Pete Seeger Was No Hero, But That’s OK

“Was Pete political? Of course,” wrote singer Tom Paxton in a featured Washington Post salute to folk legend Pete Seeger, who died this week at the age of 94.“He was political as Walt Whitman was political, as Clarence Darrow and Woody Guthrie were political; as, for that matter, all of us should be political. He felt that ordinary people deserved protection from bullies of all stripes and his was the gift of being able to express this belief in music and in the way he lived his life.”

Reading Paxton’s dewy-eyed remembrance and the formal obituaries and tributes from most of the news media, one would never suspect that Pete’s belief in protection against all bullies didn’t stop him from being a fervent supporter of and an apologist for one of the worst bullies in human history, Josef Stalin, and not just momentarily, but for most of Seeger’s life. The fact that supposed news organizations nearly unanimously decided to gloss over that element of Seeger’s legacy tells us a lot about the Left, our journalists, bias….but not a lot about Pete Seeger.

If I followed my heart and my tapping foot but not my brain (and if all I knew about Pete was what I read in the newspapers and read from my theater colleagues on Facebook—And only in our Orwellian reality would someone of such incomparable achievement, one who displayed such overwhelming humanity, have been held in contempt of congress. An inspiring life,” wrote one, who should know better), I would have made Seeger an Ethics Hero Emeritus. He had some notable heroic moments, as when he stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee, refusing to take the Fifth Amendment while defying the Committee in defense of the First, and getting himself cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted as a result. I was thrilled and proud of him in 1968, when fresh off the blacklist he appeared on the Smothers Brothers show and sang his “Big Muddy” song (which you can watch above) with anger and passion, condemning the Vietnam war in metaphor and calling LBJ a fool on national television at a time when such a direct insult against the President was taboo. I didn’t even completely agree with Seeger at the time, but this was brave protest art at its finest and most effective.

If only the hypocrisy of continuing to support a system of government and a regime that tolerated no freedom of speech and that would have squashed a protester like Seeger as if he were a maggot had occurred to the folk singer while he was doing these things. But it did not. Folk singers tend to be like that, and Pete Seeger, one of the greatest folk singers, was more like that than any of them.

To a point, that’s fine, especially if nobody tries to deceive us, and the historical record, by claiming otherwise. He was an artist and a performer, and if you choose your artists and performers according to their ethics, values, personal lives, and political beliefs, you are going be applauding a lot of crap, and missing most of the good stuff. Seeger, either through his composing, adapting or his musicology, is responsible for at least four bona fide classics: “We Shall Overcome,” a once forgotten anthemic hymn; “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”, which he grew from an old Russian poem, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “The Hammer Song” (“If I had a hammer…”), which created an exultant image of Communism finally taking root in the U.S.A., with the hammer (without the sickle) ringing out “justice” on the Liberty Bell. These are great songs all, given to all of us by Seeger just as Wagner gave us great operas and Frank Sinatra left us his versions of  “That’s Life!” and “The Summer Wind.” Nobody should or can take that away from him. He also entertained, both live and through his records, millions of people, most of whom never gave much thought to the songs he sang other than the fact that they were tuneful and viscerally exhilerating. He inspired and encouraged other fine artists as well: this is why Paxton is in his debt, and he should be.

But if you cruise the web, there are, fortunately, clear-eyed assessors from the Right, Left and Center who are not blind to the dark side of Seeger’s career, and have the integrity to be honest about it, even if most journalists abdicated their duty to whitewash a liberal icon. Here is Michael Moynihan, causing his progressive readers at the Daily Beast to grind their teeth:

“…let us not forget Seeger’s musical assaults on the supposedly warmongering F.D.R. (see the justly forgotten Ballad of October 16th), featured on a record presciently released on the very day the Nazi-Soviet Pact collapsed. As Moscow instantly shifted its position from fascist accommodationism to fighting what it had previously denounced as a war for big business, Seeger and his fellow folkies in the Almanac Singers recalled the record and retooled their allegiances. It was soon replaced by a series of pro-war, pro-F.D.R. songs. Art must be used in service of the people—and is always subject to the vicissitudes of the party line.

