I watched a movie today about John Lennon: "The U.S. vs. John Lennon," a Dutch-produced documentary about Lennon in his immediate post-Beatle phase, roughly 1969-75. It was a period in his life marked highly visible activism promoting peace, most notably the famous "bed-in's" in Amsterdam and Montreal. I can remember the reaction of people such as my parents and many people like them who if they ever gave John Lennon a thought, it was to lump him in with the incomprehensible collection of nut cases who were, in their minds, destroying the very fabric of the United States. I doubt if many of them could have identified Lennon's song "Give Peace a Chance" as coming from him. What they would say, though, is that it was a subversive song, and that radicals like John Lennon, a damned foreigner anyway, should be thrown out of the country. These were core supporters of the Nixon-instigated proceedings by the Immigration Department to deport Lennon using as a trumped up cause his conviction for marijuana possession back in England.
I cannot help but recall the polarization of the country during the Nixon administration. I was still in the Air Force when Lennon and Ono were staging these protests, and to tell the truth, I don't recall even hearing about them at the time. I was in Turkey, a crucial formative experience for me. It was there, I'm sorry to admit it, that I first realized what "poor" really meant. It was there that I saw with my own eyes how truly ugly Americans could be in the behavior and attitudes of my fellow servicemen. My experience there profoundly changed my outlook about everything: morality, politics, civil and human rights, war. So in some way, even if indirectly, Lennon, too, helped change me from the complacent, somewhat smug, unthinking U.S. occupant I was into the thoroughly engaged, and more often than not outraged, citizen I've become.
Fact is, we, the United States, have not given peace a chance. We don't believe in it; we don't revere it; we don't practice it. Peace is the furthest thing from our minds. Our persistence in the always-fruitless venture of war and destruction is, as I'm sure John Lennon would say, insanity. He wondered then, in the midst of the murderous disaster of the Vietnam war, what it was that the governments of the world actually wanted. It was a good question then, and now in the midst of our murderous disaster in the Middle East, it's a good question now.
These sentiments are of course dangerously radical, as dangerously radical as John Lennon or anyone else who challenges us to imagine a world without war.