Monday, February 25, 2008

Phil Ochs' "I Ain't Marching Anymore" & Banana Politics

Phil Ochs, lost soul of the 1960s, whose music brought a topical Dylanism long after Dylan escaped into surrealism, rock and roll, and mythical motorcycle accidents, gives us one of the best protest songs of the era in "I Ain't Marching Anymore." It's a miniature history of American wars, and the refrain comes as a fatigued dissent to all the violence--but that the refrain keeps coming is suggestive of the interminability of our violent history, and dramatizes how, somehow, despite everything, the people get conscripted by hook or by crooks to fight again.

I thought of this song because Terry Gross recently interviewed the author of Banana, a cultural, political, and culinary history of everyone's fave fruit--and the history of how United Fruit had whole governments in Latin America replaced when they did not do their bidding. As General Smedley Butler once said,
I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of a half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of Racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international house of the Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras "right" for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard went its way unmolested . . . Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents.

"I Ain't Marching Anymore" by Phil Ochs

Oh I marched to the battle of New Orleans
At the end of the early British war
The young land started growing
The young blood started flowing
But I ain't marchin' anymore

For I've killed my share of Indians
In a thousand different fights
I was there at the Little Big Horn
I heard many men lying I saw many more dying
But I ain't marchin' anymore

It's always the old to lead us to the war
It's always the young to fall
Now look at all we've won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all

For I stole California from the Mexican land
Fought in the bloody Civil War
Yes I even killed my brothers
And so many others But I ain't marchin' anymore

For I marched to the battles of the German trench
In a war that was bound to end all wars
Oh I must have killed a million men
And now they want me back again
But I ain't marchin' anymore


For I flew the final mission in the Japanese sky
Set off the mighty mushroom roar
When I saw the cities burning I knew that I was learning
That I ain't marchin' anymore

Now the labor leader's screamin'
when they close the missile plants,
United Fruit screams at the Cuban shore,
Call it "Peace" or call it "Treason,"
Call it "Love" or call it "Reason,"
But I ain't marchin' any more,
No I ain't marchin' any more


RazRocks said...

Hey Professor Metres,

I know this has nothing to do with your post, but the Bob Mould Band will be at the Grog Shop on March 8th. It should be a fun show!


Philip Metres said...

Raz, I was trying to trip you up with a little folk/protest music from Phil Ochs, to add to your repository! The Mould show should be good. You going?

RazRocks said...

I might go, thats if I find someone to go with!!!!


Anonymous said...

With a doubt the song Ochs sang the most in his career, and for good reason. Though it's his most famous anti-war song, the main character in the song isn't against war on principle, but rather takes a 200-year view of U.S. history and decides "war is a racket," much like Smedley Butler did years earlier.

Philip Metres said...

Peter, good point, which is why I quoted Butler... though plenty of his other work feels anti-war ("Draft Dodger Rag" being one of the more humorous). Actually, one of the things that is eerie about the song is how it presumes a friendly audience. In the line, "tell me is it worth it all?", we sense he wishes us to say NO. But the beneficiaries of empire, who don't have to fight (that is, most of us), may actually say that we like the benefits of military domination. I prefer not to.

Anonymous said...

can someone explicate these lyrics for me? i dont understand why the lyrics are talking about Americas past wars and how they are supposed to reflect on the time period of the Vietnam War.

thanks in advance!