And few, if any, obituarists have mentioned the forgotten classic Hey Zhankoye, a bizarre bit of Stalinist agitprop Seeger translated from Yiddish, recorded with the Berry Sisters, and frequently revisited during subsequent live performances. Historian Ron Radosh, a former banjo student of Seeger’s, reminds us that as Stalin cranked up his brutal post-war anti-Semitic pogroms, he was singing of a collective farm (“paradise”) where Soviet Jews lived like kings:

There’s a little railroad depot known quite well
By all the people
Called Zhankoye, Dzhan, Dzhan, Dzahn.
Now if you look for paradise
You’ll see it there before your eyes
Stop your search and go no further on
There we have a collective farm
All run by husky Jewish arms
At Zhankoye, dzhan, dzhan, dzhan

It’s no surprise that a man who believed the purge trials—during which approximately a million innocents were executed—were rough but necessary justice would also ignore the brutal, sustained, and widely-known campaign against Soviet Jewry.

Here is James Panero struggling with Seeger’s contradictions  in the conservative New York Daily News:

“From world politics to the environment of New York State, the innocent idealism communicated through his songs would only be destroyed, I would argue, if we were to act on the positions he took in his lyrics. Seeger’s beliefs began with big-C Communism and ended in little-c communism. The fact that his music could be so inviting despite the many bad ideas that went into it speaks to the power of his artistry…Howard Husock wrote that, “Given his decisive influence on the political direction of popular music, Seeger may have been the most effective American communist ever.” This is true especially in the way Seeger could package leftist anthems as children’s songs. Husock does a line-by-line analysis of the political messages in Seeger’s lyrics. For example, “If I Had a Hammer,” Husock writes, “was an extraordinary anthem. It pulled off, with great aplomb, the old Popular Front goal of linking the American revolutionary past with the communist revolutionary future, joining the Liberty Bell with the hammer and sickle.” Writing in the New York Sun in 2007, Ron Radosh, a one-time student of Seeger’s…struck a similar note: “He never pauses to criticize the communist regimes he once backed, nor the few that still exist, like Castro’s prison camp in Cuba. Mr. Seeger’s cries for peace and his opposition to every American foreign and military policy (even ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan) show that he has learned little from the past.”

Perhaps the best and most balanced of the critiques was in the left-leaning The New Republic, by Paul Berman.

“Have you ever heard a recording of Pete Seeger singing one of his anti-war hymns from the period, 1939 to 1941, when the Soviet Union was allied with Nazi Germany? Pete Seeger in those performances sings in a lovely naïve tone, as always. His charming banter is childlike in its simplicity—his denunciations of the capitalist imperialists who might like to see America go to war foolishly against the Nazis…Pete Seeger’s anti-war performances from those years are revolting. He and his musical colleagues sang anti-war songs in 1939-41 because, in the Soviet Union, Stalin had decided that an alliance with the Nazis was a good idea; and the order to support Stalin had gone out to every Communist Party in the world; and Pete Seeger was, in those days, a good Communist. And so, he picked up his banjo and leaned into the microphone, and his vocal warblings and his banjo plunks were exactly what Stalin wanted to hear from Pete Seeger….I do not know if people will be singing “If I Had a Hammer” a hundred years from now, but they would be fools not to do so. “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”—this is magnificent. Those songs, with their crowd-sourcing capacity, are tremendously moving. And yet, if you can persuade crowds of people that simple morality and a childlike vision of right and wrong can be summed up in a few phrases, there is nothing you cannot achieve, and some of what you might achieve could turn out to be disastrous in the extreme—e.g., Stalin’s idea of dividing up the world with Hitler… Let us sing “If I Had a Hammer,” then, and, at every third verse, let our hammers bop Pete Seeger on the head for having been a fool and an idiot; and, at every fourth verse, let us applaud him still more, and thrill to his virtuoso banjo riffs and his warbling tenor and his political ideals.”

Paxton ends his reverie in the Post by saying, “Oh how we’re going to miss him!” I agree with that. Seeger, like many great artists, was primitive and simplistic in his political views, and they led him astray despite some of the excellent and important causes—the labor movement, civil rights—that he used his art to advance. In one of his last interviews, there is old Pete, quoting Marx and admitting to being a communist still, but also communicating the essential decency of the man, which nobody has ever questioned. Pete Seeger left us some immortal music and inspiring ideals, and even if he was incapable of navigating the gray dilemmas of the real world, he had a productive and, on balance, a positive effect on civilization while he was with us. And I will always admire the performer and artist, rail thin and every inch a folksinger’s folksinger, standing on that studio stage in 1968 and telling the President of the United States that he was an idiot for letting our boys keep dying in Vietnam, even though I know that while he was doing it, he was probably admiring the politics of Ho Chi Minh, whose armies were killing them.

