Hammering an old hippie

Pete SeegerIt can easily seem churlish, literal-minded or petty to point out the various evils that find themselves supported — or at least unprotested — in the name of some abstract, flower-power notion of “peace”. Hippie-era folk music is just youthful idealism, after all, and it’s meant well, is it not? We all know the kids are just hankering for an imagined utopia, not the reality of the gulag. Weren’t we all once young and idealistic? (I certainly was. Peace sign, long hair, the works. Thankfully, nature dealt swiftly with both.)

Pete Seeger is an iconic folk song writer and committed communist, who wrote such songs as Turn, Turn, Turn!, If I Had A Hammer, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone. Reportedly, the 88-year-old singer recently repudiated (wait for it…) Joseph Stalin.

Mark Steyn, in his eloquent comment on this about-turn by Seeger does not stop at, “Oh well, that’s okay then, you daft hippie.” He makes a much more serious point, and anticipates accusations of boorishness because of it. Writes Steyn:

…the rule is to hail someone for his “activism” and “commitment” and “passion” without getting hung up on the specifics of what exactly he’s actively and passionately committing to.

He argues how musical protest, with its inoffensive simplicity, becomes just another example of standing by — even approving — while the some of the world’s worst evils play themselves out. Afterwards, the tragedies and horrors can always be lamented in new songs, wondering why we never learn. Although the music isn’t quite as folksy these days, the passive, simplistic and condescending message of modern protest music hasn’t really changed.

It is more than a little ironic that among a batch of the Communist Party of America documents donated to New York University, can be found a set of handwritten Pete Seeger lyrics, taken straight from the Bible, when in Stalin’s Soviet Union, peace-preaching religions were banned, and the peace preachers were condemned to a slow death in the labour camps. This illustrates the logical disconnects you’d have to navigate if you wanted to honestly laud the man’s life and work, as so many do even if they’re not on the left. Despite the catchy songs he wrote — some of which are really easy to like — Seeger doesn’t deserve veneration. Steyn makes this case well.