Edwin Starr

War, huh (good God y’all) What is it good for? Absolutely nothing

Edwin Starr sang it loud in 1970.

War, huh (good God y’all)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it, say it, say it
War (uh-huh), huh (yeah, huh)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

You can see the full lyrics here. Starr was lucky to live in the USA where War not only got widespread airplay, but spent three weeks at number 1 on the Billboard charts. Starr’s intense anti-Vietnam War anthem hit a cord.

Imagine such a thing happening in Russia today, where any public criticism of the Kremlin line in its bloodthirsty and unprovoked war in Ukraine guarantees its citizens up to 15 years of jail time, no redress admitted. In Russia, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is fake news.

Edwin Starr’s War is just one in a long line of anti-war, protest and solidarity songs that are enshrined in our collective conscience. Joan Baez did her part with We Shall Overcome. Marvin Gaye gave us all a wake-up call with What’s Going On. John Lennon pushed us to Imagine. Dolores O’Riordan summed up the Northern Ireland conflict with Zombie. Jimi Hendrix sang there are many here among us who think that life is just a joke when he electrified Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower. Putin foretold.

Putin miscalculated on many fronts, military, intellectual, strategic and cultural. His generals and foot soldiers are dying in unprecedented numbers on his self-determined battlefield. His true support comes only from those Russians and Belarussians brainwashed or ignorant of the facts, a situation that Putin facilitated by shutting down any and all media outlets that might have found him accountable. In terms of Russia’s importance in the world, Putin has sent his country back to the Soviet dark ages. And he completely underestimated the connectivity that defines the world outside of Russia in 2022.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being photographed, televised, YouTube’d and tweeted in real time. Russia has no escape from the atrocities in which it is now complicit. Putin has no escape here. He is forever going to be damned for leading his country to disaster and for lending his reputation, or what is left of it, to a Russia diminished.

Putin was once an able chameleon, biding his time in a background role on the world stage. But now, thanks to his recklessness and inflated ego, he finds himself an emperor without clothes in a real world that has coalesced, and how, against him. It turns out that Putin is just the latest version of the Russian tyrant, dictator, despot and oppressor that we once knew as Stalin. Stalin died by natural causes. Putin can only wish for the same.

How do you protest such evil in song?

At a moment when so many people are dying daily in Ukraine, it may seem inconsequential, but it’s not.

Pink Floyd put out their first new song in 28 years to protest Putin’s self-delusional brain fart in attempting to redefine a Russia-centric world. Floyd’s song was called Hey Hey Rise Up, and featured Andriy Khlyvnyuk of Boombox singing in Ukrainian. And even though it spent a short time atop the Apple US Chart, the song didn’t resonate.

But then came Florence + the Machine. By some mechanism of chance, Florence Welch went to Kyiv in late 2021 to film the video for her latest release. This was months before the onslaught of Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine. By coincidence, or not, Florence’s song is called Free. Hers is not a protest song at all on the surface. Her song is an upbeat pop/rock dance track. Florence did the video with the actor Bill Nighy as her side portraying her anxiety. The lyrics don’t obsess over political freedom even though the video ends with Florence and her anxiety overlooking a graveyard in Ukraine. But Florence does sign off on the video with a dedication to the spirit, creativity and perseverance of our brave Ukrainian friends, and notes that the video was filmed with Ukrainian filmmakers and artists, whose radiant freedom can never be extinguished. The song may not be protest per se, but the video keeps Kyiv and Ukraine front and center on YouTube. It’s already been seen more than 2,144,546 times.

Keep in mind that not all solidarity songs need to be anti-war. Does anybody remember the Andrews Sisters? They had a huge hit during World War 2 with Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. The Andrews Sisters great contribution to ending the Second World War was in making our soldiers feel valued, loved, important and appreciated in song. The lyrics were secondary. The Andrews Sisters made everyone feel that a future with good times was still possible.

Just a week ago, Ed Sheeran premiered a new song 2step with a video also filmed in Kyiv before the Russian attack began. Sheeren is donating the royalties of his song to Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. The DEC website reminds us that 18 million people are projected to be affected by Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, and that 12 million Ukrainians, more than a quarter of the population, have so far had to flee their homes. Ed Sheeren and Florence Welch show us just how badly Putin miscalculated. Ukraine was already firmly integrated, accepted and understood as European long before Putin’s botched attempt to claim it for himself and Russia.

Unfortunately, nobody in Putin’s coterie of yes-men gave him the message.