Artists don’t have to be perfect. They just have to make good art. Pete Seeger made great art, and I’ll miss him for that.

________________________________

Sources: The Daily Beast, The New Republic 1, 2; New York Daily News, Washington Post

48 thoughts on “Pete Seeger Was No Hero, But That’s OK

  1. You seem to have mangled the quote from TNR when you were inserting ellipsis. Assigning letters to sections you have “A…B.B…C…D” Look for the word revolting to see the repeat.

  2. “Artists don’t have to be perfect. They just have to make good art. Pete Seeger made great art, and I’ll miss him for that.”

    I’ll buy that they have to make great art to be considered an artist. I’ll even buy that they are useful idiots. I just won’t buy that that’s OK. It isn’t. Artists, being artists, are not necessarily great political thinkers. Or even great thinkers. It wouldn’t hurt for people to return in part to the old attitude about artists. They’re great fun, but a little disreputable and not to be trusted outside of their expertise. Go somewhere besides artists for political and moral values.

    • Except that this essentially wipes out folk songs by definition. And stuff like “Imagine.” It’s OK if we apply the same rigor and standards to art that we do to everything else. I love “Three Penny Opera” in every way, even though Brecht’s politics expressed there is bats. So what? It’s a great, entertaining show, and anyone who takes its philosophy seriously (though there is trenchant content, to be sure) can only blame themselves.

      • Agree, except I think that folk songs are both more than and less than conveyors of moral and political values. But, my point is people DO take it seriously and they shouldn’t. At least they should not swallow it whole with no filter and many people do. I suppose that’s not the artist’s problem, but it does make artists useful tools and puts the burden on the listener or consumer of art to be skeptical, which is where it belongs.

        • But, my point is people DO take it seriously and they shouldn’t. At least they should not swallow it whole with no filter and many people do. I suppose that’s not the artist’s problem, but it does make artists useful tools and puts the burden on the listener or consumer of art to be skeptical, which is where it belongs.
          **************
          Excellent point it is.
          The problem is, half of all Americans are stupid enough to think, “if they are famous, they are smart”.

    • Sweet. Your last few lines hinted at my struggle I’ve been meditating on since Jack posted about the “Jester’s Privilege”. Almost to a point that I feel, what comes with the Jester’s Privilege ought to come with a “Jester’s Inhibition” or some other better terminology.

      Long ago, when actual Jesters invoked the Jester’s Privilege, they knew that they could get away with their direct affronts to the King because for the rest of their time as a jester, NOTHING would be taken seriously or given credence.

      Nowadays, with jack asses like Jon Stewart and that other situation Jack Posted about awhile back where comedians stated a serious position, and when confronted about its offensiveness and ludicrousness immediately claimed Jester’s Privilege that “I was just joking”; all the while knowing full well if their commentary actually wasn’t called out, they’d be more than content to let it be taken seriously.

      No, sorry, if you want to be protected y Jester’s privilege, you’d better accept that nothing you say has weight (except that as a culture, we have a sick tendency to give it weight).

      I know that’s off topic of the post, but Wyo’s comments jogged my memory.

      • texagg04. I’m a believer in jester’s privelege.

        If you are looking for inspiration you might try the Celtic bardic tradition which was of high status poet/political interpreters/ insulters (Dafydd ap Gwilym might start you – and give you a laugh) or maybe, and this is more risky, just maybe for an more up to date rendering, Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker is a very light read. if you want to know why/how a jest is a threat to power, then George Orwell’s ‘To Kill an Elephant’, in ‘Burmese Days’ explains it better than I could. I hope that wasn’t a distraction.

        Not ‘I was Just joking’ but, ‘I’m a jester, by tradition you can’t touch me, so I’ll say what I like, including exactly who you are – tyrant’.

        • Drat, error: that should be ‘Shooting an Elephant”an essay By George Orwell reprinted many tmes in many places (icluding bound with Burmese Days which was a novel – darn, dang, doh!)

        • I do to, but I didn’t word my comment well, it was on an iphone as I was sitting on a jobsite waiting for a late subcontractor to arrive. It was poorly worded any my point must not have come across. I’ll try again later.

    • I can appreciate his banjo playing and songwriting (not his voice so much!) but he was a “useful idiot” for sure. Too bad he didn’t spend some time with the South Vietnamese boat people or survivors of a Cambodian genocide. He also surely knew what Stalin was up to so I would nominate him as an “ethical dunce”.

