May 10, 2004
When I think of Mother's Day with troops being killed daily in Iraq and
Afghanistan I recall Alfred Bryan's lyrics of the popular World War I song, "I Didn't
Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier."
My father, who had enlisted in the US Army, would often relate what the country was experiencing before, during, and after the U.S. entered the war. One aspect was the popular music of those days -- browsing through the prevalent tunes of any period conveys the sentiments and culture of the people. Two still well known WWI songs were George M. Cohan's "Over There," and Irving Berlin's "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning."
The first conveyed a braggadocio of the American can-do spirit and abilities: . . . send the word . . . that the Yanks are comin' . . . we're comin' over and we won't be back till it's over, over there.
The other informed of the tedious humdrum grind of military life: . . . the hardest call of all . . . the bugle call . . . You've got to get up . . . I'm going to murder the bugler. . .
There were, of course, many other songs that expressed different feelings; but dad most often mentioned "Would You Rather Be a Colonel with an Eagle on Your Shoulder, or a Private with a Chicken on Your Knee?" and "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier." They've stuck in my mind over the years.
Would You Rather Be a Colonel... was obviously a comic number whose title pretty much tells the story. I never heard the words, but they had to be good enough for the song made the Ziegfeld Follies in 1919.
I Didn't Raise My Boy... was a popular pre- and anti-war song. With the knowledge of the slaughters that had engulfed the poor innocent soldiers in Europe, American citizens were vastly opposed to having the U.S. enter into that abominable cauldron.
Woodrow Wilson won reelection in 1916 with his slogan "He kept us out of war." It didn't take long however before he asked Congress to declare war on Germany (April 2, 1917), which it promptly did (April 6, 1917). The ensuing pro-war environment and war propaganda quickly converted an intelligent public into misinformed, misguided, intolerant, chauvinistic partisans for that double-crossing government.
And so, this powerful anti-war song was quickly forgotten. It was even derided at the time by former president Theodore Roosevelt who called for another tune he titled, "I Didn't Raise My Girl to Be a Mother," and "suggested that the place for women who opposed war was 'in China -- or by preference in a harem -- and not in the United States.'" (See "History Matters.") That was a shame! The lyrics should be permanently remembered. The words of the chorus convey good old common sense:
I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier,
Thinking of it, there is just one gift that all the worrying mothers of those now serving in the military would want over any other: That their children be returned home -- safe, unharmed, healthy and happy.
Let's then support those brave moms. Join in our pleas to:
BRING THE TROOPS HOME NOW!
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