“Hey Hey General Mackymacker, Ho, Ho Mr. Lovitt:” Woody Guthrie’s forgotten dissent from the atomic bomb to the Korean War


Woody with guitar labeled “this machine kills fascists”, 1943.

Woody Guthrie is an American icon best known for his 1940 song “This Land is Your Land” which has been sung in countless classrooms, political conventions, demonstrations, and even at the Obama presidential inaugural. Sometimes forgotten is the fact that the song, written in response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” has a subversive message in paying tribute to public rather than private ownership of land and property and in its striving for social equality. Woody was a radical whose worldview was forged by the poverty he witnessed growing up in rural Oklahoma during the 1910s and by the Sooner Socialist Party, the second largest in the country outside of New York City. His music celebrated working class struggles and condemned oppressive institutions and authority. Drawing on the legacy of Joe Hill, whose music inspired the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), he was active in the popular front of the 1930s, a radical social democratic movement promoted by the Communist Party and forged around anti-fascism, anti-lynching, and the industrial unionism of the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO).1

World War II and the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima

Throughout the 1930s, Woody opposed American involvement in World War II, writing and performing numerous antiwar songs that excoriated Franklin Roosevelt as a duplicitous warmonger. His view shifted after 1941 when Hitler broke the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact and replicated Napoleon’s folly by attacking Russia which then joined forces with the Western allies to fight fascism.2 With the U.S. in the war after Pearl Harbor, Woody began penning songs like “Lindbergh,” which excoriated the isolationists and America First, though another of his songs expressed a secret desire for all the soldiers “on every single side” to “take off [their] helmet, unbuckle [their] kit, lay down [their] rifle …and say, nope, I ain’t gonna kill nobody.”3

Subsequently stationed at an army base in Illinois, Woody voiced misgivings about the dropping of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima.4 On September 7th, 1945, Private Guthrie wrote a song based on information he had gleaned from The Yank, the Army Weekly, entitled “What Kind of Bomb?” It read:

“There was Tibbets, Caron Nelson and Ferebee, flew that B-29 Named the Enola Gay,

They took off from Guam, on a clear summer day, to hang out a bomb over Hiroshima Bay….

Bob Shumard grab your glasses! Watch that one go! Looks like some mean volcano bubbling up down below.

We stuck our heads out our windows to see the big show, Hiroshima! You’re a good town! I hate to see you go.”

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