Interview and story by Don Wilcock
Smithsonian Magazine called “folksinger” Buffy Sainte-Marie a few years ago to apologize. Apologize for what, she couldn’t imagine. “They did a story about Vietnam servicemen who had peace slogans and comments carved onto their rifle butts and into their bunks, and one of them had carved a verse of ‘Universal Soldier’ that the Smithsonian Magazine did not recognize (as one of my songs), and they attributed it to this soldier writing this brilliant lyric.”
“And they said, ‘Would you like me to send you the letters?’ And they sent me all these packages of wonderful letters of people who had written in, servicemen who were there clarifying the fact that I had written the song. They [Smithsonian Magazine] printed a retraction, and they told me they had more mail on that story than on any story they’d ever had before.”
“Universal Soldier,” written in the early ’60s, ran totally counter to the prevailing style of folk music of the time. First of all, it was a contemporary commentary on the importance of every man and every woman taking responsibility for society’s war-like nature.