I love John Lennon, and I miss his musical and political presence even after 30 years.
I can’t help but thinking the world would be a better place were he still here.
We get to listen to Lennon on commercial radio a lot this time of year, especially “So This Is Christmas (War Is Over).”
It’s a song I’ve long been ambivalent about.
I admire his affirmation of equality, as he expresses good wishes for “the old and the young…for weak and for strong, for rich and the poor ones…for black and for white, for yellow and red ones.”
I admire his plea for reconciliation: “Let’s stop all the fight.”
I admire his echo of FDR, as Lennon asks for a year “without any fear.”
And I admire his starkness: “The world is so wrong.”
But I’ve always been troubled, oddly, by the “war is over” chorus, not because I disagree with his peaceful sentiments but because I distrust the simplistic conclusion that war can be over “if we want it.”
This is not an idle question as the United States has 100,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan in a war that’s dragged on more than nine years now.
Already, a majority of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan.
In a Washington Post/ABC News poll earlier this month, Americans by a whopping 60%-34% margin said the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting.
So wanting a war to be over is not enough, not nearly enough, to end a war.
Because “the war party,” as Fighting Bob La Follette named it, calls the shots.
And the war party consists of: the President, who fears looking weak; members of Congress, who too often follow the President blindly into war with bromides about “partisanship stopping at the water’s edge”; the jingoistic media that peddles the pornography of war; the armament companies that profit from war (which La Follette, in his time, said should be nationalized); and the multinational corporate sector that uses the Pentagon and our troops as its global advance team.
La Follette noted that the war party “is not the party of democracy. It is the party of autocracy. It seeks to dominate absolutely. It is commercial, imperialistic, ruthless. It tolerates no opposition.”
This war party and the powerful forces behind it render the mere expression of democratic opposition toothless.
It’s simply not true that “war is over if you want it.”
But Lennon was no fool. He understood power.
And so I reexamine the song.
Perhaps he means more than just merely expressing opposition to war.
Perhaps his song should be understood more as a call to action than as a wishing well.
After all, he asks, “What have we done?”
That connotes both the horrible things we’ve done to the world, and the implicit accusation that we haven’t done enough to right the wrongs, with war being among the most glaring.
And after all, the last word of the song could not be more urgent. That last word is “now.”
John Lennon surely knew that war wouldn’t be over by merely wanting it (or singing about it) but by wanting it badly enough to go do something about it. And to do that now.
It’s a message sadly as relevant today as it was when he wrote the song forty years ago.