Why I Wanted to Sing at Walter Reed

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Regarding the April 28 Style article "At Walter Reed, Mellencamp Shuts His Mouth and Sings":

Recently, John Mellencamp invited me to be his guest at a concert for recovering soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I said yes immediately. Only later did I realize how the passage of time had informed my decision to join him.

I have always been an advocate for nonviolence, and I have stood as firmly against the Iraq war as I did the Vietnam War 40 years ago. During that war, I could not, in good conscience, have "sung for the troops." Doing so would have meant condoning a war that was tearing soldiers, civilians, this country, Vietnam and, in some senses, the world, apart. I do not regret that decision.

What I do regret is having ignored the needs of the men and women who returned from Vietnam. For some who were relatively unscathed, it seemed possible to get on with life, with or without all of their limbs intact.

But it's clear that, for many, returning was hell.

I realize now that I might have contributed to a better welcome home for those soldiers fresh from Vietnam. Maybe that's why I didn't hesitate to accept the invitation to sing for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the end, four days before the concert, I was not "approved" by the Army to take part. Strange irony.

JOAN BAEZ

Menlo Park, Calif.

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