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John Denver from the grave – “Let Us Begin” (to improve our relations with the world’s other major nuclear weapons power, Russia)

March 19, 2022
Nancy Fey and William Watts – Hirsohima event – Late May 1982
Let Us Begin
“What are we making weapons for? Why keep on feeding the war machine?”
-At the height of the Cold War – mid 1980s – John Denver came out with this song, “Let Us Begin”. Begin to do what? To try to put ourselves in the shoes of our then adversary, the USSR, now Russia, and they to put themselves in our shoes in an effort to reduce the danger of nuclear war.  It was a moving call for mutual U.S.-Soviet understanding. Given the unprecedented level of russophobia these days, we need songs like this now updated of course.
From my book, the best song that Denver ever wrote or performed.
– Ironically I had never heard it in the USA at the time but instead heard it on the radio in a small hotel room  in Copenhagen, Denmark  At the time, I was involved in the preparations for a major peace conference in October of 1986, the Copenhagen Peace Congress. If I recall correctly it brought together some 3000 peace activists from all over the world, including a sizeable delegation from Africa. Attacked in the Danish (and other) media viciously, the conference went off without a hitch. I’d like to believe that the connections made during those three days played a role in the eventual detente between the U.S. and then U.S.S.R. that followed in the late 1980s – the INF Treaty, Reduction in Conventional Forces Treaty of 1992.
– Earlier I had already crossed paths with John Denver in a chance meeting.
– I first came to Colorado in the Spring of 1969; for two months early in my stay I worked as a maintenance man on a golf course in Snowmass, by Aspen and lived for $100 a month in the Hotel Jerome which was then a kind of flop house young folk employed on the ski runs and the  golf courses in the area, a pretty wild, drug saturated scene – stunning scenery of course and although Aspen was already some kind of watering hole for the rich it still had a sizeable middle and working class living within the city limits – not like now where it would be impossible to find a place where the rent is affordable. Anyhow, one day on the streets of Aspen I ran into an old high school friend, from Jamaica High School in Queens, NY. There was Alan Garber; he had been a better than average pitcher for the school baseball team, which was one of the better ones in NYC at the time. Alan had come to Aspen to finetune his skills as a folk singer; That came as something of a surprise to me simply because I did not have any knowledge that he was interested in folk music. Alan invited me to join him in a jam session at an Aspen condo one evening. Sure, I said, I’ll come. And I did. And who was playing with Alan and several others – John Denver. And so thanks to Alan Garber, I met John Denver. I liked the music, came back again one evening, exchanged a few words with John Denver and Alan. That was it. Know what happened to John Denver but have always wondered about Alan Garber with whom I lost touch.
– Thirteen years later, I saw John Denver again. It was June 1982. The United Nations was holding a “special session on nuclear disarmament”. A million people had gathered in Central Park calling for an end to the nuclear arms race. Here in Colorado, a two person delegation visited from Hiroshima Japan; they were “hibakushas” – survivors of the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 6, 1945. The two were on their way to the United Nations in NYC. A few days later, John Denver and Jimmy Buffet sang peace songs at the Capitol to an audience of 20,000+ one of the biggest demonstration’s in the state’s history up until then. Nancy and I went with our then four-year old daughter, Nancy was then seven months pregnant with Abbie who would arrive two months later.
– Today, the voices of the Administration in Washington DC and its accompanying media chorus is even more shill than in 1982. Then it was the “evil Soviet Union”; today the “evil Russia’. In some ways the level of anti-Russian hysteria is even greater than the anti-Soviet drum beat of the Reagan years. People seem to forget that the United States and Russia are the world’s two greatest nuclear weapons powers and that the importance of their being in communication with one another – respectful communication – could not be more vital To vilify a country and its leader to the extent that Russia and Putin have been savaged – and this long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine – eliminates the possibility of negotiations. And who are we, in the USA  – with our government having been involved in more foreign interventions that it is possible to count – to be giving morality lessons to Russia.
– These days we could use the likes of John Denver to remind us…
June, 1982 anti-nuclear Demonstration in Denver where John Denver and Jimmy Buffet sang
4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2022 12:53 pm

    Of course you’re right, and of course our media is in frenzy, and of course ??? But I’m far from convinced that at this stage Putin and the millions of Russians who legitimately fear us have not moved beyond the realm of ??? sanity. How does one stop a religious war? How does one begin to talk with those crusaders, even knowing that we too are crusaders in our own many ways. I’d really like to know what you think we should be doing now — we, groups, governments — to make the kind of negotiation you urge possible. John

    • March 19, 2022 3:04 pm

      let’s sit and talk sometime… so we can do it right.

      • March 21, 2022 3:40 pm

        Amen, but probably not for several weeks — dealing with much else, including terribly nagging cold. What’s best way to contact you for setting up a meet? John

  2. William Watts permalink
    March 19, 2022 1:07 pm

    Thank you

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