| April 25, 2013

This land is not your land

On Saturday, April 27, in Tulsa, a portion of singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie's archives, “including the original, handwritten version of Guthrie's landmark anthem, ‘This Land Is Your Land,’ will be available for viewing at the grand opening of the Woody Guthrie Center,” according to a press release.

As Lee Habeeb wrote last year for National Review, “Guthrie didn’t like Irving Berlin's ‘God Bless America’ and wrote ‘This Land Is Your Land’ as a rebuttal. What most Americans also don't know is that Guthrie didn’t like his own country and wanted to fundamentally transform it along the lines of his heroes, Marx and Lenin.” Indeed, Guthrie “dedicated his life to the overthrow of capitalism and private-property rights.” Hence the verse:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
This land was made for you and me.

Most Americans “likely think of Woody Guthrie as an ‘aw-shucks’ Okie who sang folk tunes in a Norman Rockwell tableau,” Michael Warren pointed out this month in The Weekly Standard. “They can, perhaps, be forgiven for not realizing that Woody Guthrie was an avowed Communist [he wrote a weekly column for the The Daily Worker] who dreamed of the end of a capitalist system that had dealt his fellow plainsmen a bad hand. They can be forgiven their ignorance of his admiration for Stalin. They can even forgive Woody Guthrie lyrics such as these:

If I was President Roosevelt
I’d make groceries free —
I’d give away new Stetson hats,
And let the whiskey be.
I’d pass out suits of clothing
At least three times a week —
And shoot the first big oil man
That killed the fishing creek.

Given that the Woody Guthrie Center intends to feature “an extensive outreach and education program that will take Guthrie’s story to schools across Oklahoma and demonstrate the impact he has made on the world,” it’s important that those of us who value property rights continue to demonstrate the impact private-property rights have made on our country. After all, we ought not to be giving Oklahoma’s students the impression that killing people or stealing their property is acceptable behavior. There’s quite enough of that thinking in the education system already.

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