      • I’d love to see a study on why artists are such sitting ducks for facile, deceptive, abusive political ideologies—and why so few conservatives are artists compared to their liberal counterparts. But it has always been thus. Civilization would be much better served by a better balance.

        • Well how about Victor Hugo, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, or Russell Kirk? I they would all fit the category of important conservative writers. I can’t imagine any of them coming up with something like *Fifty Shades of Grey* 😉

        • According to psychologists, self-described liberals average higher on openness to new ideas and experiences, where conservatives average higher on the axis of “conscientiousness” (keeping appointments, cleaning up, etc.). Those are two of the five dimensions that characterize a normal personality, according to one popular scheme.

          The conservative with the clean desk may not be the right type to become an artist.

          The singer who’s open to new ideas will be open to bad ones. Then once the ideas are in place, cognitive dissonance keeps them there.

  3. I think that one of the reasons his classic songs were, are and will continue to be inspiring, is that if they are read straight, without the subtext (hammer = communism etc), they all convey ideals to which we can all aspire.

    As you quite rightly say “communicating the essential decency of the man, which nobody has ever questioned”.

  4. Jack:
    Great article and I learned a great deal about his politics. Despite the fact that I am a free market, fiscal conservative, I have to admire any person that stands for his convictions, whether I agree with them or not. I do hold in contempt those that willfully mislead the less informed to obtain power and privilege by making promises knowing full well that such promises are never going to materialize; this I did not see in Pete Seeger.

    I never made the association of the Hammer with the Hammer and Sickle of the Soviet flag. I always interpreted the hammer to mean power. The bell always represented to me my voice. Consequently, my interpretation of the lyrics suggested that the freedoms in the US gave everyone a voice and the power to change that which is in their view wrong.

    In the totality of Seeger’s life history I can see how the connection can be made. During the years I listened to Peter Paul and Mary, Woody Guthrie and others my fears of Soviet expansionism and nuclear annihilation were in the forefront of my consciousness.

    I suppose any work of art is open to interpretation so I always choose my own. I have always found people that tell me how to interpret art and what the artists were trying to convey somewhat arrogant; unless it was the artist him/herself. Notwithstanding, the information surrounding Seeger’s politics is instructive and beneficial.

    It is not difficult to understand why workers in any era find the notion of shared wealth appealing. Everyone perceives reality through their own eyes and ears. The current focus on income inequality plays on the fears and prejudices of those who choose to be disenfranchised because it is easy. When you develop a critical mass of people that you have consistently told that the deck is stacked against them, they will begin to “believe”. Once that occurs the unscrupulous can manipulate them anyway they wish for the purpose of maintaining personal power and privilege; not for developing solutions to make life better and more peaceful.

    Only when people see and hear many points of view can they create a truer picture of reality. It is only through naiveté or willful ignorance that they fail to understand or recognize that people are easily corruptible when leaders have the power to make one’s life filled with happiness or misery.

  5. Question, Jack, should a limited exception be carved out for artists who are selling what I will term “angelicity” as a part of their art? By that I mean people like Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin in their day, Hayley Mills and Ingrid Bergman a little more recently, Charlotte Church about a decade ago, and Jackie Evancho now, where sweetness, purity, and similar values are part of their act.

    Shirley Temple aged out of it relatively trouble-free, Deanna retired when attempt to progress into serious film roles didn’t get very far, Hayley’s career took a hit when she deviated a little (but it didn’t end), Ingrid was all but exiled during the time she was involved with Roberto Rossellini (and having his baby while both of them were married to other spouses) and Charlotte was knocked from the front lines of classical crossover when she made an unsuccessful attempt to go pop and started to misbehave publicly (cf. saying during an interview that 9/11 shouldn’t have turned firemen into heroes and describing her first sexual experience in fairly graphic detail in another).

    I’m of the opinion that in this case ethical behavior, or a certain kind of ethical behavior is part of the art, so to change it, for better or for worse, is to change what people are getting, and, as such, the artists can be judged on their personal ethics and what they do with them. Not so with other artists where they are not selling particular values as part of the act and whether or not you like their art shouldn’t depend on that.

