Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye, is a song about the ravages of war. Johnathon Lighter states, "The song has often been supposed to be an anti-recruiting song and to have been written in Ireland in the late 18th or early 19th century, at the time of or in response to the Kandyan Wars.

You hadn't an arm, you hadn't a leg,
Hurroo Hurroo
You hadn't an arm, you hadn't a leg,
Hurroo Hurroo
You hadn't an arm, you hadn't a leg
You're a spinless, boneless, chickenless egg
You'll Have to be put with the bowl to beg
Johnny I hardly knew ya

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye, is a song about the ravages of war. Johnathon Lighter states, "The song has often been supposed to be an anti-recruiting song and to have been written in Ireland in the late 18th or early 19th century, at the time of or in response to the Kandyan Wars, which were fought in Sri Lanka between 1795 and 1818." It's been recorded by artists from various backgrounds including American folk singer Joan Baez, English opera singer Benjamin Luxon and punk rock band The Dropkick Murphys. It is the story of a Irish lass who sees her beloved, the father of her child, return from war, gutted. His body is devastated beyond recognition.  Her young Irishman was sent to fight in British wars and he returned broken beyond imagination.

It could be the song of America and her lover, the young Barack Obama.  A good man, an idealist, who went to war for the American establishment, for the neo-cons of neo-liberalism.  And, he returned to us a grotesque caricature of the man he had once been.  The song drives home the horrors of war as a way of making sure young Irishmen would never go to wars for Britain again.  And, perhaps Barack Obama is a cautionary tale of what happens to a man's soul when he goes to war for the corporate elites. 

Bereft with grief

The singer chances upon a woman who is bereft with grief, while he was traveling on the road to Athy in County Kildare in Ireland.  It is a severe mercy that her lad came home at all because he is grotesquely wounded.  The lass asks her lover what has become of his eyes, his arms, his legs...  We can wonder and ask the same of Mr. Obama.  "What happened to your spine, to your vision, to your legs and arms...."

Back in the day, the recruiting sergeants who roamed Ireland the the UK trying to get young men to enlist into the British Army would paint a cheery picture of the military life.  The dangers were left left unspoken as the honor and the camaraderie of the military experience was extolled.  

Kind of like the wonders of Corporate America and her Chief Officer, Mr. Obama, are fed to us over and over. The fact that he is "an eyeless, noseless, chickenless egg" are left out as the rosy picture of his tenure of president is written about by the extollers of his virtue and the wonders of his tenure as president.  Just like the recruiters left out the terrors of war to Johnny and his lass, so too the extollers of Barack Obama leave out the horrors of his regime, and the cost to both Mr. Obama's soul and the soul of our nation.  

You'll have to be put with a bowl to beg

The solider, in the song, is not just broken in body but he is now looking at a life of poverty and destitution as is his lass and child.  The army did not care for those coming home broken and wounded, they were left to fend for themselves.  And, many, like poor Johnny, had no choice in life but to be "put with a blow to beg".  

Is that not what the neo-con wars waged by Mr. Obama and his corporate elite cronies have left vast swathes of the American worker?  And, money that should have gone to social programs for the underclass are eaten up by the industrial military complex's insane budget of over half of all expenditures.  Trade deals made by the corporate cabal stripped manufacturing from the land and sent it overseas.  Men and women worked two jobs to pay the rent and put food on the table, if they were lucky enough to work at all.  Huge portions of the United States were so bereft of hope that the young people turned to narcotics, pills like Percocets and Oxycontin that then morphed into heroin with an epidemic blazing through the hills of Appalachia and elsewhere.  

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya - the girl's lament

The refrain, Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya, captures the bittersweet love that was never to reach it's potential but ended in tragedy.  We barely knew Mr. Obama when we "married" him.  He was an African American who promised us hope and a better way to be as a nation.  We had only just gotten together when he was enlisted by the neo-cons to fight their wars and to carry out their agenda.  Now, all the dreams are dead, because Mr. Obama's injuries to his own soul, and to the working class of America, and the people killed, maimed and displaced in the Middle east are beyond redemption.

Though from my heart you took leg-bail

A leg bail was a runaway from the army, a deserter.  Johnny was no leg-bail from the army, in fact he ran straight in the arms of the army.  He was a leg-bail from his lass in that he rain away from their love and he deserted her to fight in the war.  The implied swiftness of Johnny's taking leave, might suggest that like thousands of other young boys he was lured into war by the glory tales of the recruiters offering money and adventure.  

It seems this was the case with our neo-con solider, Mr. Obama.  Oh how he loved the glory of being the president.  His speeches were filled with inordinate references to the wonder of his own self and his accomplishments.  Even when he spoke on the behalf of others his speeches were about his own splendor.  How he loved golfing and hobnobbing with the big shots, the fat cats, the elites. 

He bailed them out when their nefarious deeds crashed the economy and they loved him for it. While Senator, Obama voted for the $700 billion TARP bank bailout bill. The bailout rewarded irresponsible and illegal behavior. It redirected resources from more productive uses to less productive uses. It punished the hard working taxpayers who had played by the rules and obeyed the law.  As president, he told the justice department not to prosecute the crooks and they took him under their wing, and they began to suck his soul from him.  He continued the bombing practices of George Bush in Iraq, Afghanistan, and then Libya and Syria.  He kept the notorious Gitmo open, when he had promised to close it. 

They will never take our sons again

The song ends with, of course, more guns, more soldiers, and more death.  The lass makes a vow to her lover and herself that they will "never take our sons again" - echoing the heartbeat of families all across Ireland and all across the world.  

It is easy to sell your soul.  Bit by bit.  We watched it with Mr. Obama.  Oh, his admirers missed it.  They loved cheering on the African American president.  It felt good.  It felt so progressive.  They closed their eyes as he morphed into a puppet of the cabal.  They looked the other way as he carried out the neo-con agenda at every turn, making only token actions at any real or progressive reform. He went to war for the elitist cabal, and he emerged a man whose soul was darkened and wounded with the scars of those who have let money and glory take them from their light.  Let this be a cautionary tale for our sons and daughters.  Oh Johnny we hardly knew ye.  


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Nancy O'Brien Simpson
Ms. Simpson was a radio personality in New York.  She was a staff writer for The Liberty Report.  A PBS documentary was done on her activism for human rights.  She is a psychotherapist and political commentator.  


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey