John Lennon’s Peace

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For most people, the most impactful events in life are those where one can remember where they were when they heard the news.  In my own generation, this includes a roster of the death of Princes Dianna, 9/11, the Columbine Massacre, and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.  For these brief moments in time, it seems the world gets a lot smaller, and nations see the need to cooperate on social, economic, diplomatic and progressive levels.

In a recent class called The History of Peace, we questioned whether war creates the necessary conditions for peace in so far as people are brought face to face with the need to plan for peace, work for peace and pursue it consistently.  Does it take conflict being in one’s face to really think about peace?  While I am hasty to say yes because it’s just such a depressing view of the world, the arguments are compelling and one must search high and low for the pursuit of peace in so called ‘peace time’.  Maybe this makes us question what peace even means.  Let’s be honest, there’s about a million different definitions.  Still, it turned out to find an example of said persuit and become a little less jaded on the matter, I could turn to some of my favorite songs and lyrics.

So what am I leading up to?  On December 8th, 1980, the murder of John Lennon became one of those “I remember where I was”-events.  Millions mourned the death of a man who, though very conflicted and baffling at times, had followed a constant pursuit of a very simple peace for the entire world.  While his earlier years with the Beatles were littered with violence, alcoholism and as his personal letters reveal, the mistreatment of his first wife, around 1966, Lennon had a significant turn around that really shaped his views on peace and the way he promoted it.

Again, I’m hesitant to say the cause.  After some serious research for a biographical essay on Lennon’s concept of peace however, I have come to the conclusion that the biggest impact was Yoko Ono (yes I know I’ve often referred to her as the ruiner, the Courtney Love of her time…but I’m slowly coming around to how important she really was).  After their meeting and coming into a relationship, John, along with his trusty Yoko, became far more involved in peace action that gained media and personal attention all over the world.  I’ll outline two of the greatest ones in commemoration.  Please note that many of the following parts of this blog are taken from a paper I wrote this year.

Bed Peace

            As part of their honeymoon, John and Yoko hosted two, week-long Bed Ins- one in an Amsterdam Hilton Hotel and another in Montreal at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.[1]  Both of these were done in protest to war.  However, as Jeff Woods notes in his Legends of Classic Rock podcast, Lennon rarely talked about what he was against.  Rather he talked about what he was in favour of- and in this case it was peace.[2]  While through research this statement is generally true, the Bed-In brought up one major thing that Lennon was against and that thing was violence.

At each Bed-In a number of prominent figures and reporters were invited to ask a couple of questions.  The overall message of both Bed-Ins was peace and Lennon sold it well.  According to Hunter Davies, the couple did approximately one hundred interviews in Amsterdam and sixty in Montreal.[3]  The Montreal Bed-In resulted in John coining the phrase “Give peace a chance” and subsequently writing the song Give Peace a Chance which was recorded on the last day of the Bed-In.[4]

The Bed-Ins are yet another example of how Lennon’s idea of peace was a non-violent commodity that was simple and needed to be sold.  A strong event during the Bed In that exemplified Lennon’s emphasis on non-violence is a phone call that he took from a protest leader at Berkley University in California.  The protest leader remarks how the march is getting violent with police firing guns and students throwing rocks.  When asked for advice, John encourages the protesters to leave and not become violent themselves: “I just say violence begets violence and you know I don’t believe in anything else and I don’t believe there’s any park worth getting shot for.”[5]  Over and over throughout the Bed-In, Lennon reiterated this same message, that peace is first and foremost the absence of violence thus revealing the main factor in his own idea of peace.

The Bed-Ins also saw a shift in John Lennon’s language regarding peace in that he began to talk about marketing it.  Although he had marketed through Acorn Peace, during the Bed-Ins, Lennon began to talk about how he was doing so.  He referred to the Bed-Ins as a “gimmick” and used it to capture media attention in order to promote peace the way war was promoted on a daily basis.[6]  In fact, in a Rolling Stone interview, Lennon reveals that when invited to Yoko and John’s hotel, the media was expecting to see them having sex but were surprised to find them sitting in bed discussing peace in their pajamas.[7]  In this way, John utilized the media to promote peace, therefore commoditizing it.

The conclusion of the Montreal Bed-In ended in a commercial bang with the live recording of Give Peace a Chance and the making of the Bed-In into a film.[8]  Give Peace a Chance sums up all of the factors surrounding Lennon’s idea of peace- simplicity, non-violence and commoditization.  The simplicity comes across in the relaxed lyrics of the song (“All we are saying…”).[9]  Non-violence is exuded in every way- lyrics, wardrobes and the overall lack of serious tone that erases any form of threat.  Finally, peace is sold in that the song itself was written for the public and made into a music video featuring many of the prominent figures that attended including Rabbi Abraham Feignburg and Petula Clark, a Canadian musician.[10]  Overall, John Lennon’s perception of peace becomes much clearer by examining the Bed Ins which served to put his ideas into the public eye.

John_Yoko_bed-In
The WAR IS OVER Campaign

Lennon’s ideas of peace remained fairly static after meeting Yoko Ono although he took on a number of new causes to campaign for throughout the decade.  Always at the center of his definition of peace was the absence of violence and therefore the absence of war.  This was no different in the WAR IS OVER campaign which again sold the idea of peace.

