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I took this picture a year ago at the corner of Melrose and Highland in Los Angeles. My spontaneous reaction to the idea that war in Iraq was over was a loud cheer and joy radiating from my very core. For a moment I connected to all the people in the world who ever experienced the end of a war, with a special fondness for the liberation that took place in the city where I grew up.

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Germans troops entered Paris on June 14, 1940. Picture source.

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Liberation of Paris: August 25, 1944. Picture source.

I watched the documentary “The US vs. John Lennon” this week and learned that the “War is Over if you Want It” posters were first conceived in 1969 by John Lennon & Yoko Ono. The famous couple used their own money to have the messages plastered in major cities all over the world with the added note: “Merry Christmas from John & Yoko.”

I’ve never paid much attention to Lennon in my life. I listened to the Beatles as a kid but didn’t follow his solo career nor his marriage to Yoko Ono. For the first time I understood the power of (these) two. Here was an artist, Lennon, at the peak of his career who meets an artist, Yoko, with whom he blends heart and soul and turns his beliefs into conceptual art. On their honeymoon, anticipating that they would be hounded by the press and photographers, they decided to stage “bed-ins” to protest one of the moral challenges of these revolutionary days: the Vietnam war.

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Photo source.

In 1969, for Christmas, they planted the thought that the end of the war in Vietnam had come with the “War is Over if You Want It” campaign.

Lennon of course also used his music to propagate his anti-war messages with two demonstrations favorites: “Power to the People” and “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” The latter mantra was sung by more than 1 million people in Washington DC for the Peace Moratorium of 1969. (The day after I saw the film the mantra wouldn’t leave my head which didn’t necessarily put me in a peaceful mode!)

In the documentary, revolutionary leaders such as Bobby Seale from the Black Panther Party and Angela Davis sing John Lennon’s praise. I love the fact that the documentary is not afraid to identify people as “Radicals” in the captions.

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Photo by Frank Barratt/Getty Images.

The issues at hand struck me as being very timely. They took place during an unpopular war where peacemongers were labeled “anti-patriotic” and fierce opponents to the war “terrorists.” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, with their positive thinking approach, behaved as the mother and father of the New Age movement.

Their positive thinking approach was put to the test when the US government serves Lennon with deportation papers because of a prior conviction for marijuana use. The Nixon government was both angry with John Lennon’s involvement in the anti-war movement and afraid of his worldwide influence on young people. Lennon decided to fight the deportation even though he was told by his attorney he didn’t stand a chance. The film switches its focus from Lennon’s anti-war actions to the trial. Lennon admits he’s getting paranoid. He believes he’s being followed and his phone is tapped. It seems the government’s actions did stop him from further appearing at anti-war rallies. The film doesn’t tell us what the leaders of the anti-war movement thought of Lennon’s change. It looks like the trial put an end to the conceptualized anti-war statements by John and Yoko, and marked the beginning of a different kind of collaboration between them with the birth of their baby boy.

The film is a tribute to John Lennon not a critical look at his possible failings as an anti-war guru. It does elevate him from a member of the Beatles to a man of principles who took a stand for what he believed in. The impact of the John & Yoko approach is undeniable. Just try searching “Give peace a chance” and “War is over,” and you’d be surprised. I must say John & Yoko’s creative and humorous approach to protest and their strong belief in dreaming peace and love was very endearing. After all Lennon grew up an angry kid who got beat up when he rebelled against authorities. His convictions were rooted in his experience of the impact of violence coming at him from outside and within.

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Picture source.

The documentary gains in complexity in the Special Features section where interviewees talk about the differences and similarities between the Nixon and the Bush administration and especially in the segment where Yoko is filmed reading the letter she sent to the Parole Board when Mark David Chapman, the man who killed her husband, had his first chance at freedom. Yoko’s arguments against his release are strong and well thought out. Fear for other people’s lives and pain for a loss which not only affected her but the rest of the world, are the feelings that transpire from Yoko’s words. Forgiveness and compassion are nowhere to be found. I believe it’s during times of personal crisis that our beliefs are put to the test, not when we have the freedom to lay in bed in a hotel room full of reporters, no matter how significant an impact this action had on others.

Wars are complex. The German army entered France without encoutering resistance because of an early armistice and the policemen on the liberation pictures were probably collaborating with the Nazis in rounding up Jews, communists and resistance fighters to send them to their death. Having spent my formative years in a country which, just a generation before me, was marked by the occupation of a dictator and his reign of terror, I was conflicted when the US entered Iraq. On one hand, I was happy to hear of the liberation of the Iraki people from the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein while on another hand, I couldn’t agree with the motives and the approach of the Bush government.

What stunned me in the film and showed a clear difference between then and now was the news footage of more than one million people gathered in Washington DC for the Peace Moratorium of October 15, 1969. These were young people. Recently I took pictures of an anti-war rally in Mar Vista. I also drive by weekly anti-war vigils in San Pedro on Fridays. The protesters I see at street corners are old enough to have marched against the Vietnam war in the 1960’s or been in it.

Where are our young people? Will war be over if they want it?

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Photo source: Rhino’s blog.

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