Song – Universal Soldier
Sixty years ago Canadian singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie (born 1941) wrote the anti-war song “Universal Soldier”. It was first released, as a single, by The Highwaymen in September 1963. It was released by Sainte-Marie in 1964 and then covered, famously, in 1965, by Donovan. In a Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame record, Sainte-Marie said the gravamen of the lyrics was the notion that politicians, with power over the military, are elected by the people. Thus her thesis, it would appear, was that every citizen ought take responsibility for the nation’s pursuit of war (even in countries where voting is not compulsory). The issue, of course, is more complex than that but the song figured significantly in the anti-war sentiment and movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1965, Jan Berry released an “answer” song presenting the opposite point of view, titled “The Universal Coward”, which railed against anti-war protesters.
For further reading see R Cohen and W Kaufman “Singing for Peace: Anti-war Songs in American History” – Routledge, 2015.
Below the reader will find, first, the lyrics, and below that a YouTube link to Donovan’s cover version.
He’s five foot-two and he’s six feet-four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He’s all of 31 and he’s only 17
Been a soldier for a thousand years.
He’s a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain
A Buddhist, and a Baptist, and a Jew
And he knows he shouldn’t kill
And he knows he always will
Kill you for me, my friend, and me for you.
And he’s fighting for Canada
He’s fighting for France
He’s fighting for the U.S.A
And he’s fighting for the Russians
And he’s fighting for Japan
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way.
And he’s fighting for Democracy
He’s fighting for the Reds
He says it’s for the peace of all
He’s the one who must decide
Who’s to live and who’s to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall.
But without him
How would Hitler have condemned them at Dachau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body as a weapon of the war
And without him all this killing can’t go on.
He’s the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame
His orders come from far away no more
They come from here and there and you and me
And brothers, can’t you see?
This is not the way we put the end to war.