As early as 1964, John Lennon opined that he wished “people would see through all the sham about war”. When he and his fellow bandmates received their MBE’s (Members of the British Empire), he quipped: “They usually only give this reward for killing people. We got it for entertaining them. I’d say we deserved it more”
It wasn’t until his last years with the Beatles and the beginning of his solo career, however, that he was able to be more vocal about his attitude towards the Vietnam War and the other conflicts happening in the world at that time. The cute and harmless image that had been built up around the Beatles was too confining, and had to be shed before he could begin to use his fame – his status as a working-class hero – as a platform for activism. In the beginning of the new millennia, as tens of thousands of people voice their opposition to American imperialism abroad, his message is as timely and relevant as ever.
Perhaps Lennon’s most memorable moment as a peace activist occurred in 1970 when he and Yoko Ono used their honeymoon to stage a “bed-in” for peace. He recorded the anthemic “Give Peace a Chance” to commemorate the occasion. The couple’s reasoning was simple: they knew that the media would be hounding them regardless of what they were doing, so they took the opportunity to talk with reporters about peace and non-violent opposition, knowing that this is what would make it to the papers. The move drew a lot of criticism from various quarters. Did they really think they were saving any lives by staying in bed and eating three square meals a day? John and Yoko understood, however, that what they were really doing was airing an advertisement for peace. It was perhaps the most constructive use that could have been made of their celebrity status.
John Lennon understood that a more “intellectual” approach to confronting the problem would have been fruitless. Much of the ideology of the peace movement at that time was outlined in articles and manifestos that the average person either never read or didn’t understand. This problem persists today, as the dense and obscure political rhetoric and jargon that permeates so much of the literature about world events turns large numbers of people off from really learning about it. Perhaps it is intentional. If the powers that be understand that average Americans are educated to a seventh-grade reading level – assuming that they’re literate at all – then what better way to keep them out of the political arena than by discussing its issues using vocabulary and lingo that will soar over their heads? Political scenarios are perhaps deliberately presented as being too complex for normal citizens to grasp – in the hopes that they will, therefore, simply invest blind faith in their leaders and not question the status quo.
Hence the wide disparity between the proponents of war – who outline their justifications for invading foreign countries with dense booklets’ worth of rhetoric that would prove confusing even to lawyers – and the proponents of love and understanding who simply say “Give Peace a Chance”.