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Peace and Power – A Reflection

February 5, 2020

Tonight we watched the documentary, “Tricky Dick & The Man in Black.” It was about Johnny Cash and his awakening during the Vietnam War. He had served in the Air Force during Korea and was as patriotic as you would expect the typical Country Western star of his era to be. A number of events happened which brought about a change in his heart and his life. It culminated in a refusal to sing songs that Nixon wanted him to sing and instead share a poem/song which came out of his experience in Vietnam as a USO performer.

These lyrics were a surprise to many of those in attendance at the White House that night.

The old man turned off the radio

Said, “Where did all of the old songs go

Kids sure play funny music these days

They play it in the strangest ways”

Said, “it looks to me like they’ve all gone wild

It was peaceful back when I was a child”

Well, man, could it be that the girls and boys

Are trying to be heard above your noise?

And the lonely voice of youth cries “What is truth?”

A little boy of three sittin’ on the floor

Looks up and says, “Daddy, what is war?”

“son, that’s when people fight and die”

The little boy of three says “Daddy, why?”

A young man of seventeen in Sunday school

Being taught the golden rule

And by the time another year has gone around

It may be his turn to lay his life down

Can you blame the voice of youth for asking

“What is truth?”

A young man sittin’ on the witness stand

The man with the book says “Raise your hand”

“Repeat after me, I solemnly swear”

The man looked down at his long hair

And although the young man solemnly swore

Nobody seems to hear anymore

And it didn’t really matter if the truth was there

It was the cut of his clothes and the length of his hair

And the lonely voice of youth cries

“What is truth?”

The young girl dancing to the latest beat

Has found new ways to move her feet

The young man speaking in the city square

Is trying to tell somebody that he cares

Yeah, the ones that you’re calling wild

Are going to be the leaders in a little while

This old world’s wakin’ to a new born day

And I solemnly swear that it’ll be their way

You better help the voice of youth find

“What is truth/”

As I listened to this song and watched the documentary, I thought about Thomas Merton’s own thoughts about the Vietnam War and war in general. I wonder what Merton would have said to Johnny Cash when he took his stand at the White House in 1970. Frankly I believe that Merton would have applauded Johnny’s courage and vision.

Today I watch as the military industrial complex grows fat on government contracts and endless wars. Do they know the human cost of war? Merton lost his own brother in WW2 and he knew the pain personally. I believe that in part fueled his activism.

In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Merton said the following: Power has nothing to do with peace. The more men [sic] build up military power, the more they violate peace and destroy it. (p. 34)

These words strike deep at the heart of the lust for power and violence we see in this nation and around the world. So, do we throw up our hands or do we roll up our sleeves and work for peace. The choice is ours… as for me, I choose the way of peace.

  1. I had the opportunity to attend former President Jimmy Carter’s Bible Study several years ago. The day I was there he talked about the reality that we have been in a state of war since the Korean war started. We have an inverted sense of values as a nation.

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