The Universal Soldier - Buffy Saint-Marie
Three weeks on, and still the war in Ukraine continues.
Over the past three weeks, the song that keeps recurring in my head is Buffy Saint-Marie's "Universal Soldier" which was released on her debut album "It's My Way!" 58 years ago, almost to the day.
Besides being a simple yet haunting melody, beautifully delivered by songwriter Buffy, what reverberates in the brain most strongly are the lyrics. This may sound soft and folky, but the words are hard-hitting, opening with a first verse that is so spine-tinglingly powerful and poetic that any old-testament prophet would have been proud of it:
"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......."
then she follows up with a fabulous second, with its brilliant rhetorical trick, as the words
"....and he knows he shouldn't kill
and he knows he always will..."
stand alone, like the soldier, for a moment, before implicating us, the listeners, in the next line:
"....kill you for me, my friend, and me for you....."
This is not so much a song about war as a song about lack of progress, the failure of democracy. Where once:
"....without him Caesar would have stood alone...",
by now, with the development of international co-operation, civilisation and democracy, we should have made a world where war can't happen. So although at first listen it may seem that Buffy is blaming the "universal soldier" for war, it is clear she is blaming us just as much, you and me:
"...he's the universal soldier and he really is to blame,
his orders come from far away no more -
they come from him and you and me,
and brothers, can't you see
this is not the way we put an end to war?"
We voted the people in who have been giving the orders for the last fifty years, making the plans, cutting the deals and allegiances that haven't worked. So maybe it is down to us. If we select better, find leaders who are less greedy and more foresighted, we just might still be here in fifty years' time.