Anti-war Music, 1915-Style
February 13, 2014 5:22 PM   Subscribe

Ever wondered what anti-war music would have sounded like a hundred years ago? Listen to the song that enraged a Roosevelt, inspired any number of diss songs and riffs, and set pacifism to a Sousa-like tempo: "I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier."

Recorded in 1914 by the Peerless Quartet, written by Alfred Bryan (lyrics) and Al Piantadosi (music), and popularized by singer Morton Harvey, "I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier" became one of the most popular songs of 1915. The song called upon mothers to imagine what a world without war could be, if only mothers would discourage their sons from going to war (full lyrics). Its second verse:
I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,
To shoot some other mother's darling boy?
Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,
It's time to lay the sword and gun away.
There'd be no war today,
If mothers all would say,
"I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier."
Enraged at its pro-peace sentiment, former president Theodore Roosevelt commented acidly that women who agreed with it should be “in China—or by preference in a harem—and not in the United States.”

He wasn't the only American to make the popular song a target; parody soon followed pacifism with "I Didn't Raise My Dog to Be a Sausage," Groucho Marx's "I Didn't Raise My Boy, He Had the Joker," “I Did Not Raise My Boy to Be a Solder, But I’ll Send My Girl to Be a Nurse," "I'm Glad My Boy Grew Up To Be A Soldier," and "I Did Not Raise My Boy to Be a Coward".

Though its popularity was brief, and soon eclipsed by events, it has remained lodged in the American consciousness. "Green Acres" riffed on it in 1966 with an episode entitled "I Didn't Raise My Pig to Be a Soldier," and it was re-recorded by The Eli Radish Band in 1969. (I appreciated this a capella version, sung from memory, by an older American.) You can download your own copy here.
posted by MonkeyToes (7 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Also relevant: "Stay Down Here Where You Belong," written by Irving Berlin and sung by Henry Burr.
posted by in278s at 5:31 PM on February 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

The opening notes of the actual singing strongly reminded me of a folk song that's quite popular in folk circles I know: The Minstrel Boy.

Also that "r" in raise must be a stylistic thing because I don't think they do that on any of the other Rs in the song.
posted by immlass at 5:37 PM on February 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

man, this is... this is so sad. How many more years, yeah?
posted by rebent at 6:16 PM on February 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was just thinking about this song when Pete Seeger died a few weeks ago.

Yet for some reason, their pacifism seemed to completely dissolve when Germany attacked Russia.

Not complaining, mind. Enough water has passed under the bridge that I can be as nostalgic about the passing of an old tankie as anyone else.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:19 PM on February 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you want to hear more about Roosevelt's bellicose philosophy, I recommend Dan Carlin's Hardcore History show about the Spanish-American war. Dude was a real jerk but at the same time he is so quintessentially American it is hard to hate him. I think he was born a couple thousand years too late; he would have been right at home leading a Roman legion.
posted by foobaz at 6:32 PM on February 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Great post, thanks MonkeyToes!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:31 PM on February 13, 2014

Aw. When I saw this post, I watched that whole Green Acres episode for nostalgia.

That actress who played "Ralph" was just adorable, I thought. Funny how cute she got, 40 years after the first time I saw it.

Then today I found out she just died of lung cancer.
posted by surplus at 5:35 AM on February 21, 2014

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