Masters of War

(Focus On War – Tonight’s featured essay! – promoted by On The Bus)

I’ve been singing the song “Masters of War” a lot lately. Every time I practice, I play it. I’d guess I’ve worked through it, either listening or playing, at least 500 times since September. The verses are burned into my consciousness. Every word is still relevant; the military industrial complex is every bit as powerful now as it was when Dylan wrote about it in 1963 at the ripe old age of 22. 22! And he created what’s gone down as one of the most succinct, eloquent protest songs of all time, certainly one of the landmark antiwar pieces.

But for all its brilliance, what futility he must have felt. A guitar and a voice vs. the military-industrial complex. These people didn’t hear a word he said. They were tucked away, safe and sheltered. That their trade was a curse on the whole world was not their problem, and mere criticism could not and did not move them. If Bob Dylan was president, maybe they’d mind, but he wasn’t even a speck. But he did have two things: the moral high ground, and the First Amendment. That’s all anybody has, really. If right is on your side, you can be vocal about it and hopefully others will hear and join. Accusation, for all its pitfalls, is a necessary step toward justice.

These are my 2 favorite verses:

You’ve thrown the worst fear

That can ever be hurled

Fear to bring children

Into the world

For threatening my baby

Unborn and unnamed

You ain’t worth the blood

That runs in your veins

How much do I know

To talk out of turn

You might say that I’m young

You might say I’m unlearned

But there’s one thing I know

Though I’m younger than you

Even Jesus could never

Forgive what you do

You don’t have to be a certain age to have a moral compass, especially with something as plainly tragic as war. Anybody with half a brain can understand that it does no good. Premature, violent death is not productive. Destroying homes, factories and bridges is not productive.

Making things that destroy homes, factories and bridges is also not productive. You can’t drive a tank to work. You can’t fly a bomber to school. Think of the billions of dollars we waste on the fancy weapons that our paranoid leaders tell us we need to defend ourselves from other paranoid leaders who tell their people they need to defend themselves from us. We could fund miracles. We could fund peace. But we don’t. We build artillery and submarines. We possess enough nuclear warheads to destroy the world repeatedly, but millions of taxpayers can’t afford a visit to the doctor.

Defend what? Defend who? We deny people education and health care so we can protect them? It’s insanity, but my opinion doesn’t count. I’m only 22. Oh, Bob Dylan says I’m allowed to talk, but he talked when he was 22 and look how it turned out. Not a g-d damn thing has changed. We traded Vietnam for Iraq. Johnson for Bush. F-4 Phantoms for F-15 Eagles. The “war on poverty” ran out of steam, but the defense budget soaks up staggering amounts of money year after year after year and the fact that I even want to talk about it gets me a condescending pat on the head from most people. Silly na├»ve little boy, don’t you realize brown folks want to kill us?!

Well you know what? The people I want dead aren’t brown, they’re white. They’re rich, old businessmen and politicians in expensive suits. They create nothing, they merely grift for the right to destroy. And they can’t lose, not because they cheat, but because they own the rules.

And I hope that you die

And your death’ll come soon

I will follow your casket

In the pale afternoon

And I’ll watch while you’re lowered

Down to your deathbed

And I’ll stand o’er your grave

‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead

The people this verse is intended for don’t care. Dick Cheney is the embodiment of “masters of war” and he’s outright impervious to anything anyone says or does. When I saw his new quote this week, the one where the reporter asks him what he thinks of public opinion being against the war and he says, “So?”… something inside me broke. That smug, arrogant bastard! It’s unbelievable how callous he is!

Well, not unbelievable. But it is incredibly discouraging to know that this man has been pulling the strings for over 7 years. He’s the epitome of the fat politician sitting comfortably at the top, far beyond the reach of justice, let alone reason. At the very summit of a “representative government,” we have a man who genuinely doesn’t care about the opinion of the citizens who placed him there. What if a million people protested in 10 cities?


Two million in 20 cities?


What if there were riots?


What if Congress cut off the funding for the war, and there wasn’t any money left to pay for bullets?


