“If I had a Rocket Launcher”

After relecting awhile on how fond I was of The Animal’s “Sky Pilot” in the 60’s, I realized that today I am even more fond of Bruce Cockburn’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.” In fact, it has always been my favorite Bruce Cockburn hit, and I like Cockburn’s songs alot:

If I Had a Rocket Launcher

Here comes the helicopter — second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they’ve murdered only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher…I’d make somebody pay

I don’t believe in guarded borders and I don’t believe in hate
I don’t believe in generals or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher…I would retaliate

On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation — or some less humane fate
Cry for guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher…I would not hesitate

I want to raise every voice — at least I’ve got to try
Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes.
Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry
If I had a rocket launcher…Some son of a bitch would die

Obviously, this supports an earlier argument that I’m not a pacifist, but it also seems to say something more about my feelings about war and religion. If you’ve listened to Cockburn much, you realize he’s a “Christian singer,” at least in the same sense that Van Morrison is.

I’m sure he didn’t write the line “How many kids they’ve murdered only God can say” lightly, nor the lines:

…I’d make someone pay
…I would retaliate
…I would not hesitate
…Some son of a bitch would die.

Strangely enough, despite the fact was my government paying for those helicopters, I would have been more than happy to do the same. The obscene idea that Americans somehow had the right to impose their idea of government on the peasants of Guatemala, to assist in their starvation and torture, enrages me. Fighting for the oppressed is far more noble than standing by and watching them die at the hands of a corrupt, military dictatorship.

Perhaps the more important realization, at least personally, is that I am no more cured of the belief that war can be justified than I was before I went to Vietnam. Just because that was an immoral war does not have to mean that all wars are immoral. I believe that one can be moral, even Christian, if one fights for the right cause.

In other words, I find myself agreeing with those who use the “just war” theory to determine whether a war is wrong or right. What really bothered me about Vietnam wasn’t the killing as much as the uncomfortable thought that I admired those we were killing more than I did the South Vietnamese we were aiding. Theoretically, at least, the Viet Cong were fighting for their own country and for the right to rule themselves without having some foreign nation exploiting them. I doubt I consciously thought that while I was there, but I know I hadn’t been home very long before I felt that way.

The trouble with the argument that a soldier who defends our rights is a noble man is that this “lawful bearer of arms” cannot control his own fate. His lord, or his country, not he, determines who he fights. This is precisely why I threw a fit when my son’s stepfather urged him to listen to the recruiter from West Point when he was in high school. Tyson was the “scholar athlete” on his football team, and with his aptitude for sports and math, he may have been the ideal candidate for West Point, but I was unwilling to let him give control of his life to the government of the United States like I had done years before, particularly considering the required length of commitment.

I could well imagine a war where Tyson would have felt compelled to volunteer to fight, and I would have applauded his decision. Unfortunately, those wars have been few and far between in recent American history. More often than not, our wars have been capitalistic wars rather than attempts to free the oppressed.

Despite Bush’s recent attempts to recast the Great SUV War in this light, it’s going to be a hard sell to convince me that the real reason we’re going into Iraq is to promote “democracy” in the Middle East.