'You That Build the Death Planes': Bob Dylan, War and International Affairs

39 Pages Posted: 13 May 2019

Date Written: April 28, 2019


Several years ago, I wrote that Bob Dylan was “a scholar with a well-developed jurisprudence on a range of topics including civil, criminal, public, and private law” (Perlin, 2011, p.1396). In that article, I discussed and analyzed Dylan songs that dealt with, variously, civil rights, inequality in the criminal and civil justice systems, institutions, governmental/judicial corruption, equality and emancipation, and the role of lawyers in the legal process. (Id.). But I noted that I was omitting – for space considerations – any discussion of Dylan songs dealing with war and international affairs (Id., p. 1398, n. 15).

In this paper, I will address some of those songs that confront these topics directly (from John Brown, Highway 61, Masters of War, With God on Our Side, and Let Me Die in My Footsteps, to Slow Train and Neighborhood Bully), as well as others that do so more metaphorically or symbolically (e.g., It’s Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding); A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall; Gates of Eden; Pay in Blood). I will conclude that, beyond the anthemic anti-war core of songs such as Masters, Dylan’s work reflects a keen understanding of geopolitics – why there is war, how profiteering is inevitably part of any pro-war movement, how alliances forged in war time are fragile in the aftermath, and how wars are, inevitably, “mistakes of a past history” (Footsteps) – all a reflection of the Political World in which we live. I also look at these issues through the lens of therapeutic jurisprudence, a model of looking at the law and the legal system to determine that system’s impact on the individuals whose lives are regulated.

Note: Reference: Perlin, Michael L. "Tangled up in Law: The Jurisprudence of Bob Dylan." Fordham Urban Law Journal 38 (2010): 1395-1430.

Keywords: law and music; law and literature; law and the humanities; international affairs; war; Bob Dylan; therapeutic jurisprudence

Suggested Citation

Perlin, Michael L., 'You That Build the Death Planes': Bob Dylan, War and International Affairs (April 28, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3379255 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3379255

Michael L. Perlin (Contact Author)

New York Law School ( email )

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