Impeachment was and is the only way to stop this war before 1.20.09. And there is no way it will happen, because Nancy Pelosi doesn’t care about public opinion either. Deflect it, manipulate it. Control it, ignore it. But never give in.

I went to protests. I even organized a couple. I wrote letters and emails. Called my Representatives, signed petitions, posted on blogs, discussed things with my family, friends and total strangers. I voted. I did everything in my power as a citizen.


Cheney’s message is that citizenship is futile.

Here’s something I wrote last fall.

These colors don’t run ’cause they lost their legs

Probably on a hill in ’69

Forever dead that vital instinct

To walk away from big mistakes

Rednecks raised on two buck crack

Jack it up to three now hear us cry

We say it ain’t fair, we did our part,

But wouldn’t you know, the devil lied

The new flag sings the blues

The red part shouts old lies

The white part has no use

How many more will die

Promises kept to the precious few

Who write big checks for November storms

The rest thrown out in the bakin’ desert

To find their long missing souls

The new flag sings the blues

The red part shouts old lies

The white part has no use

How many more will die

As kids come back in flag draped coffins

Others merely missing limbs

Witness to the grinding nightmare

We once dreamed but now we mourn

The new flag sings the blues

The red part shouts old lies

The white part has no use

How many more will die

I suppose if I was writing it this year, I’d have to change “Jack it up to three” to “Jack it up to four“. But the devil’s the same and a lot more people are going to die before he’s sent back to Hell. Cheney may pass, but somebody will replace him.

Did you know that in 1963 Dick Cheney was 22 years old?


Skip to comment form

  1. here’s an incomplete, rough version of what I’m trying to do with Masters of War. this recording has given me fits and I can’t get what I’m looking for, but here it is anyway.

    happy 5th anniversary.

  2. I’ve been blown away by the featured essays this week.  You no less meteoriot.  Only 22?!  You are wise beyond your years & talented too.   Thanks for your thoughts and  the music. I admire the influence Dylan has on you.    Keep rocking dude!  

    (I’m adding your site to our Blog Roll too.)  

  3. I like yer tune!

    • OPOL on March 21, 2008 at 03:10

    The new flag sings the blues

    The red part shouts old lies

    The white part has no use

    How many more will die

    Holy shit man!

  4. I’ve been writing that a lot with this Focus on War series.  Outstanding work, and bless you, OTB for thinking this up.

    Just great stuff, meteoriot … I am standing up and cheering you and giving you a standing ovation and such.


    • RUKind on March 21, 2008 at 04:25

    Viet Nam was a former French colony divided into a North and South. I just found this nugget at

    May 1963 – Buddhists riot in South Vietnam after they are denied the right to display religious flags during their celebration of Buddha’s birthday. In Hue, South Vietnamese police and army troops shoot at Buddhist demonstrators, resulting in the deaths of one woman and eight children.

    Political pressure now mounts on the Kennedy administration to disassociate itself from Diem’s repressive, family-run government. “You are responsible for the present trouble because you back Diem and his government of ignoramuses,” a leading Buddhist tells U.S. officials in Saigon.

    June-August – Buddhist demonstrations spread. Several Buddhist monks publicly burn themselves to death as an act of protest. The immolations are captured on film by news photographers and shock the American public as well as President Kennedy.

    Diem responds to the deepening unrest by imposing martial law. South Vietnamese special forces, originally trained by the U.S. and now controlled by Diem’s younger brother Nhu wage violent crackdowns against Buddhist sanctuaries in Saigon, Hue and other cities.

    Nhu’s crackdowns spark widespread anti-Diem demonstrations. Meanwhile, during an American TV interview, Nhu’s wife, the flamboyant Madame Nhu, coldly refers to the Buddhist immolations as a ‘barbecue.’ As the overall situation worsens, high level talks at the White House focus on the need to force Diem to reform.

    Wait a minute, I thought that was Tibet and China. Pesky Bhuddists, always wanting peace and the freedom to practice their religion.

    Walt Kelly’s Pogo said it all: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  5. have already left in the Pacific.

Comments have been disabled.