In 1971, Lieutenant John Kerry, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the war in Vietnam, asked, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” No one had a good answer to his question, and it remains unanswered now, in the midst of new wars around the world. Except for shortening his original question, the only change I have made here is to recognize that, in today’s armed forces, it is not only men who die for the mistakes made by their military and political leaders.
A later addition: I sent a copy of this song to David Swanson, founder of the World Beyond War movement, and he turned it into an interesting video, featuring the 3 Presidents referenced in this song, plus the many faces, over the years, of John Kerry, and posted it on YouTube.
A new, young leader, years ago, that day,
Said the torch had been passed in the U.S.A.
“Ask what you can do for your country,” he said;
Then he sent us to Vietnam, and thousands were dead.
With words like “peace” and “freedom”, the crusade set sail,
But the bodies on the ground told a very different tale.
A once-proud officer told how hopeless was their task;
And we still don’t have an answer to the question he asked:
“Who wants to be the last one to die for a mistake?”
Or would you rather be the first? What difference would it make?
That little girl you killed today will haunt your dreams for years –
They sent you into a war that was based on lies and fears.
Making war is the real mistake:
It’s the worst one that we ever make.
So now: who wants to die for a mistake?
Another leader told us we were under attack;
To save the nation, we must make war on Iraq.
Tales of weapons and terrorists brought the pot to a boil,
When the real goal was to control all the oil.
“Spreading democracy” was the flag that we flew,
But torture and death were all that they knew.
After “Mission accomplished” came thousands more dead;
And that question comes back – those words that he said:
Now a new, young leader has taken the stage.
He says, “Yes, we can,” and, “Come turn the page.”
His words are new, exciting, and bold,
But his military actions are tired and old.
We’ve got shiny new weapons: those predatory drones,
But death looks the same, no matter how it comes.
Making new enemies with every bomb we send,
Years from now, we’ll be asking that same question again:
Who wants to die . . . for a mistake?
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