“U” is for “Universal Soldier”

Awaiting a flight from San Francisco to Toronto one night in 1963, Canadian singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie saw a group of Viet Nam veterans who were wheeling and carrying their wounded brethren. She thought of them during her flight, her mind tracking back through Army hierocracy and the political landscape, wondering who originated the order that sent them to war. She wrote her ruminations and conclusions in “Universal Soldier” upon her arrival in Toronto that same night. An anti-war protest song, “Universal Soldier” is also, as she explained years later, “about individual responsibility for war and how the old feudal thinking kills us all.”  She released the song on her 1964 debut album, “It’s My Way.”  Never a “hit” for Sainte-Marie, it was more successful for Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan Leitch and for American singer Glen Campbell, both of whom covered it in 1965. Coincidentally, both versions peaked on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart on October 30, 1965; Donvan’s at #53 and Campbell’s at #45.

Videos for all three singers are reproduced below. In my opinion, Campbell’s peppy, upbeat, “Campbell-ized” version misses the mark. According to Wikipedia, when “[a]sked about the pacifist message of the song, he said that ‘people who are advocating burning draft cards should be hung.’[28]

First, here are the lyrics:

Universal Soldier
© Buffy Sainte-Marie

He’s five feet two and he’s six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He’s all of 31 and he’s only 17
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
and 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 walls

But without him how would Hitler have
condemned him at Dachau
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body
as a weapon to a 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 him, and you, and me
and brothers can’t you see
this is not the way we put an end to war.







8 thoughts on ““U” is for “Universal Soldier”

  1. I discovered Buffy Sainte-Marie when I was 12, and listened to as much of her music as I could. Her version is still my favorite, and I agree with your assessment of the Glen Campbell version. Thank you also for including the lyrics – it took me back to a time when I would read the song lyrics as the album played! 💚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, Martha. I always buy CDs just to be able to have the liner notes. They don’t always include lyrics these days, but they’re still interesting. Biggest drawback: Even with progressive glasses, I need a magnifying glass to read them! You’d think anyone making CDs of classic rock or oldies would realize the audience needs bigger print!


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