Friday, November 25, 2011

Where is the Outrage?

I've been listening to ELO lately for the first time in a long time. What does a '70s and '80s pop band known for love songs have to do with anger and outrage?
Well... my first ELO album, one of the first records I ever bought, was Electric Light Orchestra II. I got it when I was maybe in ninth grade. On The Third Day, the first pop ELO album, was out by then, but the song that had originally received lots of airplay was the seven minute long cover of Roll Over Beethoven and that's what I wanted. Once I had the album that wasn't the song that grabbed me.

When Electric Light Orchestra II was recorded in 1972 the Vietnam War was still raging. ELO gave the majority of side 2 of the record to an antiwar song called Kuiama. Band members still claim it's the best song they ever did. If you haven't heard it the word "dark" doesn't even begin to do it justice. Even the instrumental section, which runs for maybe six minutes, is dismal. Don't get me wrong, it's brilliantly done, but it is effectively written to bring out the sadness and anger and guilt that match the story. From WikiPedia:
At 11:19, it is the longest track on the album, and the longest song ever recorded by Electric Light Orchestra. It tells the tale of a soldier who has found an orphan girl wandering the ruins of a battle-ravaged village in the Vietnam war. The soldier is trying to comfort the girl and also to explain how he was the one who killed her parents.
The deeply affected vocals feature some of ELO's trademark harmonies and lots of overdubs, but they aren't anywhere near the pleasant sound the band would be later known for.
Kuia stop your cryin,
there's no bombs a'fallin
no horsemen in the night
a'ridin through your dreams
and tearing at your life
baby goodnight

No more silver rain will hit your ground
and no more guns will sound
and no more life be drowned
No more trenches where the soldiers lie
and no more people die
beneath that big black sky

Wake up Kuiama, I got somethin to tell you
it's just that I mean, well that is to say,
that I'm trying to explain but I'll start again,
for you, I must be true.


Kuia please believe me. I just couldn't help myself.
I wanted to run but they gave me a gun
and they told me the duty I owed to my Fatherland.
I made my stand.

Kuia I just shot them, I just blew their heads open,
and I heard them scream in their agony
How many real life Kuiamas are there in Afghanistan today? What can we accomplish there? Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11, is dead. So are most of his lieutenants from that time. The Taliban are based now in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Don't worry, our drones are bombing Pakistan too.

The government we support in Afghanistan stole the last election and has little popular support in the country. We Americans are absolutely hated in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is no longer any possibility of a good outcome, much like Vietnam in the early 1970s. President Obama says we will be fighting there for another three years. Why? Some Republicans excoriate the President for setting a departure date at all. They want us to stay and keep killing until the mission is accomplished. What mission? What on earth can be accomplished other than more needless deaths?

Where is the outrage that caused Jeff Lynne to write a song like Kuiama? Where is the horror at the senseless loss of life that goes on day in and day out. What possible purpose can it serve? What "victory" can we achieve?

Two Republican Presidential candidates, former Utah Governor John Huntsman and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, actually have the right answer: get out of Afghanistan and withdraw now. They are the modern equivalent of Senator George McGovern (D-SD) in 1972. Like Sen. McGovern they have no chance of winning. Heck, they have no chance of being nominated. The leading Republican candidates according to the polls are the most bloodthirsty of the bunch.

Have we, as a society, become so numb to the horrors of war that we just accept it? Where are today's protest songs? Why are we seeing people protesting Wall Street and greed and the corrupting effect of unlimited money flowing into the political system (which are worthy of protest) but nobody protesting a decade of unrelenting war? This 40 year old song can still stir emotions. Maybe people need to listen to it again.

Here is the original 1972 version and the 1999 version from Live at the BBC:

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