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The Unheard Music

July 31, 2014

The outlook for aspiring students of International Relations is dismal. Two new albums perfectly capture the sentiment.

by Andrew Parker


While 2014 has thus far been a tragic year for news, it has been an excellent year for music. The former has not escaped the notice of the latter. Indie rock messiah Morrissey and scathing semi-anonymous hardcore outfit United Nations both released new albums on July 15th, and both carry a similar dispiriting message, particularly for the young and progress-minded: You, the concerned citizen, the bright-eyed graduate, are utterly powerless at achieving resolutions to global conflicts. The powers that be – national governments tangled with special interests, intergovernmental bodies paralyzed by politics – actually like things just the way they are. Sadly, this message feels all too true.

For example, nearly 1,000 civilians (at least 200 of them children) have been killed by Israel in Gaza thus far, over Hamas rocket launches that have killed perhaps a handful of people over the last decade. The last major attack on Gaza had a similar toll. But never mind the popular outcry. Never mind Israel’s new Iron Dome missile defense that intercepts 90% of projectiles. Never mind that such savage brutality perpetrated by the IDF is unjustifiable, and ought to be shameful for a nation that claims to be a civilized democracy. Rather, the slaughter is one for citizens of Israel to kick back and enjoy from a hilltop like a fireworks show (and humans are not really very humane, sings Morrissey). The United Nations (the actual organization in this case, not the band that mocks it and gets lawsuits in the mail) is impotent to do anything about Israel’s war crimes, including strikes on hospitals and schools. And the United States government just approved a resupply of weapons to Israel, because, god forbid the entertainment runs out. You, as a thinking person, are not alone if you are upset by this unbridled bloodlust. But know that you will stand alone in your opinion if you seek any place in government or media. In fact, you will likely be shunned.

Likewise, you may weep for the bloodshed that wracks Syria, but the United States has demonstrated through words and inaction that there was never any true desire to see Assad removed from power. You may mourn for the victims of MH-17, but Russia’s Putin could care less if the remains ever make it back to the families. It matters not; you have no power to change these things working through existing systems.

Still feeling optimistic? Impressive. But the title track of Morrissey’s World Peace Is None of Your Business, interspersed with lines from various songs on United Nations’ The Next Four Years, should take the remaining wind out of you:

World peace is none of your business
You must not tamper with arrangements
Work hard and sweetly pay your taxes
Never asking “what for?”
Oh oh, you poor little fool
Oh oh, you fool

This idea of keeping one’s head down, being occupied by one’s “own little life,” and avoiding interference with the status quo, even when injustice is obvious, is expressed in the United Nations song F#A#$ (“When we found out the the ‘car on fire’ was just another product / and the driver, asleep at the wheel, was on Ambien, it hurt like hell… / But we opened our wallets up and they were full of money! / Now we’re too worn out to sing the dead flag blues”).

World peace is none of your business
Police will stun you with their stun guns
Or they’ll disable you with tasers
That’s what Government’s for
Oh oh, you poor little fool
Oh oh, you fool

The sickening abuse of state power on peaceful protesters is a subject in common with False Flags (“If I were being honest, I’d tell you I don’t know how much more I’d take … The joke, it’s not funny anymore / the violent defilement of the weak (don’t call them people) / and the silent compliant approval of the powerful … sorry sucker”).

World peace is none of your business
So would you, kindly keep your nose out
The rich must profit and get richer
And the poor must stay poor
Oh oh, you poor little fool
Oh oh, you fool

United Nations is in agreement here as well in Meanwhile On Main Street (“at least now that you know what you get paid / now you know what you are worth”).

Each time you vote, you support the process
Each time you vote, you support the process
Each time you vote, you support the process

Here we are reminded of what a sham the notion of free and fair elections have become, and how it is mindlessly reinforced every cycle. In Music For Changing Parties, the sentiment is identical (“same old prism, different prisons / changing lives (always the same) / changing hearts (always the same) / changing minds (always the same) / changing parties”).

Brazil, Bahrain, Egypt, Ukraine
So many people in pain
No more you poor little fools
No more you fool

Here Morrissey gets highly specific with references to recently crushed attempts at democratic expression, which serves to ground the more abstract depressing notions into reality. Both of these records latch on to a growing sentiment: ‘Make no mistake, things are quite bad. In many ways it’s by design. For all the ostensible progress of democratic and civil rights movements, it feels like we are entering a period of stagnation or even regression.’ This is cynicism in the extreme, and the feeling is not baseless.

Is there any hope, then? Shockingly, I do not mean to say that studying in the field of International Relations or pursuing democratic activism are worthless. There are many important, worthwhile, and fulfilling pursuits available with NGOs and private companies that improve the lives of countless disadvantaged people. Knowledge of foreign language and custom will always be useful in travel and in personal life enrichment, even if it is not a career you are interested in. And though peaceful protest receives strong resistance, it is not always unsuccessful (Tunisia didn’t make it into the song, perhaps due to rhyming difficulties). But if you imagine yourself at the UNSC or State Department and seek to make a positive difference in the world’s most dire situations, just remember what Morrissey sang back in 1987 as a member of the Smiths:

Love, peace, and harmony,

Oh very nice, very nice, very nice

But maybe in the next world.


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