Crooning for communism.
0ne has to wonder. If an American musician had publicly backed the invasion of Poland by Adolf Hitler in 1939, written for an American Nazi Party newspaper, or lamented that he missed his old Nazi Party, would the American Left be joining a chorus of hurrahs for him, regardless of his artistic merits? The answer is clearly no.
The National Socialist (Nazi) Party movement, led by the murderous Hitler, was so vile that we would recoil from honoring any person who was an ally or a "fellow traveler" of that movement.
Yet the leaders of popular culture in this country think nothing of honoring the ideologically communist minstrel Woody Guthrie on what would be his 100th birthday--if he were alive--approaching on July 14 of this year.
Following the September 11 attacks upon the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, Americans watched as hundreds of members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang Irving Berlin's inspiring, "God Bless America!" It is a patriotic ballad that has inspired millions since its pre-World. War II release. Guthrie wouldn't have joined them. He was driven by his disgust of that song to write his response, "This Land Is Your Land." Joe Klein, a sympathetic Guthrie biographer, has said that the Guthrie song was "originally intended as a Marxist response" to Berlin's song.
An early version of Guthrie's 1940 song contained two additional verses usually not found in later versions, or sung today. One verse specifically attacked the very concept of private property. The omitted verse went, "Was a big high wall there that tried to stop me, A sign was painted said; Private Property, But on the back side, it didn't say nothing--This land was made for you and me." The other verse was equally negative: "In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple; By the relief office, I'd seen my people. As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking, Is this land made for you and me?"
A few years ago, the Smithsonian Institution honored Guthrie and defended his left-wing views: "Woody's political outlook paralleled that of many Americans, who, beset with hard times, questioned the very basis of the American system. The Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) attracted these disaffected citizens with its egalitarian platform. For Woody the Communists could be related to the Robin Hood outlaws he had been singing about for a decade."
Several years ago, the Oklahoma Gazette newspaper sponsored the Oklahoma Music Awards. Instead of giving out little Oscars, Emmys, or Grammys, they passed out "Woodys" to honor Oklahoma's homegrown communist sympathizer. The Gazette defended its actions: "You know, Woody Guthrie--the internationally known singer/songwriter from Okemab they didn't teach you about in school when you were growing up because, well, it's really too silly to even to go into"?
Really? That Guthrie strongly supported a movement responsible for mass murder was just "too silly to get to go into."
The Norman (Oklahoma) Transcript said that Guthrie had been "inaccurately characterized" as a communist. According to the Transcript, "Guthrie believed America to be full of opportunity for all. In fact, Woody served in both the Merchant Marine and the Army during World War II."
Though Guthrie toted a guitar inscribed with the words, "This machine kills fascists," even the Smithsonian exhibit admitted, "Woody became a merchant marine to avoid the draft." Guthrie's efforts to dodge the draft eventually failed, and he was drafted late in the war.
When Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the west and the Soviet communists of Josef Stalin invaded from the east, Guthrie publicly defended Stalin. Guthrie wrote in an official communist newspaper that Stalin had acted to help Polish workers and farmers. According to Klein, all those remaining in the American Communist Party after the Soviet invasion of Poland were "hard core ... true believers."
Guthrie never apologized for his pro-Stalin views. In July of 1945, Guthrie wrote, "I have rolled the whole thing over in my mind and have come to believe that we need to have the CP [Communist Party] back again." He added, "I felt when we had our Party that I had found the one organization that I could stand up and feel proud of." Guthrie even recalled carrying around a pocket-sized "Constitution of the Soviet Union, USSR," adding that the "best thing" he had ever done was "to sign up with the Communist Party." Guthrie even supported the North Korean and Chinese Communists during the Korean War!
As horrific as Hitler's murders were, for sheer numbers, no political ideology in world history is as responsible for as many deaths as communism. Yet, in Guthrie's own words, it was the one organization that he could stand up for and "feel proud of."