Song Lyric Sunday: Military – ‘The Universal Soldier’

This week’s Song Lyric Sunday has a military theme to it.

Following on from last week’s Clive Davis fest, I recalled that one of the great man’s very first signings was the Irish folksinger Donovan, and I certainly remembered this protest song from my schooldays.

Donovan released his cover in 1965, although the song’s author, Buffy Sainte Marie, had put out her original version in the previous year.

Looking back from a viewpoint more than fifty years distant, I have to say that there is a certain naivety in these lyrics. Is it right to blame the soldiers for war? Don’t the generals have something to do with it? Not everyone in a military uniform is a murderous psychopath: ever heard of conscription?

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 them 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 the end to war?

Written by Buffy Sainte Marie

Song Lyric Sunday 10 April 2022

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