Dylan's 'Masters of War' Infuriates Students at Memorial Day Ceremony

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Bob Dylan in a March 1963 file photo, playing acoustic guitar and harmonica in an unknown location.Credit: AP

Students at a teacher training college in northern Israel are enraged that at the conclusion of a Memorial Day ceremony at the college on Tuesday, the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s song “Masters of War” were read aloud. On the college’s Facebook page, messages have been piling up from students who claim that the recital of this song made a mockery of the ceremony.

Dylan wrote the song in 1963 as an antiwar protest. At the end of the song, the narrator says to the “masters of war”: “And I hope that you die/And your death’ll come soon/I will follow your casket/In the pale afternoon/And I’ll watch while you’re lowered/Down to your deathbed/And I’ll stand over your grave/’Til I’m sure that you’re dead.”

The ceremony was produced by the Oranim Academic College of Education’s students union, which selected the song. The ceremony proceeded without any disruptions or protests against the choice of the song.

But a post on the college’s Facebook page presenting excerpts from the event elicited protests from many students over the use of that song in the ceremony. For example, student Shani Ben-Naim wrote: “Often during the year, we at the college are exposed to various struggles – against racism, ‘price tag’ attacks and all sorts of political fights. We dedicate one day a year to the memory of the fallen, thanks to whom we are able to be here, to study and seek education. One day! And even on this one day, politics and hidden social protests are brought into it. It’s so incredibly disrespectful.”

Another student named Sagit Ben-Hamu wrote: “I’m ashamed to be part of the education staff that studies at this college!!! You’ve crossed every possible line!”

College officials were surprised by the protest. They were not expecting such furious reactions.

“Bob Dylan’s song ‘Masters of War’ is a controversial song and does not reflect the official stance of the college or the official stance of the students union,” a spokesperson for the college said. “It is one expression among many of the feelings that are aroused in a time of grief and anger over the casualties of war. But once this position, which stirs up emotions and controversy, is being presented, it must be handled with sensitivity and responsibility, as expected of an academic institution concerned with education. The Oranim students union organized and produced the Memorial Day ceremony this year, as every year, and the college administration upholds freedom of expression and does not censor the union.”

A spokesperson for the students union said: “The students union members wish to clarify some of the things that were said at the Memorial Day ceremony. The final text that was recited was a song written by Bob Dylan nearly six decades ago. The song clearly presents an antiwar position and does not call for violence, factionalism or incitement. The union wishes to note that the song, as a song that expresses the feelings of large parts of Israeli society and of many people in general, is legitimate in itself and we should not interpret it in a way that could be understood as hostile, violent, gratuitously provocative or even as an anti-establishment statement.” 

Click the alert icon to follow topics: