May 18, 2013
Jon Wiener on John Lennon
Posted on Sep 12, 2006
John Lennon historian Jon Wiener discusses the soon-to-be-released documentary “The U.S. vs. John Lennon,” which recounts President Richard Nixon’s campaign to deport the Beatle because of his antiwar activism.
Wiener, a contributing editor at The Nation and a professor at UC Irvine, is the author of “Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files,” the definitive account of the U.S. government’s persecution of the singer-activist, and Wiener both appears in the film and served as a technical consultant.
He speaks here with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer about the story behind the story and the eerie historical parallels between Nixon’s pronouncements about Vietnam and Bush’s statements about Iraq.
Robert Scheer: Tell us why this is important. J. Edgar Hoover, Nixon, they went out to destroy John Lennon? They were threatened by his popularity?
Jon Wiener: This is really a story about the Nixon White House abuse of power and Nixon’s enemies list. But in this case the enemy targeted by the White House was John Lennon. Really, all he was doing was saying was “Give Peace a Chance,” but Nixon found out about a plan Lennon was making with some of his friends, who included Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, ‘60s antiwar organizers, and their plan was to bring Lennon on a national concert tour of the United States, which would coincide with the 1972 election season. Lennon wanted to combine rock music with antiwar organizing and voting registration.
The key fact here is that 1972 was the first year that 18-year-olds were given the right to vote, so there were going to be 11 million new voters. It was widely assumed they were all John Lennon fans and most of them were antiwar. The Nixon administration found out about Lennon’s plan from an unlikely source: Sen. Strom Thurmond, Republican of South Carolina, who had done many bad things in his life. He wrote a letter to the Nixon White House outlining Lennon’s plans for this voter registration tour, and the Strom Thurmond letter concluded that deportation would be a “strategic counter-measure.” A couple weeks later the Nixon White House ordered Lennon deported, and that’s the subject of the film.
Podcast producer Josh Scheer: What are the connections between then and now?
The film is all about the ‘60s and the ‘70s, but the echoes to the present are unmistakable and quite deliberate on the part of the filmmakers. In the film, they have footage of Nixon’s speech where Nixon says he’s going to begin the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam because we’re training the South Vietnamese troops, and as the South Vietnamese stand up, we will stand down; however, he’s not going to set a timetable for this. It’s almost exactly what George Bush has been saying about Iraq for the last couple of months. It’s uncanny. Bush is only mentioned in the film once, and that’s at the end. Gore Vidal, who’s of course a wonderful talker and thinker, has some great lines, where he says, “Lennon represents life, and that is admirable
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