As the tragedy of Aleppo unfolds and becomes just another tragedy in a list of tragedies that sees no end and as the puerile political circus continues in the USA, it’s hard to understand why we humans are so hopeless, so unable to find peaceful solutions to conflicts that cause such terrible pain to each other and especially to the innocent victims caught in the crossfire.
In 1964 Native Canadian singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie released her debut album, It’s My Way. The last track on side one was the controversial Universal Soldier, a clarion call for people to take personal responsibility in finding a way to cease the madness.
In 1965 Donovan covered the song bringing it to popular attention on an EP in the UK reaching No.5 in the UK chart and on his second album of the year Fairytale in the US where the EP format was not popular. A single was released in the US on Hickory records and reached No.53 on the US chart.
In 1967 I bought my first album – Donovan’s Universal Soldier on the Marble Arch budget label a subsidiary of Pye Records. I remember it clearly, it also included Colours, Hey Gyp Dig The Slowness, Catch The Wind, The Ballad Of A Crystal Man and The Wars Drags On – I still have it.
In the current climate we might be forgiven for trying to get on with our lives and hope all the nasty pictures go away. But if the roles are ever reversed we might want to think hard about how we reacted to other people’s troubles.
Donovan changed the lyric for his version, Dachau became Liebau and “They come from him and you and me” became”They come from here and there and you and me”
He’s five foot-two, and he’s six feet-four,
He fights with missiles and with spears.
He’s all of thirty-one, and he’s only seventeen,
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years.
He’s a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain,
A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew.
And he knows he shouldn’t kill,
And he knows he always will,
Kill you for me my friend and me for you.
And he’s fighting for Canada,
He’s fighting for France,
He’s fighting for the USA,
And he’s fighting for the Russians,
And he’s fighting for Japan,
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way.
And he’s fighting for Democracy,
He’s fighting for the Reds,
He says it’s for the peace of all.
He’s the one who must decide,
Who’s to live and who’s to die,
And he never sees the writing on the wall.
But without him,
How would Hitler have condemned him at Liebau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone,
He’s the one who gives his body
As a weapon of the war,
And without him all this killing can’t go on.
He’s the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can’t you see,
This is not the way we put an end to war.