Mon | Jan 21, 2019

A plea for peace in War

Published:Sunday | February 1, 2015 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke

Where there is One Love, the syrupy Bob Marley and the Wailers (with a helping hand from Curtis Mayfield) song utilised as a sonic statement of a harmonious world where all get together and feel all right; on the other hand, there is War, which zeroes in on the racial differences which are used to create hierarchies and the conflicts which come with them.

It is (or should) be well known that the lyrics to War are not Bob Marley's, but from a speech given by HIM Haile Selassie at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, October 1963. It is the penultimate track of the Rastaman Vibration album (1976), sandwiched between Night Shift and Rat Race, War is credited to Allan 'Skill' Cole and the late drummer Carlton 'Carly' Barrett,

The song also formed part of an important combination in Marley's concert set, preceding and segueing into No More Trouble on the Babylon By Bus (1978) live album. He connects the militancy of War with the requirement of love in No More Trouble, by assuming the voice of those caught up in the violence. So when there is war at the cardinal points of the compass at the end of that song, Marley sings of:

'Some winning

Some losing

Some dying

Some crying

Some singing'.

And what do they sing? The first lines of the next song:

'We don't need no more trouble'.

Haile Selassie's speech to the United Nations from which War is culled took place a year after Jamaica gained nominal political independence. It was not the first time that the Ethiopian was addressing a body which purported to represent countries worldwide, as in 1936 he had spoken before the League of Nations ahead of what became World War II, as Italy invaded his country.

Then, his words fell on fallow ear canals and the result was much the same in 1963. Selassie started his address with a reference to the 1936 speech.


"Twenty-seven years ago, as Emperor of Ethiopia, I mounted the rostrum in Geneva, Switzerland, to address the League of Nations and to appeal for relief from the destruction which had been unleashed against my defenceless nation by the Fascist invader. I spoke then, both to and for the conscience of the world. My words went unheeded, but history testifies to the accuracy of the warning that I gave in 1936. Today, I stand before the world organisation which has succeeded to the mantle, discarded by its discredited predecessor. In this body is enshrined the principle of collective security which I unsuccessfully invoked at Geneva. Here, in this assembly, reposes the best - perhaps the last - hope for the peaceful survival of mankind."

He spoke extensively before and, to a lesser extent, after the section from which War was taken as song. HIM referred to another meeting in giving its conclusions to the United Nations:

"Last May, in Addis Ababa, I convened a meeting of Heads of African States and Governments. In three days, the 32 nations represented at that conference demonstrated to the world that when the will and the determination exist, nations and peoples of diverse backgrounds can and will work together in unity, to the achievement of common goals and the assurance of that equality and brotherhood which we desire."

Then comes the section from which the lyrics are taken:

"On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to those who will learn, this further lesson: That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: that until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; that until the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes; that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; that until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; and until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and goodwill; until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil."

Among the adjustments are that the segments which begin "on the question..." and "until bigotry..." did not make the recording. Also, the refrain "everywhere will be war" (or a variation of it) is inserted after each point that Selassie makes.