The death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has led to a surge of interest in the previously posted photo of Leonard Cohen and Ariel Sharon which was taken during he Yom Kippur war and published in the Sept 13, 2013 issue of Israel Hayom.
Yosi Markovich pointed out that the photo not only depicted Leonard Cohen singing to the troops but also showed the Canadian singer-songwriter flanked on his left by famous Israeli composer and singer, Matti Caspi (playing guitar for Cohen), and Ariel Sharon on his right. Those individuals are identified in the photo below.
That same issue offers a fascinating account of Leonard Cohen’s participation in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, singing to Israeli soldiers. It was also during this period that he wrote “Lover, Lover, Lover.” This highly recommended article can be found at “A Poet Goes To War” by Neta Bar-Yosef
Leonard Cohen On War
The circulation of this photo has also led to interest in Leonard Cohen’s statements about war, some of which have been criticized as exalting war. While I believe that is an oversimplified interpretation, Cohen has been straightforward about his admiration of the military, telling Harry Rasky,
I always loved the Army. And my father had intended to send me to the Kingston Military Academy actually. And if he’d have lived, I would probably have been in the Canadian Army.1
The excerpt directly below contains the quotation now under fire. The two excerpts that follow it belie the notion that the Canadian singer-songwriter is glorifying war for its own sake.
Q: It [being in the Yom Kippur War] strikes me as being rather dangerous. You didn’t feel any personal anxiety about being killed?
Leonard Cohen: I did once or twice. But you get caught up in the thing. And war is wonderful. They’ll never stamp it out. It’s one of the few times people can act their best. It’s so economical in terms of gesture and motion, every single gesture is precise, every effort is at its maximum. Nobody goofs off. Everybody is responsible for his brother. The sense of community and kinship and brotherhood, devotion. There are opportunities to feel things that you simply cannot feel in modern city life. Very impressive.2
Later in the same interview, Cohen talks about the circumstances under which his song, The Story Of Isaac, was created.
I think probably that I did feel that one of the reasons that we have wars was so the older men can kill off the younger ones, so that there’s no competition for the women. Or for their position. I do think that this is true. One of the reasons we do have wars periodically is so the older men can have the women. Also, completely remove the competition in terms of their own institutional positions.
And speaking about the same song, The Story Of Isaac, in an 1988 interview, Cohen said,
I was careful in that song to try and put it beyond the pure, beyond the simple, anti-war protest, that it also is. Because it says at the end there the man of war the man of peace, the peacock spreads his deadly fan. In other words it isn’t necessarily for war that we’re willing to sacrifice each other. We’ll get some idea – some magnificent idea – that we’re willing to sacrifice each other for; it doesn’t necessarily have to involve an opponent or an ideology, but human beings being what they are we’re always going to set up people to die for some absurd situation that we define as important.3
Finally, I suggest that this 1979 Leonard Cohen performance of Diamonds In The Mine negates the idea that Cohen is glamorizing war.
Leonard Cohen – Diamonds In The Mine
Credit Due Department: Kobi Doron took the picture atop this post, scanned it, and sent it to the Walla news site. The black and white photo is from the Israel Hayom article and is credited to Uri Dan / Courtesy of Farkash Gallery.