GreeneSpace

Monday, August 30, 2004

About suffering he was never wrong

I heard it on the radio on Saturday, and Eric found the link: to the American Museum of the Living Image's "Living Room Candidate" exhibit of vintage presidential TV ads. The visual image of the little girl in LBJ's 1964 "Daisy" ad is part of the cultural landscape, but I don't remember actually seeing it. (It was pulled off the air rather quickly.) So it was startling to hear the audio. Here's the transcript:

SMALL CHILD [with flower]: One, two, three, four, five, seven, six, six, eight, nine, nine ....

MAN: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero.

[Sounds of exploding bomb.]

JOHNSON: These are the stakes: To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the darkness. We must either love each other, or we must die.

ANNOUNCER: Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.


What startled me most is that Johnson is giving a close paraphrase of W.H. Auden's most famous line, a line he tried to erase from his own work. It's from "September First, 1939":
We must love one another or die.

--a line that gained fresh currency after September 11.

Students still learn that Auden, on reflection, called the line "trash." "Well that's a damed lie! We must die anyway," he said. To which Sven Birkerts responds, "I've always wondered where this sudden literalism came from, this misplaced sense of scruple. It's his best line."