waving flag of united states of america

“Monster/Suicide/America”: Steppenwolf and the American Military-Industrial Complex

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.

Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. (Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, 1961)

There are certain phases I have been through as an immigrant to this country. You see America is blindingly beautiful, and to start with all I saw were the trees and the mountains, those sparkling coastlines, and the vast stunning landscape of the jewel in the crown of the world. I have been across this whole wide world, man, I drove through Asia’s bamboo jungles, stood in awe of what human being can do, gawping at European renaissance architectural and artistic wonders, and stood in places where it feels as if you might have reached the edge of the world, just nothingness and red dirt in front of you and the city far behind. I have been wowed by the creative genius of what we can do as a species when we put our mind to it, travelling sometimes by means of fingers on piano keyboard retracing the notes written by Bach and Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy. I have soaked in the bloodied and inglorious history of human conflict standing on battlefields that now sit there innocuously, though never losing that feeling like many people perished there.

Nothing, absolutely nothing left me open mouthed in awe like driving across America. It is not the cities, it is not the Disney leisure-time extravagances, it is not the shopping malls or the vast grocery stores, no. It is the natural wonders of a country that seemed to have been formed in the hand of a mighty goddess in a very good mood, sprinkling waterfalls and canyons, plains and prairies, mountain ranges and bays, and all manner of vast, varied and beautiful things across a landmass so vast and once unified, that I used to wonder how it all stuck together, politically and geographically. I don’t wonder any longer. I now realize it was an uneasy fusion of parts that are as varied in temperament and politics as they are in geographical features. It is not a wonder that we ended up fighting ourselves in the worst ways people can during the civil war, it is only a wonder that we have managed to avoid repeating doing so ever since.

I suspect these phases immigrants like me travel through are pretty much universal. First of all it was immense gratitude, alongside being blinded by the beauty of America. I was grateful to have a chance to live, to survive, and realized that this country was so bountiful, that thriving was possible. From the start it was apparent that there was a large faction that would rather me and the boy had died in Asia rather than flee here, but I managed to mostly ignore them, and hope that one day we too would be seen as American. Then I was afraid. I was afraid that it would all be taken away from me. I still am. This is my home, this is where me and my son live, and more importantly, this is where we are safe. When a Democratic President with a (currently) large mandate to do what the fuck he wants to do fails to continue and codify protection for the Dreamers, and open it up so others can enjoy the same protection, I wonder if we will ever be safe at all. When a Democratic (though it would appear Catholic before democratic) President fails to protect abortion rights, I wonder if anyone else feels like they have been had? I feel juked. I feel let down. When I was fresh off the plane I didn’t feel I had the right to criticize the place that saved me by existing. I still have no appetite to scorn America. I love this country to the very bones of me. I love the ordinary people, who are open, mainly kind hearted, tough and hard working, but what I do not love is the American industrial-military complex.

As is the case all over the world, the American people deserve much better than the leadership they are offered. Trump? Batshit crazy egotist. Biden? Not intellectually up to the job, and to be frank has said some racist shit in his career, not to mention the sniffing issues and inappropriate talk, and his crackhead son who gets away with a crack addiction while black America is plagued by the shit and criminalized too. Hilary? Any woman knows you had better be squeaky clean or you are not going to get anywhere, and that includes your family too. Hilary could not get away with a cigar dippin’ intern fucking scandal that her husband committed. If she divorced him she would be a bitch and disloyal. If she stayed she would be seen as weak. She went for weak and paid the price. American’s don’t love losers, unlike their Euro counterparts who love a bit of loser/underdog action.

Which brings me to phase three. I think I finally feel at home enough to criticize American leadership, while loving the country. John Kay of Steppenwolf told the story of his widowed mother’s escape from the Russians with him when he was a child in his song, Renegade. John tells it much better than I can summarize it, and I suggest listening to the song to get the full flavor of what it was like for the two of them to flee the advancing Soviet army in 1945, before they finally made it to West Germany in 1949, and then to Toronto and finally New York.

This country saved John Kay, and his hard rock sound became part of the American landscape of the late 60s and 1970s. America does not make it easy, but once you are accepted by America as being ‘one of us’, then it is for keeps. John earnt his right to point out that America of the 60s and 70s was killing its sons in an unwinnable war in Vietnam, and by the drugs it pushed onto those sons and daughters that remained behind. John, the survivor of the world war 2 breakdown of peace in Europe, took aim at the American industrial-military complex – the fact that America felt it needed a war for the economy to run properly, and that it was willing to sell out the lives of its young to keep on making money

I used to look at born-here Americans complaining about the government and protesting injustice and could not fathom how the luckiest people in the world, to live in a country with freedom and possibility could be so churlish as to complain about their lot in life. Then I realized, sadly and somewhat brutally, that the problems ran deep. Justice, but not justice for all. Peace only for the rich and the white. The mean whites even set the Black and Asian communities against each other. Divide and conquer never goes out of fashion. I realized how essentially fucked up we were with our guns that I can see no way of ever getting rid of, nor controlling now the genie is out of the box, and our racial inequalities and horrific tensions that stare at me like an accusing monolith every time I dare look at the disaster of hatred and inequality that plays itself out every day in our society.

