“I’m sure there are more constructive things he could do with his life.” So said Pete Seeger, who was criticizing me for making a career out of “exposing the crimes of Soviet communism.” Even if it was so- and it isn’t- I would respond that it’s far better to have engaged in that effort than for more than fifty years serving as an apologist for one of the most criminal regimes in the 20th Century. Evidently, by Seeger’s logic, I am the one who should apologize, while he is given a green light to simply brush his own amnesia off.
So on one day before his 90th birthday- and the gala bash which PBS has announced they will film for broadcast- I am presenting to PJM readers an assortment of my own past comments on Pete, so you can read them on your own.
First, the article that started the recent debate off. Here is my analysis of last year’s film that Jim Brown made on Pete’s life. I was interviewed by Brown and am on screen—but as I point out, Brown edited out every critical comment I made about Seeger’s politics. Here is what I wrote.
Next, I wrote about Seeger’s response to my criticism of Brown’s film, and the news that got major press coverage: Pete-perhaps a half century too late-finally made critical comments about old Joe Stalin. I gave Pete the benefit of the doubt, taking the old adage that it is better late than never. Many of course, disagreed- with good reason. In NRO online, the brilliant Mark Steyn, with his usual acerbic sense of humor, hit me hard. Let me go on record. Mark Steyn is right. Everything he writes is on the button.
Yes, and Seeger still doesn’t get it. Four years ago, he told the press that the School of the Americas—the US Army training facility that engages in joint exercises with Latin American soldiers- teaches Latin American soldiers “how to torture, how to massacre, how to assassinate.” He brings this up in answer to the reporter’s question about how he could have supported Joe Stalin. In other words, we’re just as awful, if not worse. Read the rest of this interview. The diligent reporter, Jeffrey Weiss, keeps hitting Pete and trying to get him to say anything that shows he understands that he had an obligation to oppose totalitarianism. You can judge Pete’s answers for yourself.
And today, the latest comment is by the writer Michael Ybarra, in the Weekend Wall Street Journal. Ybarra’s review of a new short hagiography on Seeger, has a great last line. Ybarra writes: ” One of the benefits of a long life is the opportunity for mature reflection on youthful error. On the evidence of “The Protest Singer,” Mr. Seeger is truly ageless.”
And finally, my friend and Reason editor Michael Moynihan had a great blog, with a title spoofing the slogan inscribed on Pete’s banjo: “This Machine Surrounds Hates and Fills it with Love,” which is a take-off on the slogan on Woody Guthrie’s guitar: “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Moynihan’s title: “This Machine Loves Communists!” And so, I join Michael in wishing Pete on his 90th Birthday: “Happy Birthday, Comrade!”
Note to my blog readers: I am attending the AIPAC National Conference, and will not be back to regular blogs until Tuesday or Wednesday. I might, if I have the chance, file some impressions of the meeting on Sunday or Monday.