  6. Pete Seeger saw something in “fighting wars” that many miss, especially those who are not involved in the fighting….the futility of war, death without resolution of conflict. He recognized the inequalities of who fought and who stayed home [Bush, Romney, Clinton and few children of the wealthy went to Viet Nam]. Conflict continues in Iraq long after President Bush declared victory. President Eisenhower warned against the military/industrial complex in the late 1950’s. When wars are fought for financial gain,as is often the case, EVERY SANE CITIZEN should stand up and demand they end. I think Pete hoped there was a way to stop conflict without violence; with mediation, compromise.and cooperation.
    As to his brand of communism, I always thought he wanted an equality for all men, a fairness within a society that is probably impossible to achieve but still dreamed of. Philosophers have certainly dreamed of this perfect world for centuries. As to him remaining a Communist throughout his life your wrong. His was a voice for the ignored, the neglected, the despised, the oppressed.
    Yes, to me he was a hero if only because his songs encouraged critical thinking, evaluation, dialog, alternatives to dealing with tough topics that most preferred to ignore, satisfied with the status quo. We need a voice like his now more than ever before.

    • Tell me another.

      1. This exactly the kind of uncritical fuzzy sentimentalism that characterized most of the Seeger tributes. I think it’s fair to say that virtually nobody for over a thousand years has “missed” “the futility of war, death without resolution of conflict.” What pacifists like Seeger “miss” is that warfare is unavoidable in some circumstances, and when it is, the only responsible and ethical course is to fight. As the post’s quotes point out, Seeger forfeited any credibility on that topic by opposing armed conflict against Hitler, and then vigorously supporting WWII once the Soviet Union was under attack. He was pretty consistent about opposing American wars—yet he was notably silent, for example, when the Soviets rolled tanks into Czechoslovakia.

      2. “Conflict continues in Iraq long after President Bush declared victory.” This is an anti-Bush talking point, not fact, and instantly calls your objectivity and honesty into question.

      3. “I think Pete hoped there was a way to stop conflict without violence; with mediation, compromise.and cooperation.” Yes, saps, fools, naifs, dreamers, Neville Chamberlain and John Lennon have “hoped” similarly. It’s ridiculous and childish, not serious policy consideration. I said his politics were simplistic, and reality just isn’t. Love those idealists.

      4. “As to his brand of communism, I always thought he wanted an equality for all men, a fairness within a society that is probably impossible to achieve but still dreamed of.” His brand was Stalinism, a particularly brutal and lethal brand, and he waited until his autobiography in the 90’s to reject it.

      5. “Philosophers have certainly dreamed of this perfect world for centuries.” “Everybody does it.” Dreaming of alternate realities gets you “Avatar,’ but doesn’t solve problems. It’s irresponsible to promote dreams as serious policy to kids who actually believe such things until they elevate a Stalin or Castro to power and they see their parents liquidated.

      6. “As to him remaining a Communist throughout his life you’re wrong.” The man SAID he was a communist in his final interview. What are you talking about?

      7. “Yes, to me he was a hero if only because his songs encouraged critical thinking, evaluation, dialog, alternatives to dealing with tough topics that most preferred to ignore, satisfied with the status quo.” Critical thinking? Critical thinking? CRITICAL THINKING???? Where is the critical thinking, or original thinking, in any Seeger song? Do you even know what critical thinking is?

      8. “We need a voice like his now more than ever before.” He was a talented singer, a deft writer, a good musician and entertaining performer who, as he told HUAC, sang for anybody. He contributed nothing of substance to the hard job of actually making the world work, but he did muddle the thinking of a lot of people in the process.

    • Jack executed a solid take down and annihilation of your drivel, but I would like to pile on:

      “Pete Seeger saw something in “fighting wars” that many miss, especially those who are not involved in the fighting….the futility of war, death without resolution of conflict.”

      A) War IS NOT futile for the winner. Ask the Duke of Wellington who put the mad man Napoleon’s schemes to an end. Ask Roosevelt, Truman, and Churchill if the destruction of Nazi Germany was a futile effort. Ask the Kurds if overthrowing Saddam’s regime was futile. Hell, to be more controversial, ask the North Vietnamese if war was futile… they got the country they wanted.

