I'd like to introduce a song I just wrote, “Neither King Nor Kaiser” (which you can listen to if you click on the icon).
Neither King Nor Kaiser A hundred years ago today the arms race was at an end If there was a soul alive who could begin to comprehend The suffering to follow, the hell that would transpire When the soldiers were lined up and the men began to fire A hundred years ago today, all around the world There were hordes of marching men with flags of empire unfurled And then there was the opposition who wouldn't stay on bended knee Who said we'll fight for neither king nor kaiser, neither God nor country A hundred years ago today the streets were filled to burst With millions of people who said they had no thirst For the blood of other workers who lived across the sea They said we'll fight for neither king nor kaiser, neither God nor country A hundred years ago today referendums were ignored Democracy was something no empire could afford Sedition laws were passed and they filled the penitentiaries We'll fight for neither king nor kaiser, neither God nor country A hundred years ago today the executions were at dawn Bomb blasts filled the air, the battle lines were drawn The muddy fields were all red, a voice echoed amid the bodies We'll fight for neither king nor kaiser, neither God nor country
Governments, the media, and lots of people around the world are now commemorating the beginning of the four years of industrial-scale carnage that was World War I, which began a hundred years ago this month. The commemorations don't gloss over the carnage – that would be impossible. The scale of the slaughter was so massive, killing tens of millions of conscripted men from all walks of life from around the world, it wouldn't be possible to ignore that aspect of the war, just as it would be impossible not to notice the size of the cemeteries containing the dead soldiers, or the vast numbers of rows of gravestones within them.
What most of the commemorations will ignore, however, are the things we most need to remember. One of those things is the widespread opposition to the war across the world. Labor unions, feminists, leftwing organizations and pacifists were numerous in many countries, and vociferously opposed the war. Labor leaders and activists were deported, hanged, jailed, beaten, and killed for their opposition to the war.
Another aspect of the lead-up to war that will be generally ignored by the government-sponsored commemorations and most of the media coverage is the fact that in order for many countries to join this terrible fight, democracy had to be actively subverted or ignored.
For example, in Australia, two national referendums opposing Australian participation in the war were ignored by the Australian government. In the US, the popularly-elected president of the day, Woodrow Wilson, ran on a platform of noninvolvement in World War I – which is why he won.
The most important aspect of the commemorations that will be generally ignored is the fact that World War I was fundamentally and undeniably a war for empire (though apologists for empire will deny it was anything of the sort, and will even deny the empire exists!).
The aftermath of the war saw much of the world divided up by the colonial powers. Borders were drawn in a systematic way, in order to ensure as many different forms of division as possible in these newly-created countries, which were then systematically exploited by Britain, France, and the United States in the decades to follow. The legacy of these artificially-imposed divisions are very much with us today, in places like Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Palestine, to name a few.
Remember, democracy is in the streets. Preferably with a loud sound system and a good mike... David Rovics
First published @ David's blog Songwriter's Notebook. David has been doing something he's been planning on doing for a long time but hadn't gotten around to yet. He's putting out a CD of all of the Palestine-related songs (19 songs and 2 poems) he's written from 2000 to 2014, "Falastine Habibti" (Palestine, My Love). The CD is also a fundraising project for the Independent Middle East Media Center. Download the digital version for free or by donation @ Bandcamp! David also wrote up several reasons why he thought he should make this CD @ Songwriter's Notebook. Two further solo acoustic albums "When I'm Elected President" (12 songs he wrote between July and November) and "Wayfaring Stranger" (a collection of cover songs) can also be found @ Bandcamp! The albums are collectively a fundraiser for David's prospective 2016 write-in campaign for president of the United States. In late April and early May 2015, David Rovics is touring in Sweden, Denmark, England and Ireland.