Donovan: “Universal Soldier” (1965)


Donovan Leitch is a Scottish-born singer, songwriter and folk musician.

Leitch was born to working-class parents in Glasgow and contracted polio as a child, leaving him with a partial limp. He learned guitar as a teenager and dropped out of college to write songs and perform full-time. He began performing under his first name only.

Donovan emerged on British television in the mid-1960s. Many observers during this period likened him to Bob Dylan, noting similarities in their style, lyrics and song structure. Donovan would have significant radio hits with Sunshine Superman, Mellow Yellow (a song containing lyrics about a sex toy) and Hurdy Gurdy Man.

In 1965, Donovan recorded Universal Soldier, an anti-war song penned by Canadian songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. The lyrics of Universal Soldier focus not on governments or military leaders. Instead, they lay blame for wars on ordinary people who volunteer for military service.

Donovan’s version was a moderate success, reaching number 53 on the United States singles chart. It also inspired a pro-war response, Jan Berry’s The Universal Coward.

He’s five-foot-two, and he’s six-feet-four
He fights with missiles and with spears.
He’s all of thirty-one, and he’s only seventeen
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years.

He’s a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain
A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew.
And he knows he shouldn’t kill
And he knows he always will
Kill you for me my friend and me for you.

And he’s fighting for Canada, he’s fighting for France
He’s fighting for the USA
And he’s fighting for the Russians and he’s fighting for Japan
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way.

And he’s fighting for democracy, he’s fighting for the Reds
He says it’s for the peace of all.
He’s the one who must decide who’s to live and who’s to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall.

But without him how could Hitler have condemned them at Liebau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body as a weapon of the war
And without him all this killing can’t go on.

He’s the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame
His orders come from far away no more
They come from here and there and you and me
And brothers can’t you see
This is not the way we put an end to war.

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