo Chieftain