‘The US vs. John Lennon’ lays out a government conspiracy against one very famous peace activist
By Jennifer Alfred 11/13/2008
If rock legend and political activist John Lennon were alive today he would surely be opposed to the war in Iraq, which in many ways is eerily similar to the seemingly endless, widely unpopular war in Vietnam he struggled to bring to an end during the 1970s.
s we near the sixth year of the deadly American occupation of Iraq, there could be no better time to look to the past and learn from the peace movement that Lennon supported.
On Wednesday, the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church of Pasadena will host a free screening of “The US vs. John Lennon,” a 2006 documentary by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld that details our government’s efforts to spy on the world’s most famous Vietnam opponent in an attempt to deport him and wife Yoko Ono.
Following the screening there will be a question and answer session with Jon Weiner, a professor of history at UC Irvine and author of “Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files.”
Weiner himself is a source in the film, which intertwines footage of John Lennon and the peace movement with commentary from figures such as political activist Angela Davis, 1972 presidential hopeful George McGovern, broadcast legend Walter Cronkite, author Gore Vidal, Black Panthers cofounder Bobby Seale and “Born on the Fourth of July” author and wounded Vietnam vet Ron Kovic.
The film does a good job explaining the facts, while at the same time giving a sense of what it must have been like to be a young, politically active person during these tumultuous times: Along with all the fun of free love and peace advocacy, there was also the scary and very real threat of being targeted by your own government.
Although Washington can appear to be open to change and new ideas in hopeful times, those in power can also use their powers to silence those who disagree with them. The clearest message throughout “The US vs. John Lennon” is that government will do whatever it takes to silence those who threaten its control.
The film also shows how Lennon refused to back down to The Man, even when he and Ono were being followed around in white vans and hearing static on their phones that signaled the line was being tapped.
Ono recalled that time when she spoke to the Weekly earlier this year about her Wish Tree for Pasadena art installation in the One Colorado Courtyard. “It was scary,” she said, “but I’ll tell you, this is an age when probably all of us share that kind of fear.”
The film shows that it was only after Lennon, already a legendary figure with a huge American (and worldwide) following, started performing songs with messages such as “Give Peace a Chance” and associating with activists that government snoops started paying attention.
When Lennon learned of John Sinclair, a musician, radical activist and leader of the White Panther Party who was given a 10-year prison sentence for possessing two marijuana cigarettes, he wrote the famous song about him that led to his release. In the film, Sinclair says it was at that moment the government began to understand the full extent of Lennon’s influence.
Watergate mastermind G. Gordon Liddy also appears in the film, if only to say Lennon deserved to be spied on: “He was over here enjoying all the benefits of the success that we were giving him and badmouthing us here. Our attitude to that was, ‘You want to do that, go back to London.’”
For those of us (like me) not alive during the 1970s, “The US vs. John Lennon” is a history lesson we won’t necessarily find in history class. It also teaches that when people join together they can have a huge impact; so it seems now is as good a time as any to remember John and Yoko’s words: “War is over! If you want it.”
“The US vs. John Lennon” screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pasadena, 301 N. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 449-3470 or visit uuneighborhood.org.