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Was John Lennon Really a Pacifist?

When the Beatles split, it was no surprise that John Lennon launched a successful solo career; some of his earlier songs spoke dramatically about peace. The truth was though that John Lennon wasn’t quite the pacifist that his music may have alluded to.

Two of John Lennon’s most famous solo songs were ‘Give Peace A Chance’ and ‘Imagine’; both songs were quite clear in their sentiments, both were nothing short of a call for peace. Both John Lennon and Yoko Ono gave a number of interviews about peace and both participated in anti-war demonstrations. One only has to think back to their honeymoon in the Amsterdam Hilton when they had their ‘bed-in for peace’ and their second bed-in in Montreal (where they recorded ‘Give Peace A Chance) to see the way they wanted the public to see them. Although the sentiments may have been accurate, they almost hid the real truth.

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Although the evidence has never truly been clear, it is believed that Lennon helped fund the IRA in the late 1960’s . Even in the middle of the 70’s, Lennon was up to no good, running amok in LA, getting into many brawls. He even once wore a woman’s sanitary towel on his head. One night, while drinking with Harry Nilsson, Lennon disrupted a club performance by The Smother Brothers. For a man of peace, he sure had his moments of proving it wrong.

During the 1960’s, while still living in Liverpool, Lennon never participated in demonstrations. This was rather surprising considering that a good number of art school students liked to take part – perhaps Lennon just couldn’t be bothered, perhaps he had no interest. Lennon did not like fighting but he did like to bully people that he saw as weaker than him. One incident of note occurred on a floating beat night upon the Royal Iris: Lennon, high on alcohol, saw a girls hand on the door jamb, Lennon kicked the door, it closed on her hand. He was laughing loudly as the girl’s hand dripped blood. Another incident happened in June 1963 at Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday. Bob Wooler made a comment about Lennon’s recent trip to Spain with manager Brian Epstein; Lennon lost the plot and attacked Wooler. A few punches were landed before they were separated, enough though that Wooler had to go to hospital. Lennon never truly apologised for that incident.

Lennon may have wanted peace outwardly but the truth seemed to be that he was incapable of having peace with himself. Consider the song Revolution: “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me…”. On the version that was released as a single, Lennon wanted you to count him ‘out’. On the White Album version, he wasn’t so sure, he says you can count him out/in. Lennon admitted at the time that he wasn’t quite sure of his stance; something inside of him maybe realised that the only way to peace would involve some sort of destruction. It would not be the first or last time that some of his thoughts were at odds with each other.

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User Comments
  1. sambhafusia

    On February 25, 2010 at 6:02 am

    good post….

  2. Muhammad Sohaib Roomi

    On February 25, 2010 at 6:07 am

    Nice post keep it up

  3. David De Jesus

    On February 25, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Sometime the your inner spirit wants to do or act in a certain manner, yet the physical or earthy part might want to act in another. We don’t know. Who are we to judge.
    Great write, very informative, you did your research.
    Thank you again Alistair for sharing this and other pieces.

  4. Mark Gordon Brown

    On February 25, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Howard Kaylan’s, film Dinner With Jimi, dramatizes Lennon’s darker side, as he, in a fit of extreme nastiness, belittle’s the Turtles lead guitarist in one scene. Lennon berates this man to the point where he quits The Turtles and music altogether. According to Kaylan, everything in the film was true, thus giving credence to our claim of Lennon’s unpeaceful demeanor.

  5. Mark Gordon Brown

    On February 25, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Correction to the above comment, the films name is My Dinner With Jimi

  6. Alistair Briggs

    On February 25, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    @Mark Gordon Brown:

    I have heard of that incident and although it may only have been a verbal berating it does show something about the man.

    There are plenty of other incidents of Lennon and his ‘bad behavious – alas, they may have to wait for another day. ;)

  7. albert1jemi

    On February 26, 2010 at 3:07 am

    good one

  8. SG

    On August 18, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    I’d never heard about the door jamb story & had to Google for the source – It’s from an obituary of Ritchie Galvin, a Liverpool drummer who witnessed the incident. He said Lennon kicked the door to trap the girl’s hand in the door jamb, her hand was bleeding & Lennon was indeed laughing loudly, although no one else was. It kind of lends credence to Goldman’s story of a drunk Lennon later dragging a girl’s hand into an open fire. Also, in the Wooler incident, Lennon didn’t just punch him, but beat him repeatedly with a shovel, giving Wooler several broken ribs. Pacifist? No. Sociopath? Yes.

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