John Denver – Let Us Begin (What Are We Making Weapons For?) / Flying For Me (1986, Vinyl) - Discogs

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About the song

John Denver’s powerful ballad, Let Us Begin (What Are We Making Weapons For?). John Denver, a name synonymous with folk music, environmental activism, and optimistic storytelling, isn’t often the first artist that comes to mind when discussing anti-war anthems. Yet, in 1986, with Let Us Begin, he delivered a poignant and thought-provoking song that challenged the very notion of war and its devastating consequences.

Denver, known for his folksy charm and sunny disposition, wasn’t afraid to tackle serious issues. The Vietnam War cast a long shadow over his generation, and its impact is evident in Let Us Begin. Released on his album One World, the song arrived at a time of heightened international tensions, with the Cold War still a potent force. The threat of nuclear war loomed large, and the arms race continued unabated. Let Us Begin became Denver’s plea for peace and a stark reminder of the human cost of conflict.

The song opens with a somber narrative. Denver adopts the persona of a farmer’s son, a character rooted in the heartland of America. He speaks of generational sacrifice, mentioning his father lost in the Korean War and his brother in Vietnam. This personalizes the cost of war, taking it beyond mere statistics.

The lyrics, “For generations on this land before I give up I would gladly… four generations of blood in this topsoil,” establish a deep connection to the land and the legacy passed down through family. This connection is further emphasized by the image of the “grassland farmer,” a man tied to his land and its bounty.

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The song quickly pivots from the personal to the universal with the powerful refrain, “What are we making weapons for? Why keep on feeding the war machine?” These lines pierce through the listener’s conscience, demanding a reckoning. Denver doesn’t mince words. He calls out the “war machine,” a powerful symbol of the industrial complex that thrives on conflict. The indictment is clear: resources that could be used to improve lives are instead diverted to fuel the engines of war.

The devastation caused by war isn’t just about soldiers lost on battlefields. Let Us Begin emphasizes the impact on the most vulnerable. The line, “We take it right out of the mouths of our babies, take it away from the hands of the poor,” lays bare the harsh reality that funding for war comes at the expense of basic human needs. Education, healthcare, and basic necessities are sacrificed on the altar of military might.

Let Us Begin isn’t a song of despair, however. It’s a call to action. The repeated refrain, “If peace is our vision, let us begin,” serves as a powerful reminder that change is possible. Denver urges listeners to break free from the cycle of violence and work towards a more peaceful future. He reminds us of the fragility of life, with the line, “Have we all forgotten all the lives that we are given?” This question hangs heavy in the air, a stark reminder of the preciousness of human existence.

Let Us Begin remains a powerful and relevant song even today. While the Cold War may be over, new conflicts continue to erupt around the globe. The song’s message of peace, compassion, and the need to prioritize human life serves as a timeless reminder of our responsibility to build a better world.

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Video

Lyrics

“Let Us Begin (What Are We Making Weapons For)”

I am the son of a grassland farmer, western Oklahoma, nineteen forty-three.
I always felt grateful to live in the land of the free.
I gave up my father to South Korea, the mind of my brother to Vietnam,
now there’s a banker who says I must give up my land.
There are four generations of blood in this topsoil, four generations of love on this farm.
Before I give up, I would gladly give up my right arm.

What are we making weapons for? Why keep on feeding the war machine?
We take it right out of the mouths of our babies, take it away from the hands of the poor,
tell me, what are we making weapons for?

I had a son and my son was a soldier, he was so like my father, he was so much like me.
To be a good comrade was the best that he dreamed he could be.
He gave up his future to revolution, his life to a battle that just can’t be won.

For this is not living, to live at the point of a gun.
I remember the nine hundred days of Leningrad, The sound of the dying, the cut of the cold,
I remember the moments, I prayed I would never grow old.

What are we making weapons for? Why keep on feeding the war machine?
We take it right out of the mouths of our babies, take it away from the hands of the poor,
tell me, what are we making weapons for?

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For the first time in my life I feel like a prisoner, a slave to the ways of the powers that be.
And I fear for my children, as I fear for the future I see.
Tell me how can it be we’re still fighting each other? What does it take for a people to learn?
If our song is not sung as a chorus, we surely will burn.

What are we making weapons for? Why keep on feeding the war machine?
We take it right out of the mouths of our babies, take it away from the hands of the poor,
tell me, what are we making weapons for?

Have we all forgotten all the lives that we are given,
all the vows that were taken, saying never again,
Now for the first time, this could be the last time. If peace is our vision, let us begin.

Have we all forgotten all the lives that we are given,
all the vows that were taken, saying never again,
Now for the first time, this could be the last time. If peace is our vision, let us begin,
let us begin.