The Beatles and Vietnam
Paul McCartney has recently given an interview to the intellectual journal Prospect, in which he claims that he was the one who told John Lennon about the war in Vietnam.
Sir Paul’s critics see his comments as a further attempt to revise the history of the Beatles, casting himself in a better light.
“We sort of stumbled into things,” Sir Paul told Prospect magazine.
“For instance, Vietnam. Just when we were getting to be well known, someone said to me: ‘Bertrand Russell is living not far from here in Chelsea, why don’t you go and see him?’ and so I just took a taxi down there and knocked on the door.”
Russell, author of the seminal work A History of Western Philosophy, was one of the world’s best known pacifists and had been imprisoned during the first world war for warning British workers about the American army and its role in strike breaking in the United States. He was in his nineties in the 1960’s.
He added: “He was fabulous. He told me about the Vietnam war – most of us didn’t know about it, it wasn’t yet in the papers – and also that it was a very bad war.
“I remember going back to the studio either that evening or the next day and telling the guys, particularly John [Lennon], about this meeting and saying what a bad war this was.”
McCartney says the band ignored requests from their publicist not to mention Vietnam when they went to America.
“Of course, we talked about it the whole time and said it was a very bad war. Obviously we backed the peace movement.”
Tariq Ali, who was one of the leaders of the anti-war movement in Britain, disputed Sir Paul’s version of events.
He said: “It is not my recollection at all. It is possible McCartney met Bertrand Russell, but certainly I had no contact with Paul.”
Hunter Davies, who spent 18 months with the Beatles during 1967-8 before writing their authorised biography, said: “At that stage the Beatles were open to all the smart, intellectual and artistic people trying to get them involved in things.
“It wasn’t just John. Paul was as interested in meeting these people and hearing their stuff.”
Backstage after a Beatles press conference in Memphis, Tennessee, August 19th, 1966, a british reporter gets some answers about how they feel about all the fuzz regarding John’s “Jesus” statement and something about the war in Vitnam.
Q: “But do you mind being asked questions, for example in America people keep asking you questions about Vietnam. Does this seem useful?”
PAUL: “I dunno, you know. If you can say that war is no good, and a few people believe you, then it may be good. I don’t know. You can’t say too much, though. That’s the trouble.”
JOHN: “It seems a bit silly to be in America and for none of them to mention Vietnam as if nothing was happening.”
Q: “But why should they ask you about it? You’re successful entertainers.”
JOHN: “Because Americans always ask showbiz people what they think, and so do the British. (comically) Showbiz… you know how it is!”
JOHN: “But I mean you just gotta… You can’t keep quiet about anything that’s going on in the world, unless you’re a monk. (jokingly, with dramatic arm gestures) Sorry, monks! I didn’t mean it! I meant actually….”
Beatles Press Conference: New York City August 22, 1966
Q: “Would any of you care to comment on any aspect of the war in Vietnam?”
JOHN: “We don’t like it.”
Q: “Could you elaborate any?”
JOHN: “No. I’ve elaborated enough, you know. We just don’t like it. We don’t like war.”
GEORGE: “It’s, you know… It’s just war is wrong, and it’s obvious it’s wrong. And that’s all that needs to be said about it.”
PAUL: “We can elaborate in England.”
Q: “One of you, I beleive it was George, said that you couldn’t comment on Vietnam in this country but you could in England. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?”
GEORGE: “I didn’t say that. Maybe one of us said that, but I didn’t.”
PAUL: “It was me. I mean, you know about that, anyway, you know. I mean, we could say a thing about… like John’s religious thing in England and it wouldn’t be taken up and misinterpreted quite as much as it tends to get here. I mean, you know it does. The thing is that, I think you can say things like that in England and people will listen a bit more than they do in America, because in America somebody will take it up and use it completely against you and won’t have many scruples about doing that. You know, I’m probably putting my foot in it saying that, but…”
JOHN: “You’ll be explaining to the next bunch.”
PAUL: “Yeah, I know.”
PAUL: (jokingly, in American accent) “Oh well, it’s just wonderful here.”
Beatles Press Conference: Tokyo, Japan June 30th, 1966
Q: “How much interest do you take in the war that is going on in Vietnam now?”
JOHN: “Well, we think about it everyday, and we don’t agree with it and we think it’s wrong. That’s how much interest we take. That’s all we can do about it… and say that we don’t like it.”
Two years earlier, in Boston Massachusetts, September 12th, 1964, Paul had this to say:
Q: “Would you advocate sending all the young boys your age to Vietnam?”
PAUL: “No… (pause) Not unless they wanted to, you know.”
New York City 8/13/65, two days before their famous Shea Stadium concert, the Beatles were interviewed upon arrival from England:
Q: “Any plans for going to Vietnam and entertaining the troops?”
JOHN: “I wouldn’t go there, no.”
Lennon & McCartney Interview: Newsfront 14th of May, 1968
Q: “The United States has been plagued by the war in Vietnam, and the world has been concerned about it. What are your views about the war?”
JOHN: “It’s another piece of insanity. It’s all part of the same insane scene that’s going on. There’s nothing else for it… no reason, just insanity.”
PAUL: “You know, whoever’s right and whoever’s wrong, it’s still… the thing that’s going on there isn’t a good thing.”
In 1980, the year he was murdered, John Lennon talked to Playboy magazine about the Beatles songs he composed, here’s what he said about “Revolution” (1968):
“We recorded the song twice. The Beatles were getting really tense with one another. I did the slow version and I wanted it out as a single: as a statement of the Beatles’ position on Vietnam and the Beatles’ position on revolution. For years, on the Beatle tours, Epstein had stopped us from saying anything about Vietnam or the war. And he wouldn’t allow questions about it. But on one tour, I said, ‘I am going to answer about the war. We can’t ignore it.’ I absolutely wanted the Beatles to say something. The first take of ‘Revolution’ …well, George and Paul were resentful and said it wasn’t fast enough. Now, if you go into details of what a hit record is and isn’t… maybe. But the Beatles could have afforded to put out the slow, understandable version of ‘Revolution’ as a single. Whether it was a gold record or a wooden record. But because they were so upset about the Yoko period and the fact that I was again becoming as creative and dominating as I had been in the early days, after lying fallow for a couple of years, it upset the apple cart. I was awake again and they couldn’t stand it?”