Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Protest Poet's Corner: Tom Paxton

Tom Paxton (1937- ) is an unfortunately overlooked voice from the Sixties heyday of American folk music. He didn't become the sort of crossover rock star that Bob Dylan and Paul Simon became, but he was an exquisitely lyrical performer. And, as our Senate does an all-nighter over a war perhaps even crazier than Vietnam was, Paxton's lyrics have stood the test of time, and are astoundingly relevant today. (Warning: politically incorrect language below) -- MJ

We Didn't Know (1965)

By Tom Paxton

We didn’t know, said the burgermeister
About the camp on the edge of town.
It was Hitler and his crew
That tore the German nation down.
We saw the cattle cars, it’s true;
Maybe they carried a Jew or two.
They woke us up as they rattled through.
But what did you expect me to do?

We didn’t know at all, we didn’t see a thing.
You can’t hold us to blame, what could we do?
It was a terrible shame but we can’t bear the blame.
Oh no, not us, we didn’t know.

We didn’t know, said the congregation
Singing a hymn in their church of white.
The press was full of lies about us,
Preacher told us we were right.
The outside agitators came–
They burned some churches and put the blame
On decent southern people’s name
To set our colored people aflame.
And maybe some of our boys got hot
And a couple of niggers and reds got shot.
They should have stayed where they belong,
The preacher would have told us if we’d done wrong.

We didn’t know, said the puzzled voter,
Watching the president on T.V.
I guess we got to drop those bombs
If we’re going to keep south Asia free.
The president is such a peaceful man
I guess he’s got some kind of plan.
They’re saying we’ve tortured prisoners of war,
But I don’t believe that stuff no more.
Torturing prisoners is a communist game,
And you can bet they’re doing the same.
I wish this war was over and through,
But what do you expect me to do?

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