Saturday, September 11, 2010

"This Machine Surrounds Hate…

& forces it to surrender."  These are the words emblazoned on Pete Seeger’s banjo.  & today as I thought about how anyone might respond not only to the enormity of 9/11/2001 but also to all the enormities that have come in the wake of that day—including the enormity of those who are using this year's anniversary to further hatred, division & polarization—as I thought about those things, I kept thinking about Pete Seeger’s banjo.

Pete Seeger is a true American hero in my mind—a man of immense moral courage & a patriot in the deepest sense of the word.  One of Johnny Cash’s finest moments was when he defied the blacklisting of Seeger & had him as a guest on his show—& stated his opinion for the cameras, in the midst of the late 60s turmoil—that Seeger was one of the most patriotic men he knew.  I agree.

But more important: Seeger’s message.  I’m not a Christian, nor even a “believer” in any religious sense of the word, but I must say I’ve never found the phrase “love your enemies” to be particularly ambiguous. 

Regarding this, I found the following excerpt from Gustave Gilbert’s interview with Herman Göring during the Nuremberg Trials to be both illuminating & chilling:

Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.
Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

We may not all have the fortitude of someone like Pete Seeger, but we can all in small ways try to “surround hate with love & force it to surrender.”



  1. Great post, especially today. Thanks!

  2. Great post. I agree with your praise of Pete Seeger. I didn't know about that moment with Johnny Cash, and I'm glad to hear it.

  3. Hi Jacqueline: & thanks--very much appreciate hearing from you on this one. If you ever get a chance, watch the American Masters PBS documentary on Seeger--it's truly inspiring throughout, & it captures that moment with Cash, too.

  4. thank you for this.

    pete is a true patriot and an amazing human being. and his guitar's motto undoubtedly was inspired by another true patriot and amazing human being - that would be woody who had on his guitar the words: "this machine kills fascists"

    there has been a movement for the last couple years to have pete be recognized by the nobel committee for his lifetime's work advancing you may know the nobel peace prize is only awarded to people who are alive....i'm hoping that pete will live long enough to receive the award he deserves!

    maybe for 2011 we can get pete the prize!!!

    thanks john

  5. Hi Mouse: Thanks--yes, I'd love to see Pete be recognized! & of course, you're right about Woody. Actually, as I understand it, Woody used a sticker that would have been placed on a machine used in the war effort. I had a friend who had that same sticker (the Woody motto) on his guitar in a great San Francisco band called Paddlefoot--& there are days when I'd like to have Woody's motto on my guitar. But ultimately, I think Pete's is the best.

  6. This truly was enjoyable reading, I grew up "consciously" with Pete Seeger listening to Weavers recordings and of course, the dusty man of the road, Woody. You brought home some truths about us as people, as the decent humans we CAN be and in the midst, we fight for the fresh air of showing kindness to ourselves. These were decent men with brave hearts standing in a crowd of racists. Now I'm going to listen to "Good Night Irene" and think well of the world, regardless.

  7. Damn fine words on that banjo
    and from the author himself

    I grew up surrounded by the music of Pete Seeger and Johnny Cash. They definitely were the voices, the words and the anger of anyone stripped of their right to speak theirs.

    I will have to look out for American Masters on PBS.
    I'm sure another pledge week will
    be sure to include this in it's schedule.

    Thank you.


  8. Great post, John! Ol' Pete is definitely our finest patriot, and I'm with Kim - he needs to get that Nobel.

  9. Hi Cathy, Rene & Roy

    Cathy: Yes--truly decent men & women & they have made a difference. Sometimes it's hard to remember that, but it's crucial. Many thanks.

    Rene: That's a great way to put it, Rene. & Cash took some other risks too. He was actively discouraged from recording "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" for one thing. Seeger just continued to believe in the U.S. against all odds--despite being blacklisted & attacked both in words & in fact. The documentary is great--must see.

    Roy: Yes, yes! I'm with you & Kim! Thanks.

  10. Great post on one of the legends of our time.

  11. I'm with you (and Pete Seeger) in this, John.

  12. Just like you, John, in his native land, I seem to have had Pete Seeger standing at the corner of my conscience here in the UK for most of my socio-political awareness. I don't do religion either, nor do I have heroes, but somewhat in the manner of the Jews who accord status to non-Jews with the title Righteous among the Nations, I see him as an inspirational figure. And he and his banjo are still with us, popping up a bit like Tom Joad's ghost, to call out injustice wherever and whenever!

  13. A beautiful post, John. I was not familiar with Johnny Cash's defence of Pete Seeger and appreciate it. Of course, the slogan emblazoned on Seeger's banjo recalls the "this machine kills fascists" that Woodie Guthrie displayed on his guitar. Although a huge admirer of Guthrie, that slogan never sat well with me, for reasons I could never quite articulate. Now, on having seen Seeger's beautiful banjo "mission statement", I clearly see why and would like to think that surrounding hate and forcing it to surrender was what Woody really did have in mind and heart.

    Either way, this is such a fitting way to remember September 11th.

  14. I too grew up with Pete and regard him as a true American hero and examplary conservationist. His voice has always symbolized youthful idealism for me, even now that it has a pronounced quaver, and his banjo playing is superb.

    Did you see this?

  15. Hi Von, Megan, Martin, Dick, Lorenzo, Doug & Dave!

    The supportive comments on this post, not only here but also on FB & Twitter, have been just great. This post meant a lot to me, & it means a lot that so many folks have responded positively to it.

    Von & Megan & Martin: Thanks for the support & for stopping by!

    Dick: I like the "righteous among nations" designation very much; I also am leery of the much over-used word "hero," tho I did use it for Seeger--& he deserves it if anyone does. & yes, his singing & banjo playing may falter now, but he's still with us & still an inspiration!

    Lorenzo: I know what you mean about Woody's slogan. Those were different times & it's hard to put ourselves there; also, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, with so much going on in the US these days that I see as fascistic, there are days I'd like to slap a half dozen of those Woody stickers on my guitar. But Pete's motto is the kind that heals instead of divides.

    Doug: Thanks so much, & for your kind response on Twitter! Always good to know another Appalachian dulcimer player--my wife plays!

    Dave: Thanks for bringing up Seeger's role as a conservationist--probably most of the commenters here know about it, but he has focused a whole lot of his formidable activist energy in that direction & it's good to acknowledge it. & thanks for stopping by!

  16. Excellent! Hear, hear! (Cash just went up another notch in my estimation.)


  17. "...surround hate with love & force it to surrender". Love this. Excellent post, John.

  18. Hi Kat & Willow:

    Kat: Johnny Cash was his own person, & very admirable in that, even aside from his considerable musical talent. Seeger is just flat out inspirational. Thanks!

    Willow: Thanks so much!

  19. Spot On! and Blessed Be!
    I want to be a special correspondent!


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