Holbrooke’s Last Words, Afghanistan, and Greensleeves.


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“You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

These were the unambiguous last words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s tough-as-nails envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, spoken to his doctor as he struggled hopelessly with a torn aorta.  To the knowledge of most of us, during his many months of striving to bring the parties in the region together and implement his boss Obama’s unclear agenda, he had never made the overriding imperative that clear.

But it’s that simple.  We’ve been in that country far too long, longer now than the Soviets were in the 70’s and 80’s, and it’s now the longest war the US has ever fought.  Pretty much nobody remembers why we’re there any more.   Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are long gone from the place.  The folks in the government there – our “partners” – are notoriously corrupt, inept, unpopular, and knee-deep in the drug trade.   And we prop them up at a cost to our treasury – 376 billion as of today – that only defense contractors, mercenaries, other war profiteers and the politicians they sponsor could love.

But you know all this – polls show the vast majority of Americans are sick of this pointless war – so I’m sure you’re busily doing your part to help get us out of this quagmire.  So I’ve just decided to concentrate on setting most of this information to a famous “Christmas tune” that we all know and love, in the old Orange County tradition of Anti-War Christmas Caroling.  This year’s entry:

(in case that musical graphic didn’t come through for you)

They called us in, seventeen of us, for the umpteenth time since the war began,
and so, my love, I must leave you now for my third two-year tour in Afghanistan!

How long will this war drag on, with no clear goal and no exit plan?
Sometimes don’t you think we’re spending the rest of our lives in Afghanistan?

So back I head to that wasteland where you can’t tell civilians from Taliban,
then watch your brazen attackers slip away over the border to Pakistan.

How long will this war drag on with no clear goal and no exit plan?
Sometimes don’t you think we’re spending the rest of our lives in Afghanistan?

So on we trudge with our Afghan folly just like the Russians before us,
ten billion here and ten billion there till the Graveyard of Empires devours us.

How long will this war drag on with no clear goal and no exit plan?
Stand up, and let’s all demand an end to this war in Afghanistan!

[Is this the true “Afghan Greensleeves?”]

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Notes on the tune.

1

I know the first thing I’m gonna hear from erudite conservatives like Michelle Quinn, Rick Moore, deadwhitemale and The Great One, is “Dorian Mode, Vern?  What kind of far-left liberal shit is that?  Where’s the B-flat in your arrangement, you un-American commie?”  To which I can only reply, I’ve always played Greensleeves that way, and you righties can lower the 6th degree if you want, I’m not stopping you.  As long as we all agree on ending this war.

2

Most people hear this tune and think of baby Jesus in the manger, and William C. Dix’ 1865 lyrics “What Child is This?”  It’s really hilarious that it’s turned out that way, when the song began as a 16th-century English love song to a prostitute.  (See picture above.)  In fact, Shakespeare’s comical character Mistress Ford in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” found the tune so bawdy that the very (prophetic) idea of setting a religious text to it made for a jolly example of incongruity:

…I would have sworn his disposition would have gone to the truth of his words; but they do no more adhere and keep place together than the Hundredth Psalm to the tune of ‘Green Sleeves!’

3

If you are a Christian who goes to some kind of church, and the hymnal in your pews contains a version of “What Child is This” that omits this last half of the second verse:

“Nails, spear, shall pierce him through,
the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail! Hail the Word made Flesh,
the Babe, the Son of Mary”

…then it’s a half-assed feel-good Christian-lite church, and that’s all I have to say about that.

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R.I.P. Dick Holbrooke, and may he be remembered for the Dayton Accords!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.