The American soldier


We have already seen, that some countries, which in times of peace so hardly give the passport to their own citizens, in time of war liberally distribute it even to the enemy, promising conditions worthy of man in the voluntary captivity, and return to their families after the war.


We do not know whether the Front of Liberation of Vietnam exhausted from the Soviet example or from their own inspiration to distribute to the American soldiers passports enhancing the voluntary surrender. But it is certain that they knew well the two things which arouse the interest of the U.S. military.

Quyêṫ thâṅg = Certain victory. An U.S. military operation launched in March-April 1968


It was already the innovation of the Vietcong that for the conditions worthy of American man they also requested some military training in exchange.




We do not know how many U.S. soldiers took advantage of the tempting option, and to what extent their transferred knowledge contributed to the victory of the Vietcong. In fact, to be honest, we do not even know whether these life-saving passports, which in recent months have been seen around the American net, reached them at all. Indeed, in a Russian site publishing the last document on the basis of a U.S. source, the first commenter calls the attention that the picture of the girl is identical with the third photo of a contemporary Thailandese beauty site. And although we know that Far Eastern women long retain their youth, nevertheless it is almost forty years that these passports have become obsolete.


We also do not know, if the passports are contemporary counterfeits, whether they were made by Vietnamese to mock the Americans’ greed, or by the Americans, built on the topos of Asian prostitution.

But in order we should not leave completely empty-handed, here you are at least the song of Bulat Okudzhava on the American soldier, a tangible historical document, with an actual historical past, almost contemporary to the above passes.


Bulat Okudzsava: Song on the American sodier

Возьму шинель, и вещмешок, и каску,
В защитную окрашенные окраску,
Ударю шаг по улочкам горбатым…
Как просто стать солдатом, солдатом.

Забуду все домашние заботы,
Не надо ни зарплаты, ни работы –
Иду себе, играю автоматом,
Как просто быть солдатом, солдатом!

А если что не так - не наше дело:
Как говорится, родина велела!
Как славно быть ни в чем не виноватым,
Совсем простым солдатом, солдатом.
I put on the jacket, helmet, backpack,
the camouflage-colored camouflage,
I beat up the crooked streets with my steps:
how simple it is to become a soldier!

I forget all troubles at home,
I don’t worry for salary and job,
I go alone, playing with my machine-gun:
how simple it is to be a soldier!

And if something goes wrong – not our business:
as they say: the homeland ordered it!
How beautiful, not to be guilty of anything,
only a soldier, a simple soldier.

However, the philologist wakes up in you, and after some research he reveals that the title of the song was originally just Song on the soldier. On the soldier, which in the Soviet Union of course meant the Soviet soldier. But the Soviet soldier is not like that. The Soviet soldier fights for the freedom of peoples. Thus the Soviet cultural policy banned the song. However, Okudzhava’s audience still wanted to hear it, and they shouted to the anxious master in the stage: “Let’s hear the song about the American soldier!” Consequently, the song got the green light.

However, on the American soldier we still know nothing.

5 comentarios:

MOCKBA dijo...

The surrender passes look fake, but what would I know ... my first guess is that the analysis of fonts might help with narrowing down their dates of creation.

Anyway - since the fav song of my childhood somewhow got attached to this possible hoax story, maybe I need to correct a line or two.

Here it is referencing the actual book and matches my memory and the meter of the lines too:

Возьму шинель, и вещмешок, и каску,
в защитную окрашенную краску,

I'll get a trenchcoat, a duffel,
And a camo-painted helmet

As often with Okujava, the specific words are carefully selected to imply time and place. For example, it's not any backpack, but вещмешок, and not any gun, but автомат, indicating post-WWII Soviet military (the US soldier would have had a rucksack, and a rifle).

Likewise, "hilly / humpy little streets" hint that the setting isn't home in Russia. These words are more commonly reserved for European towns, while in Russia the specific word would typically be a "lane" rather than "little street".

MOCKBA dijo...

This 2009 font supposedly according to Russian commenters, but then it gets murkier because the modern font is described as retro / 1950s-inspired. They also see anachronism in the underwear style?

Anyway speaking of Okujava's word choices, I can't resist posting from his own verse poking fun at such literary criticism. In the "Roman Empire of the Era of Decay", every stanza includes a "misused word" and then the yells of critics, like e.g. this:

Now the critics will say that the word "brine-pickle" [for hangover] isn't a Roman detail,
That such a mistake turns the whole song into nonsense.
It may not be Roman, and so much better for it.
I have no problem with it, and I even find it uplifting

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, the font has also looked suspicious to me. It is too regular for an original font of the 50s, and too fancy for a leaflet printed in the Vietcong hinterland.

Thank you for the corrections and also for their cultural background! So did they make it obvious for all the audience that this song cannot be about an American soldier?

Giacomo Ponzetto dijo...

Not the American soldier, but his close relative, the U.S. marine.

MOCKBA dijo...

Are subtexts obvious to all the listeners? By the very definition of subtext, it must something which is missed by some. And on the contrary, some subtexts may appear to be obvious to some readers even if the author didn't intend it.

I think that it is especially true in the culture which develops under totalitarian censorship, and where great many things have to be conveyed "under wraps". I already mentioned in this thread that Okudjava enjoyed his subtexts and openly took pride in them. But his mastery of subtext has actually been painfully clear to the unfriendly Soviet critics. As early as in 1961, a critical piece entitled "О цене шумного успеха" blamed Okudjava in exploiting a "subtext fashion".

My guess is that for most, but not all, listeners, there was no way the "Song about a Soldier" could be about an American. A minority would have missed the subtext.