Its a crime to be poor in America. This land is the 1 percent’s land, this land is their land, and they might rent it out to us for everything we got. They have it all, and still they want more more more: more blood, more money, more land, more resources, more lives. We mean nothing to the ultra rich. The cream does not rise to the top, but the greedy sure do. Money buys not having to send your sons to war. Money buys not going to prison for the most part. I fear we are in an end stage capitalist tail spin that we won’t pull out of without suffering and the revolutionary treacherous dogs of war, both foreign and civil, having their way with America. January the 6th was a horrifying foreshadowing, I fear, not a glitch of the insane and those to whom being a traitor to the country is not anathema. The rest of us, meanwhile

Monster/Suicide/America is a calling out of our shared past crimes against humanity on which American society and culture was built. Kay takes us on a tour of our origins as a modern country with the religious exodus looking for religious freedom, through the pioneer days pushing west and the genocide of the indigenous peoples of America, facing up to America’s broken past, while the refrain of America’s ‘spirit and guiding light’ repeats and echoes, reminding us all of the best that the American spirit and dream has to offer. Kay does not shy away from looking at the horrors of slavery or the civil war, taking a trip through our history with the unwavering keen eye of a man who has seen and appreciated both the best and the worst of this land of sanctuary and dreams.

It is in the final stanzas that Kay, a child of war, and a man of bravery, takes aim at the politicians and problems of 1969 when this song was released, and gives it both barrels of Truth, a real mind bomb. Vietnam was in full toxic bloom. It was a war that America could never have won, that killed 2 million civilian Vietnamese, that did not stop the country becoming communist, and took the lives of 58,220 American men, most of them very young, and also 1.1 million Viet Cong soldiers. None of these people needed to die.

It was all in vain, a money making exercise. The Americans didn’t even provide their soldiers with guns that worked, with the M16s being supplied with the wrong bullets and so jammed incessantly. The guns rotted in the wet, not even chromed against moisture, and the boys were not even provided with gun cleaning kits. The congressional report into the M16s failures was hugely critical of the failures of the US military in providing adequate arms to the mostly conscripted army. More than that, the specter of double the amount of civilian innocent dead, than the so called enemy, still haunts any decent American. It was troubling Kay to the point of writing a song that called out the Powers That Be, and their war mongering. Only a fatally capitalist society would buy cheap guns that didn’t work and send boys out to their death for the sake of saving money. No wonder the Vietnamese hated us and everything we stood for. We must have seemed decadent and doomed, and perhaps we are.

The Monster on the loose that kay sings about, is not “America the beautiful”, nor the average GI Joe and his Betty Sue that he kissed by the Levy in some American Pie fable of the American dream, no, the Monster is the 1 percent richest, the absolutely powerful that play with out lives like they are little toys that can be broken and buried and forgotten about. Except we are not toys, are we? We are people, and we love our families, our sons are not cannon fodder for another LBJ, and we do not want to die for their profit. I do not want to die for the profit of the rich. My ideals are the ideals of most Americans – enough to eat, somewhere to live, a movie and a baseball game, watching my child grow up and the regular round of national holidays spent with people we love. We mostly believe in freedom of expression and religion, and hard work. We are neighborly and wholesome, as a whole. Like most human beings, Americans are mostly good, mostly kind and mostly want peace. The trouble is we have been sold war as patriotism, and it is all a crock of shit.

The red white and blue has been held hostage by hawks and war mongers who see $$$ signs in the blank eyes of our dead soldiers, our ‘sons and daughters’ that Kay sings about have been let down. Inflation has made us all suffer, and now the rich are eyeing war. We have a world that is turning against us little people, with those who have unfairly got all the power, and all the resources not wanting to share any of it, determined to cull the masses. I swear these politicians and powerful ultra rich don’t even see us little people are fully human. Ever noticed that America does not tend to attack mostly white countries? They attack Asia, the middle east, bringing their fury and money making efforts down in great massacres of the black and brown, and it sickens me.

Monster/Suicide/America should be broadcast across the country on repeat:

Our cities have turned into jungles
And corruption is stranglin’ the land
The police force is watching the people
And the people just can’t understand
We don’t know how to mind our own business
‘Cause the whole worlds got to be just like us
Now we are fighting a war over there
No matter who’s the winner
We can’t pay the cost
‘Cause there’s a monster on the loose
It’s got our heads into a noose
And it just sits there watching
America where are you now?
Don’t you care about your sons and daughters?
Don’t you know we need you now
We can’t fight alone against the monster

Songwriters: Jerry Edmonton / John Kay

Monster / Suicide / America lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

We can’t fight alone, but we can fight together. We don’t want war, we don’t want to lose our sons, our husbands, our brothers and our family members. We want to live and live in peace, and that should be the main goal of any governing political system – to provide peace and prosperity to the people of the country, but all we are being fed is conflict and suffering, that manufactures happiness only for the 1 percent who can purchase it on the backs of our death and suffering.

Each era needs their poets, and some poets are universal. Dylan might have all that fancy talk, but sometimes what we really need is straight talking, ‘biggest cock of the walk’ as Lester Bangs described Kay, honesty and bravery. Sometimes we need a bit of Steppenwolf, and a talking to from a man whose life almost got snuffed out before it was started due to warmongering men and their politics of death and destruction. I want peace. I care about America’s sons and daughters. Is it time for peace rallies and marches to tell the Monster that we wont tolerate this push towards war and nuclear Armageddon, and we want our peace and prosperity back. Can the system ever be changed peacefully? I believe it can. More importantly, I don’t think we have much choice if we want to survive. Enough war games. It was never fun anyway, for anyone except the male psychopaths who like to see the world burn.


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