Originally posted on Continuing History of Protest Music
John Wayne massacred our Indian brothers
They burned their villages and raped their mothers
Now he’s given them a white man’s lord
‘Live by this, or die by my sword!’
These are lyrics from “John Wayne Was A Nazi,” a scathing song by hardcore pioneers MDC. The single was originally released a year after Wayne’s death in 1980, when they were known as The Stains. After changing his name, he appeared on his 1982 debut album, “Millions Of Dead Cops.”
The song challenged the celebrated actor for his bigotry and his role in helping prop up an oppressive colonial system. He was referring to films of his that often portrayed Wayne as a heroic cowboy fighting against villainous Native Americans.
Wayne’s film depictions were not too far removed from his real-world views. For example, in a 1972 Playboy interview, Wayne said, “I don’t feel we were wrong to take this great country from you, if that’s what you’re asking. What we call stealing this country from them was just a matter of survival.”
“There were large numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Wayne also stated, “I believe in white supremacy until black people are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”
No wonder the song declares, “When I see John, I’m ashamed to be white.”
Recently Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up and indigenous EDM act Halluci Nation reworked the tune.
Halluci Nation’s Ehren “Bear Witness” Thomas stated, “The song has been with me since high school. The song and MDC have stayed with me through the years. It has anger and that message, but I love that it also has a dark humor. It really fits with the way we make music and visuals, with the message we’re trying to get across about confronting one-dimensional misrepresentations of indigenous peoples in the media. John Wayne becomes a substitute for the entire colonial project.
“For me, it’s like this: You watch The Searchers in school and John Wayne is presented as an iconic figure from North America,” added Fucked Up frontman Damian Abraham. “As a young punk who heard this song for the first time, he changed the way he looked at it: he subverted it until all of a sudden the hero is the villain, and you can see what’s going on in pop culture. ”
“When I was a young punk, this song was one of the first to show the cracks in that veneer.”
Exposing those cracks is an important step in breaking down oppressive colonial systems and rebuilding an equitable society.
Listen to Fucked Up & The Halluci Nation’s “John Wayne Was A Nazi”: