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A veteran sings for peace

Pat Scanlon writes two songs after being disillusioned by the war in Iraq

Pat Scanlon says the war in Iraq is a ‘‘war of choice; it’s being done for a political agenda.’’
Pat Scanlon says the war in Iraq is a ‘‘war of choice; it’s being done for a political agenda.’’ (Globe Staff Photo / David Kamerman)

As the fighting in Iraq drags on and Americans see the carnage on their TV screens every day, Pat Scanlon has an awful feeling that he's seen this before.

He has, and he knows what to do about it.

The Vietnam veteran has written two songs protesting the war in Iraq that he and a growing list of supporters hope will stir the kind of passion that helped end an even bloodier conflict more than 30 years ago.

The songs ``I've Got a Feeling I've Been Here Before" and ``Where Is the Rage?" were written in Andover and produced in Acton. But they have attracted national attention, including support from folk singer Pete Seeger, and are being promoted through a network of like-minded Merrimack Valley activists hoping to spark a peace movement throughout the country.

Click the play button below to hear ''Where Is the Rage?''

``These songs are in the pain-wracked voice that can only come from someone who has suffered the consequences of a war built on lie after lie," said Jon Schuchardt, a member of the North Shore chapter of the Veterans For Peace, a national organization that emerged from the antiwar protests of the 1960s and 1970s.

``When Pat sings, people listen," Schuchardt said, ``and music and singing the truth often touch people right in the heart."

That's where Scanlon likes to affect them. A recycling industry consultant by day, he picks up his banjo after work and assumes the role of singing activist.

He has sung about saving whales and stopping pollution. When New York's Twin Towers where attacked, he penned a cautionary tune called ``Big Old Dog" to let other terrorists know the anger they had awoken in this country and the danger they faced in doing so.

A year's service in military intelligence in Vietnam in the late 1960s turned him into a vocal opponent of that war, but Scanlon said he is no peacenik. He believed in the war in Afghanistan and acknowledged some initially mixed feelings about the invasion of Iraq.

But, much like the way his feelings changed toward the Vietnam war, Scanlon became disillusioned, then angry, over the war in Iraq. When no weapons of mass destruction were discovered in Iraq and President Bush started talking instead about spreading democracy as justification for the war, Scanlon picked up his banjo.

``We didn't go in there to facilitate democracy; we went in there to find weapons of mass destruction," Scanlon said.

``Now we're trapped in a civil war over there . . . and I was once part of a situation where we were trapped as GIs.

``This was a war of choice; it's being done for a political agenda, it's being done for oil; and every time one of our soldiers dies over there, my stomach turns."

Click the play button below to hear ''I've Got a Feeling I've Been Here Before''

Similar sentiments shared by like-minded Merrimack Valley residents has helped jump - start Scanlon's campaign against the war in Iraq. Two weeks after he wrote and produced the two songs, he had $2,600 in donations to produce CDs containing the songs, along with promises from groups like Schuchardt's to promote the music within their membership.

The Merrimack Valley People for Peace , of which Scanlon is a member, endorsed the project with an article in its newsletter and is discussing mailing the CDs to members. Schuchardt's group handed out 100 of the CDs at the national organization's annual conference this month in Seattle.

Seeger, with whom Scanlon has swapped postcards since the Vietnam days, endorsed the songs with a promise to forward the CD to Sing Out! magazine, a quarterly publication of folk songs by the non profit educational organization of the same name.

And the 50,000-strong Unitarian Universalist Community Service organization, an outreach group founded by the church following World War II, is considering throwing its support behind Scanlon's songs in an effort to open greater national debate on the subject.

``Pat has an approach that I think is pretty good one and it's encouraging to see, whether one agrees with him or not," said Wayne Smith, the civil liberties manager of the Unitarian Universalist group based in Cambridge, and a Vietnam veteran. ``I think it's important that we as people express ourselves more with respect to this war."

Scanlon said he and his supporters believe they have to rise up against the war because young people are not as involved as they were 30 years ago.

Smith said he thinks the lack of interest exists mainly because there is no draft this time around.

His group reaches out to many Bay State youths through various community-service programs, and Smith finds today's youth do not have the war on their minds. ``In many ways, kids today are apathetic about the war," he said. ``Young people don't feel threatened by this war, there is nothing that our leaders are asking them to do, and there's been no open debate. Young people are not being asked these questions, so is it any surprise they are being apathetic?"

Scanlon said he hopes to end the apathy and answer the question: Where's the outrage? And he apparently is not looking to get rich doing it. He has been making the rounds of radio stations, handing out his CD, and the tunes can be downloaded for free off his web site:

``This war is not personal for people, and until it becomes personal, it's not going to end," he said. ``I'm trying to bring the experience of the fallen soldiers a little closer to home. I want to push those people who are just interested in this war into people who are interested in becoming active."

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