Saturday, January 24, 2015

Down Memory Lane - 3

When I was 16, I went over to Germany as a foreign student with the Youth for Understanding program.  It was a wonderful year, which I may write more about over time, but one of the reasons it was so valuable was that it gave me greater perspective on the influence of culture.  In Iowa, I was part of a conservative, relatively religious family.  I went to church on Sundays, sang in the church choir, attended Sunday school, and even joined the church youth group.  My parents and grandparents voted Republican and were supporters of conservative government.  I remember going to a parade to honor Barry Goldwater.

But this was an era of change: Vietnamese War, civil rights, women's rights.  And as a teen growing up in that changing time, I was bound to change, too.  One of the interesting changes became apparent to me through song.  In the US, just before I left for Germany, The Ballad of the Green Beret was popular.

Ballad of the Green Beret by Barry Sadler

Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best
One hundred men we'll test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Trained to live, off nature's land
Trained in combat, hand to hand
Men who fight by night and day
Courage deep, from the Green Beret

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best
One hundred men we'll test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her this last request

Put silver wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret

When I got over to Germany, I found that this tune was also popular. It was a while before I was able to realize, though that, far from being a pro-War song, in German, this song was very much ANTI-War.  The war at the time was the war in Viet Nam.  These are the German words.

Irgendwo in Fremden Land

1. Irgendwo in fremden Land
Ziehen wir durch Stein und Sand.
Fern von zu Haus und vogelfrei
Hundert Mann, und ich bin dabei.

2. Ein hundert Mann und ein Befehl
Und ein Weg, den keiner will.
Tag ein Tag aus wer weiß wohin
Verbranntes Land und was ist der Sinn?

3. Ganz allein in dunkler Nacht
Hab ich oft daran gedacht,
Daß weit von hier der Vollmond scheint
Und weit von mir ein Mädchen weint.

4. Und die Welt ist doch so schön,
Könnt ich Dich noch einmal sehn.
Nun trennt uns schon ein langes Jahr,
Weil ein Befehl unser Schicksal war.

5. Wahllos schlägt das Schicksal zu
Heute ich und morgen Du.
Ich hör von fern die Krähen schreien
Im Morgenrot. Warum muß das sein.

This roughly translates to:

Somewhere in Foreign Land

1. Somewhere in a foreign land
We pull ourselves through stone and sand.
Far from home and free for the vultures to pick us over
One hundred men, and I am with them.

2. One hundred men and one command
And a way that no one wants
Day in day out, who know where to
Burned up land and for what reason?

3. Completely alone in the dark of night
I've often thought
That far from here the full moon shines
And far from here a young girl cries.

4.  And yet the world is still so beautiful
If I could just see you once again
Now we are separated for a whole year
Because one command made our fate

5. Randomly fate strikes us 
Today on me; tomorrow on you.
I hear far away the crows shriek
In the red of dawn. Why must this be?

Once I understood the differences between these two interpretations of the song (same melody, different words), it made a profound difference in my thinking.  Intelligent, well-informed people could have diametrically different views on important subjects.  Another culture could completely reject some views that I held without questioning.  

It was a life altering realization for me and one of the reasons I think that travel is so important.  

No comments:

Post a Comment