Volume 96, Issue 7
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

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You don't count the dead when God's on your side

Slacktose Intolerant
Chris Lackner


Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it takes till he knows
That too many people have died?
-Bob Dylan, "Blowin' In The Wind," 1963

This summer, as I heard rock's aging troubadour croon these lyrics to a captive audience at Toronto's Molson Amphitheatre, I realized how little has changed since the era in which they were written.

Almost 40 years ago, Dylan and his '60s folk contemporaries were trying to teach us about the mind-numbing stupidity of war (as many great minds have attempted before them). Clearly, as the anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, much of Dylan's social and political commentary is still extremely relevant.

When we examine the world's major ideological and political conflicts, everyone seems to have an opinion of who's wrong or right. The West versus the Middle East? America versus Iraq? Israel versus Palestine? Christianity versus Islam? Protestants versus Catholics?

Frankly, the world isn't likely to come to any imminent consensus on any of these issues.

Over the history of our species, we've killed one another for many reasons: territory, politics, culture, sovereignty, social rights, bloodlust, ideology, arrogance, for the sheer pleasure, etc..

At the centre of almost all conflicts is religion – as much a curse on humanity as it has been a blessing (arguably leaning towards the former). Almost all clashes have been fought on some sort of spiritual battleground. Whether the combatants are of a different faith or of the same, each side is fuelled by the undying belief that their cause is the just one.

Oh my name it is nothin', my age it means less
The country I come from is called the Midwest
I's taught and brought up there, the laws to abide
And that land that I lived in has God on its side.

Oh the First World War, boys, it closed out its fate
The reason for fighting I never got straight
But I learned to accept it, accept it with pride
For you don't count the dead when God's on your side

But now we got weapons of the chemical dust
If fire them we're forced to then fire them we must
One push of the button and a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions when God's on your side

The above lyrics are from one of my favourite Dylan songs of all time, "With God On Our Side," also written in 1963.

The song speaks of the frightening tendency we have to warp religion into a justification for murder and mass destruction. At the very least, it speaks of how we use religion to make us feel better about our own actions – to ease us of all moral accountability.

Nazi Germany. September 11th. Suicide bombings. Illegal settlements. Persecution. Genocide. Hiroshima and Nagasaki (they were a "just" cause, right?). Wars on terrorism.

Will humanity move past its tendency to kill, to hate, to destroy – its propensity for ignorance and selfishness? I doubt it (but part of me is still a dreamer). In the end, when it comes to war and religion, whatever one's creed or cause, perhaps Dylan says it best with this final verse:

So now as I'm leavin', I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin' ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head and fall to the floor
If God's on our side, He'll stop the next war


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