      B) There are only two things that are Futile in regards to war:
      1) Continuing to avoid it when it’s necessity has become apparent (like you idiot pacifists *selectively* contend – I say selectively, because it is usually only wars in America’s interests you oppose). By the way, this pacifist strategy, historically guarantees that when a necessary war is finally fought it will be Harder, Longer, and Bloodier than if it had been fought earlier.
      2) Engaging in War that you do not have the resolve to actually win is also Futile. There is no Peace without Victory. And victory means laying the core group and resources of a clearly identified enemy LOW. Putting the industrial heart of Germany prostrate for all to see and exposing to the Core of Germany’s political element to the horrors they committed and embarrassing those outside the Core that they were complicit is the ONLY WAY. The Union didn’t defeat the Confederacy on the field of battle, where the South consistently won time and time again, the Union defeated the Confederacy when Grant swept down the Mississippi and Sherman laid Georgia to waste. Oh, and the South still wasn’t DEFEATED for years and years after the Reconstruction and ultimately the Civil Rights fight when the culture was thoroughly embarrassed.
      Here’s where it’s time to digress to Vietnam, whatever anyone’s opinions are of Vietnam, pro or con, anyone who said we lost because we didn’t have the will to win can jump off a cliff. Those water muddiers WHO TREACHEROUSLY manufactured a lack of resolve in Vietnam through the leftist media and then turned around and claim “well it was our lack of will, we never should have gotten involved in a war we didn’t want” can take their perfidious mouths and shove it.
      The same virulent culture continues to exist with all our modern wars, which is why we’re stupid to even get involved in wars as long as we have an element in our nation that is ever ready to stab us in the back. We’ve manufactured an artificially stupid culture that says “We don’t want to do what is necessary to win wars, because that’s ugly and mean and our leftists will use it as ammunition to display how evil and aggressive we are” but also says “hey, bad people exist in this world, we’ve got to do something about them”. That’s why we couldn’t lay waste to the Sunni heartland of Iraq and truly bring the source of tyrannical power in Saddam’s Iraq to its knees and hold it accountable for the mess over there.

      “He recognized the inequalities of who fought and who stayed home [Bush, Romney, Clinton and few children of the wealthy went to Viet Nam].”

      Go back and review the stats. This tired meme has been disproven time and again. 75% of those who fought in Vietnam were volunteers. The actual socio-economic makeup of the Vietnam era military was extremely close to the socio-economic makeup of the civilian population as well. Amusingly, when you hear how the rich kids avoided service by skipping off to college, you never hear how that number was offset by an equal or greater number of poor kids (who generally were less educated) who were rejected for service BECAUSE of a lack of education.

      “Conflict continues in Iraq long after President Bush declared victory.”

      Already discussed. there can be NO Peace without Victory. And there was only partial victory in Iraq, Bush, pressured by the peace-niks caved and declared victory when it was not complete.

      “President Eisenhower warned against the military/industrial complex in the late 1950′s.”

      Ike was brilliant and prophetic, but he wasn’t warning us about perpetual wars. He was warning us against the gross corporat-ocracy that developed out of the WW2 era pseudo-nationalization of the industries that was temporarily necessitated by the war, would inevitably consolidate an unfair and unnatural amount of political power and political marriage between business and government. He wasn’t wrong.

      “When wars are fought for financial gain,as is often the case, EVERY SANE CITIZEN should stand up and demand they end. I think Pete hoped there was a way to stop conflict without violence; with mediation, compromise.and cooperation.”

      This is a patently and self-evidently dumb comment. I won’t even address the first sentence. As for the 2nd sentence, about ending conflict without violence, but with mediation, compromise and cooperation is self-defeating.

      Do you know who ends conflicts through compromise and cooperation? Commercial Republics. But wait, they don’t even get into conflicts to begin with, because conflicts interrupt commerce, and commerce is the ONE THING that keeps people content and UN-WARLIKE.

      Who like’s to start wars and push conflicts and take other nation’s sovereignty? The same regimes that either use mediation as a stalling tactic or don’t use mediation.

      Dear Pacifists: when a dictator has a warlike stance on anything that affects American interests, well, let me paraphrase CPL Josh Person, “Peace sucks a hairy asshole, War is the only answer.” To clarify that paraphrase, of course we exhaust all diplomatic options that compel the evil regime to stop their evil designs under threat of economic or lethal force, before we actually implement that force.

      “As to his brand of communism, I always thought he wanted an equality for all men, a fairness within a society that is probably impossible to achieve but still dreamed of.”

      He’s an idiot then. NO communist regime ends in equality for all men OR fairness within society. Here’s a solution, idiots like Pete Seeger and their modern Leftists counterparts can stop teaching against the notion that, America, founded on the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the EQUAL application of law, IS the ideal society in which all men are politically equal, and possess the same freedom of action in the market.

