15: The Voice of Peace and The Masters of War

Back in the 70’s, Israel was introduced to a new and very unique media phenomenon: The Voice of Peace – a floating radio station. It was located on a boat, which was stationed in the Mediterranean, just outside Israeli territorial waters. The owner was Abie Nathan – an Israeli pacifist, who used the station to broadcast his relentless message of peace, much to the chagrin of the Israeli government (hence the positioning of the boat outside territorial waters). The station brought a mix of pacifist material and really really great music, all in English. The music was the latest and greatest in pop/rock, with modern-style DJs, something that was completely new in old-fashioned and conservative Israel. Every new hit in the world – we first heard it on the Voice of Peace and only weeks (sometimes months) later on Israeli stations. I know that as a teen, my generation simply abandoned Israeli radio stations and made The Voice of Peace our new home. We came for the music and got an earful of peace. My generation was never before so close to “abroad” as this station made us feel.

Naturally, since the goal of the station was to deliver the message of peace, it offered an ample daily dose of peace and anti-war rhetoric and music. One example that comes easily to mind: Give Peace A Chance:

There was, though, another song that was played on The Voice of Peace that made a great impression on me. It was a harsh criticism against “war-happy” governments, not mincing words. For a country like Israel that brought its children up on the ethos of heroism in war, the military as our defender and savior and our great leaders, who know how to protect us from the bad guys etc., hearing a song that decreed the leaders as cowards and criminals, sounded almost as blasphemy. Listening to the song felt almost like doing something illegal and associating with some sort of a criminal underground. But at the same time it already sowed the first seeds of doubt in my mind. Maybe our leaders are not so virtuous? Maybe there is another way?

I knew nothing about the song – not the name, not the poet, not the artist. It was a female artist and I was just fascinated by her deep, powerful alto, which made the message all that more ominous. When the Voice of Peace ceased operations in 1993, the song was gone for me. Not knowing anything about it, I had no way of finding it. But I never forgot it and always wondered about it and hoped someday to rediscover it. It took many years but I did, only a few years ago. To my surprise, it turned out to be a song by Bob Dylan: Masters of War.

Somehow that version by that mysterious lady was so good, it never occurred to me it wasn’t originally hers. Well, once I identified the song, it didn’t take long to find her cover. It was Odetta:

So here you are. I leave it to you to decide which version you like better.

On a side note: I just found out that several Voice of Peace veterans resurrected the station in a more modern setting – as an Internet streaming radio station by the same name. The Voice of Peace lives.

2 thoughts on “The Voice of Peace and The Masters of War

  1. The voice of peace–those were the days my friend 🙂
    I used to work with a nice British guy , by the name Robert Owen, that actually volunteered to work with Abie Nathan on the boat. If I’m not mistaken, he had a daily program: Twilight time. I’ll try to find his email and invite him to comment here as an insider (on that boat).

    Back to the Masters of War, very strong song. Odetta is relay something, but for this specific song I prefer the ugly voice of Dylan, it sounds to me as a call for revolution… or to become a pacifist…(?) It just stabs you in your guts

    1. Hi Avi, great to hear from you.
      If you can get your friend to comment that would be awesome!
      And about the song, it’s really hard to pick between the two versions. I love them both and listen to both. Each has its own strength. I think we need to find ways to play these songs to some of the world leaders.

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