The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Waist Deep in The Big Muddy

with 2 comments

A high school kid in the late ’60s, I was profoundly stirred by Pete Seeger’s defiant song, and have been thinking of it often lately. I was moved again today, coming across it at the blog of my friend Servant, Ressentiment.

Waist Deep In The Big Muddy – Pete Seeger

Here’s part of what Servant wrote:

Pete Seeger wrote this song in 1963, and in 1967 he sang it on the Smothers Brothers show. CBS decided that the allegory was a little too clear between President Johnson and the big fool of the song, so they censored it. Seeger said much later that people ask him if music can change the way people feel about war. He said he can’t prove it, but the people in power seem to think it does …

Waist Deep In The Big Muddy

I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That’s how it all begun.
We were — knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.


The Sergeant said, “Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?”
“Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
‘Bout a mile above this place.
It’ll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We’ll soon be on dry ground.”
We were — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.


The Sergeant said, “Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim.”
“Sergeant, don’t be a Nervous Nellie,”
The Captain said to him.
“All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I’ll lead on.”
We were — neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.


All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain’s helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, “Turn around men!
I’m in charge from now on.”
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.


We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn’t know that the water was deeper
Than the place he’d once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
‘Bout a half mile from where we’d gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.


Well, I’m not going to point any moral;
I’ll leave that for yourself
Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking
You’d like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We’re — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.


Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man’ll be over his head, we’re
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!

Thank you, Servant! Looks an awful lot like we haven’t learned our lesson yet. Maybe more fools will have to be elected, more deceived soldiers slain, more mothers and children forever traumatized, before America will be ready to believe that such wars have always caused more terror than we were told they would prevent.

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Written by Monte

October 9, 2007 at 3:31 pm

2 Responses

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  1. That may have been a blast from the past for you but I had never heard it. Thanks for sharing.


    Derin Beechner

    October 10, 2007 at 10:46 am

  2. Hi Monte –

    Thank you for propagating Pete’s sentiments. I must be half a generation behind you because I “heard” this song for the first time recently. I was nine years old in 1967, so I did not understand what was happening in Vietnam until I was in high school – as much as anyone can say they understand what happened in Vietnam – even now.

    I was very fortunate that my freshman English lit teacher was a conscientious objector who was about the same age as the students who died at Kent State. So I heard all the best talk of the Vietnam era and the movement to wake up America. So Seeger’s song seems even more like a treasure in the current context, except that the big fool who crossed here before doesn’t remember anything about how much it cost.

    You asked in my blog comments what is different between that time and now in terms of the strength of the resistance. I hate to give a cynical answer but I have no one else’s thoughts to rely upon but my own.

    I think the draft had a lot to do with people’s relationship with the Vietnam war. I think most middle class kids today are more likely to see it as someone’s else’s problem than to really stop and think about what it means to get your ass shot off in some other country for the sake of some nebulous ideology.

    I don’t mean to make it sound like the Vietnam generation were any more or less patriotic, but they obviously had a lot more skin in the game than young people do today.

    I served in the Marine Corps for four years during peace time, and I was honored to know many Vietnam vets who made it through without getting a toe tag. They felt just as lucky as I did that we had a long spell of peace and that for a change serving in the military was just a job and not an adventure. Of course they handed out the obligatory pablum about Patriotism and duty – and they tried to run the stereotypes of Hippies through our young heads. But they knew they weren’t fooling anybody.

    Unlike these chicken hawks that are running the show these days – who are all hat and no cattle – those veterans knew what it was like to play the lottery with your life. Many of the young conservatives today are way too comfortable gambling with someone else’s life.

    I think it would be good for them if we had a draft. Of course that would put my son at risk too, but I think we should all have some skin in the game. Something more than empty rhetoric and tough talk trying to sound like men.

    Monte Says: Hi R: excellent context to all this! Thanks. I believe it is Cong. Rangel who has taken the same opinion you have about the draft. I would dread it, but there’s no doubt that it’s far too easy for politicians to send us to war. The current situation is evidence that there is really little personal liability for politicians who plunge us into unspeakable disaster. Bush will face no accountability for sending thousands of Americans and perhaps a million Iraqis to their deaths. Politicians will say “We must get on with the business of governing the country,” and the next such will know he risks little when he puts troops in harm’s way. Strange, is it not?


    October 9, 2007 at 6:54 pm

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