  7. == My favorite Seegers were his union songs: stirred the blood, they did. I think of them every time I cross a picket line these days.
    == Agree with Charles about the Hammer. I always related it to the work-song subcategory of folk music, John Henry and prison duty (gad! what a subject for children’s songs!) and all that. I don’t doubt that your ascription of it to (half) the Communist symbol is correct but it only tempers the meaning a bit; in the end it hammers out love … and that was not a Stalinist sort of message,
    == I was taught to play Texas Hold-‘Em by one of Pete Seeger’s relatives (by marriage and extension) who had the same ambivalent attitude toward him that has been expressed here, except that his politics were considered naive rather than knowledgeably Stalinist. I ran into this same dichotomy (blind-spot? incipient schizophrenia?) in a colleague later on, who espoused Party principles pretty closely while virtually ignoring the historical influence of Uncle Joe.
    Our social view of the Soviets was, I think, closer to their paranoid view of us than we want to believe. A lot of Americans refused to acknowledge Sputnik or the position of Yuri Gagarin in the “space race”, thought the U-2 incident was a big lie, that all Russian women athletes were really men …. (compared, of course, to our naturally healthy, drug-free, happy-go-lucky champions), and that every Russian citizen was dedicated to seeing us ducked-and-covered, if not nuked to dust.
    Yes, we had access to more knowledge about their system than they did of ours (nothing encourages the drive to uncover a face more than a teasing mask behind an iron curtain, after all) but that didn’t mean that people inclined to accept communist theory didn’t also pick up the Soviet skepticism and suspicion of anything that didn’t gibe with that theory. (consider those well-meaning folks today who defend all Muslim identity, while denying there is such a thing as the idea of jihad inherent in it). Naivety takes shortcuts.
    Then, of course, I am inclined to believe the opinion of this wise Seeger relative to whom I am deeply indebted for showing me (ten painfully lost dollars at a time) why I should never gamble with anyone over the age of six.

    • When I finally visited Russia, the major shock was how pathetically poor and run down this nation was, which was the ultimate indictment of Communism. Outside of the ten block area where TV cameras were always focused, Moscow was a slum, a pit. The water was bad, the roads were bad—this was a third world nation with a big army and lots of weapons—a sham, a Potemkin village on a national scale. And Seeger visited the Soviet Union, and fell for the hype. I’m sorry, Pete, but when you’re a national figure and people are hanging on your lyrics, “Gee, I guess they fooled me” just isn’t a good enough excuse, not when the system you and your fellow travelers are trying to inflict on us is a miserable, murderous failure.

      • When’d you visit anyways?

        Also, while we shouldn’t be surprised that Seeger was a fellow traveler (people smarter than him got taken in, after all), we should remember that even from early on, some people on the left (most notably Orwell) recognized the USSR for what it truly was, making the acquiescence of those who didn’t even more shameful.

          • You caught the country at a particularly low point then (though said low point was a direct consequence of what happens when your inefficient central-command-economy model inevitably becomes unsustainable. And of course, the infrastructure issues were inherited from the dying days of the previous regime).

      • Hmm, I visited Yugoslavia shortly after Tito had died (who Stalin didn’t even like). Besides Slovenia and some of the coastal cities the restaurants served the worst food that I had had in Europe. Greasy mixed grill and wilted lettuce salads were the norm. My hotel I eventually got to was a flea bag. Such were the fruits of communism.

  8. “The fact that supposed news organizations nearly unanimously decided to gloss over that element of Seeger’s legacy tells us a lot about the Left, our journalists, bias”

    Does it?

    “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” is an idea that the Romans got from the even older culture in Greece.

  9. Communism aside:
    Assuming that a hit record from Africa, “Mbube,” “must” be a traditional song, thus allowing you and your friends to collect the royalty checks on your rewrite of the song, ran contrary to the interest in what’s best for the mere “folk” (not the rich, like the family he was born into) that Pete supposedly had. Also, Pete and Woody Guthrie cowrote the song “66 Highway Blues,” which contained the lyrics “Sometimes I think I’ll blow down a cop.” Pete reminds me of George W. Bush, who also honestly _means_ to be a good man.

  10. “If I had a hammer/ I’d kill all the folk singers” – Martin Mull. Starting with Seeger, one might add. A Communist with a yacht (the ‘Clearwater’). When I was a boy, seeing him on tv with his head angle and stare gave the impression that he was blind, which in a way was quite correct.

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