Poised for battle, singing for peace

Military music was never about peace and co-existence; rather, it was often attached to violent, even gory imagery.

Military music has been around for as long as there have been-well, militaries. In ancient times, it set the rhythm of marching soldiers or boat rowers. Later, military jingles were used to rally the troops, boost morale and keep soldiers' minds off the dangers of the impending battle. Military music was never about peace and co-existence; rather, it was often attached to violent, even gory imagery. 

The French anthem "La Marseillaise," originally a military song, enthused its listeners to "Grab your weapons, citizens! Form our battalions! Let us march! May impure blood water our fields!" 

The U.S. Marines' hymn proclaims, "We fight our country's battles in the air, on land, and sea; first to fight for right and freedom and to keep our honor clean."

During boot camp all U.S. soldiers, sailors, and airmen learn to stay in step during marches by rhyming cadence calls (commonly called "Jodies") sung out by the drill sergeant. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has its own long tradition of singing and dancing troupes performing for soldiers on the front and at base, and even for civilian and VIP audiences. Every IDF branch has had a singing group at one time or another; my father served in one of these, back in the 1950s. 

But whereas most military troupes and marching cadences have militaristic themes, the opus of IDF troupes largely praises peace. 

A quick search of the most famous repertoires of IDF troupes found no less than a dozen songs about peace, sung by soldiers, for soldiers, often in times of war. These are songs of hope and yearning for when an army would be unneeded. Some of these songs went on to become popular hits, part of Israel's national playlist. 

Perhaps the most famous, "A Song for Peace," was sung by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at a 1995 peace rally. At the end of the song Rabin was assassinated, the printed page with the song's lyrics in his breast pocket forever tainted with his blood. Ironically, the song talks about the heavy price paid by soldiers on the road to peace, the lyrics including, "Sing a song for peace, whisper not your prayer, better to sing a song for peace, loudly! Let the sun shine through amongst the flowers; look not back, let go of the fallen; lift your eyes in hope and not through the rifle's scope, sing a song of love and not an ode to war." 

In the 1970s the Armored Division Troupe recorded what has become an iconic melody in Israel.  "Halleluiah" proclaims, "If there will come a day when we no longer need our rifles, we would sing halleluiah; when peace arrives you will see, the entire army singing halleluiah." 

The lyrics to the Northern Command Troupe song, "The War is Over" are, "Look up in the sky, a helicopter is immobile, what is different today, why is our heart dancing? Like an eagle in the sky, like a man and a woman, like a tear of joy, for war is over."

Other well-known IDF peace tunes include "Flowers in the Gun Muzzle," "Peace is on the Map," "Maybe Tomorrow" and more. One song titled "Salam" ("peace" in Arabic) has only three lines which are repeated over and over: "There will be peace for us and for everyone, Salam for us and for the world, Salam, Salam."

Mind you, these are songs that are sung by soldiers in uniform, standing on stages and entertaining other soldiers during a time when there was no peace with any of Israel's neighbors. And yet the songs were extremely popular. 

This is not to say the IDF delivers flowers and cake to its enemies. But this IDF musical genre of peace is atypical: a people's army whose defensive role does not diminish the dream of its conscripted soldiers to ultimately make peace-not war-with our enemies. It is one more facet of Israel often ignored by those accusing us of lacking a desire for peace. 

And it is another facet of Israel that merits us singing its praises.


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