The idea behind the campaign was simple.  John Lennon and Yoko Ono designed huge posters for the Christmas season to promote peace all around the world.  In big black letters the posters read: “WAR IS OVER if you want it.  Happy Christmas, John and Yoko.”[11]  These posters were hung in Times Square, New York City, London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Berlin, Montreal, Tokyo and Port of Spain, Trinidad.[12]  This campaign pushed the idea of personal responsibility in creating peace and remained true to Lennon’s very simple way of thinking.  Additionally, it commoditized peace.  Not only were the posters essentially large billboards but they were placed in main commercial hubs of the world- most notably Times Square in New York City.  This is further evidence to the idea that John Lennon’s definition of peace was a commoditized absence of violence.

The main shift exhibited in John’s ideas of peace during this campaign is his inclusion of all nations.  While this may have been inherent to his ideas which promoted peace in Vietnam previously, the spread of these billboards all over the world expressed the idea that all nations should come together in a clear way.  In a sense, it played off the idea of planting the acorns during Acorn Peace in the east and west to symbolize the coming together of cultures but during the WAR IS OVER campaign, these ideas were much clearer.

In an interview that explored Lennon’s ideas behind this campaign, Lennon again expressed the idea of personal responsibility for peace.  He explained that the WAR IS OVER campaign was a way to educate the people, telling them they are powerful and responsible for peace. Simply put, if they wanted war to be over- it could be.[13]  The basic language of this is a true expression of just how simply John Lennon saw peace to be.  He expresses it in this interview as a “mantra” in which one’s entire life and everything one does should be dedicated to peace.[14]  When asked during the same interview what the one thing he wanted most for Christmas was, John provides a great amount of insight into his definition by replying, “Peace on Earth.  That implies no violence, no starving children, no violent minds, no violent households.  No violence, no frustration, no fear.”[15]  This powerful quote shows that anti-violence was indeed at the forefront of Lennon’s idea of peace and intertwined with that was a lack of suffering, particularly on an individual level.

war11

For me, John Lennon symbolizes the idea that we don’t need to be face to face with war to think about peace.  In fairness, the Vietnam War was raging while he was protesting but his protests lasted far longer than this and it was not a war that was in his backyard.  He was removed.  As we reach the anniversary of his death on Sunday, let’s each take a second to think about how we can contribute to peace on any level.


               [1]Norman, 629.

               [2] Norman, 629.

               [3] John Lennon and Yoko Ono: WAR IS OVER (if you want it!), “Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono,”  YouTube, Yoko Ono, 8 December 2007, < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbKsgaXQy2k&gt;.

               [4] WAR IS OVER, “Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono,” < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbKsgaXQy2k&gt;.

               [5] WAR IS OVER, “Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono,” < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbKsgaXQy2k&gt;.


               [6]Time Magazine, “John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In,” Time Photos 2013 < http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1887244_1860957,00.html&gt;.

               [7]”Lennon Mind Games,” narrated by Jeff Woods, Legends of Classic Rock 120512, 2013 < https://soundcloud.com/locr-podcast/locr-120512-lennon-mind-games&gt;.

               [8] Davies, 145.

               [9] Time Magazine, < http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1887244_1860957,00.html&gt;.

               [10] Bed Peace, pro. Bag Productions, dir. Yoko Ono and John Lennon, Bag Productions, 1969.

               [11] Bed Peace, Bag Productions, 1969.

               [12] John Lennon,” John Lennon”, Wenner, Rolling Stone, 1971.

               [13] Bed Peace, Bag Productions, 1969.

               [14]John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Give Peace a Chance,” Northern Songs, 1971.  Please note that while this is credited as being a Lennon-McCartney song, John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote the song at the Bed In in Montreal but not credit is given to her.

               [15] “1969: John and Yoko’s Montreal bed-in,” CBC Archives, July 13 2012, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 6 October 2013 < http://www.cbc.ca/archives/discover/great-interviews/john-and-yokos-montreal-bed-in.html&gt;.

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5 thoughts on “John Lennon’s Peace

  1. There are lights that will shine on, regardless of the people and stories who might wish to tarnish their ideals; John is one of those people. He was human, and that doesn’t sit well with many people. That doesn’t sit well with those who expect more of the human animal than is fair to expect. Regardless of the exceptional actions one person might achieve in his or her lifetime, there are those who feel that if one is to accomplish great actions of a humanitarian nature, that they should be pillars of perfection, and that’s an unfair expectation.

    John Fire Lame Deer said, “To be a complete person, we have to crawl with the worms and soar with the eagle.” I’m a firm believer of that tenant, and I think John was no exception to that rule.

    1. Hey Ryan,
      Thanks so much- it’s not often I wake up to comments on my blog so that was really nice to see 🙂
      As for what you’re saying, I completely agree. It’s very rare, if ever, that we find a “hero” who didn’t do something wrong along the way. I mean Schindler was unfaithful for Heaven’s sake! That doesn’t mean we can discount all the amazing things he did for humanity. John Lennon is no different in this regard.
      Thanks again!
      Gabby

  2. Thank you for this article.. it gave me original thought.. thank you for that. Lennon.. the “hero” & the ”human” would always be welcomed at my table.

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