Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone
Long time ago?”
The correct answer to the songs question is; they haven’t gone anywhere, they are still here , for the most part, among us. Young men become mature men in the natural order of things. Then middle-aged men, then old men.
The young men the song refers to were the sons of the ‘Greatest Generation’, the generation that went to war seventeen million strong against two empires on opposite sides of the world. Six years of the entire globe covered with the machines and the flesh of the Greatest Generation; they filled the air with bombers, fighters and transports built-in the Greatest display of industrial might in human history. They covered the sea with the Greatest navy ever built. They filled up graveyards with their dead in all corners of the world in the Greatest display of self-sacrifice by a people in history and demanded nothing in return, a thing unprecedented in the history of this sad, weary old earth.
And then, having created and manned the Greatest navy, air force, and armies ever seen, having defeated the Greatest threat to human life and freedom ever to arise, they turned completely around and scrapped the planes and ships, disbanded the armies, and claimed no more of the land they had fought and bled for than was needed to bury their dead, and went back home.
It was an impossible act to follow. The Greatest Generation couldn’t seem to produce the greatest sons. Instead their sons heard John Kennedy say;
“We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
and a great many of them answered; ” Not me man, that’s a downer. A guy could get killed.”
The young men of the song split into two distinct groups; one large the other smaller.
The large group went to college, Woodstock, Haight Asbury. They went to Chicago in 1968 and stormed the streets around the Democratic party’s convention. Throwing bottles ,bricks and themselves at a nation trying to live up to JFK’s vision of an America that stood against tyranny and with the helpless. They believed a lie; that their native land, America, was the true evil in the world, not Communist dictators. That their own countrymen, the smaller group that tried to follow their father’s example and fight against oppression, were “Baby Killers.”
By these convenient lies, they persuaded themselves that they were even Greater than their fathers, and were in pursuit of a new Eden, an Age of Aquarius, where dope, love and life were free.
It was as though they had been born in a vast orchard, where the fruit hung on the trees, free for the picking, and they believed that this was the natural order of things. They ignored the stories their fathers tried to tell them; how a barren land had been turned into this glorious orchard by untold drudgery and sweat and blood. They preferred to believe that all good things were theirs because of their own unprecedented goodness. ‘ I have the strength of ten because my heart is pure.’ They were the pacifist warriors of the Aquarian Table, knights without swords; men who fought with words and kept their bodies unharmed.
In the meantime, the smaller group of young men put on the same helmet their fathers had worn and went off to see The Great Red Beast.
Their fathers had averaged 40 days of actual combat in four years of war, they saw 240 days in one year. Their fathers had spent days marching to a battle, they were whisked there in a helicopter in an hour, then on to another before the day was over. It was as though their fathers war had been distilled into one cup and gulped down at a run by the sons.
As the father came home so did the son. The father to cheers, praise, and acclamation. The son came down the ramp and the people turned all their faces away. For the larger group of young men to be justified, the smaller group had to be diminished. In novels, movies and song the warrior brothers of the Baby Boom generation were mocked, denigrated and made to appear as fools. Their valor ‘Stolen’, dropped in the mud. No one wanted to hear what a pitch black night with red and green tracers arching across the stars looked like, or how the Mekong River flowed in long, lazy loops, as red as a clay pot. Stories of men on one knee in the middle of a dirt road, the sweat dripping off their chins and raising a small puff of dust when it hit the ground, waiting for the L. T. to wave them forward, found no buyers. There was no interest in what it was like to have a weapon in your hand or close by every minute of every day because the ‘Front’ wasn’t down the road, it was all around you, all the time.
So the young men came home and like their fathers before them, kept these things in their hearts, and went about their lives.
Where have all the young men gone?
There’s an interesting statistic about the young men of the song, the small group that went to war, and the larger group that didn’t.
Three and a half million of them served in the battle according to the records.
Fifteen million of the generation of the ‘Young men’, Claim to have gone to the fight.
“Where have all the young men gone?
Gone to soldiers every one
When will they ever learn
When will they ever learn?”