International Politics

Putin Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

Pete Seeger’s 1967 song, ‘Waist Deep In The Big Muddy’, tells the story of a platoon on night maneuvers. The captain tells his platoon to take a foolish and dangerous path.

“It was back in nineteen forty-two,
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Louisiana,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That’s how it all begun.
We were — knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.”

The platoon sergeant suspects that the arrogant captain is leading the men to disaster.

“The Sergeant said, “Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?”
“Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
‘Bout a mile above this place.
It’ll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We’ll soon be on dry ground.”
We were, waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, “Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim.”
“Sergeant, don’t be a Nervous Nellie, “
The Captain said to him.
“All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I’ll lead on.”
We were, neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.”

After his folly costs the captain his life, the sergeant takes over and leads the men back to safety.

“All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain’s helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, “Turn around men!
I’m in charge from now on.”
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.
We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn’t know that the water was deeper
Than the place he’d once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
‘Bout a half mile from where we’d gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.
Well, I’m not going to point any moral,
I’ll leave that for yourself
Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking
You’d like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We’re, waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man’ll be over his head, we’re
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!”

Seeger’s song was an allegory for the United States’ misguided war in Vietnam. Protests against the war in Vietnam were effective. The public demanded that the government change course. In 1968 New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy spoke at Kansas State University:

“…I am willing to bear my share of the responsibility, before history and my fellow citizens. But past error is no excuse for its own perpetuation. Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live. Now as ever, we do ourselves best justice when we measure ourselves against ancient tests, as in the Antigone of Sophocles: “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only sin is pride.”

Robert F Kennedy

Decades after the United States disengaged from Vietnam, Vladimir Putin led Russia into a misguided and criminal war against Ukraine. Like the United States in Vietnam, Putin’s Russia lacks a clear strategy for winning and has no clear exit plans. The former commanding general of the United States Army Europe and the Seventh Army, Mark Hertling has said that Putins’ Russian forces have failed at “every one of the nine principles of war.” Retired commander of U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven noted that

“Russia just did not live up to our expectations of a force that had been modernized over the last 15 years. Command-and-control systems did not work well on the battlefield. And their logistics, even though they were right there on the border, were not very good.”

Retired commander of U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven

Like the United States in Vietnam, Russia has committed atrocities.

“I’m not a psychologist, I’m not going to go into the psychology of Vladimir Putin. It’s hard to look at what he’s doing in Ukraine, what his forces are doing in Ukraine, and think that any ethical, moral individual could justify that.”

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby

Like the United States during the Vietnam War, Putin is facing dissent against his war at home in Russia. ‘Waist Deep in the Big Muddy’ was written to protest the Vietnam War specifically, but its lesson is timeless. Ignorance and arrogance are a fatal combination. Will Russia alter its tragic course in Ukraine now, or will it be done by the big fool Putin’s successor?

Knee deep in the Big Muddy…
Waist deep in the Big Muddy…
Neck deep in the Big Muddy…
And the big fool says to push on.

Thanks, and a tip of the hat to Donkey Hotey for the image.

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