Woody Guthrie in 1943 with guitar labeled “This machine kills fascists”
Soon after moving into a small fourth-floor walk-up apartment in Manhattan, Guthrie wrote the war song “Talking Hitler‘s Head Off Blues”. This was printed in the Daily Worker newspaper. Then “In a fit of patriotism and faith in the impact of the song, he painted on his guitar THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS.”
Guthrie’s stance against fascism
In Guthrie’s opposition to fascism, he conceptualized the ideology “as a form of economic exploitation similar to slavery…” he straightforwardly denounces the fascists, particularly their leaders, as a group of gangsters who set out to ‘rob the world’.” This recalled a protest strategy he had used “during the Great Depression, when social, political and economic inequality had been engendered by a small rich elite.” During that era Guthrie had “romanticized the deeds of outlaws such as Jesse James, Pretty Boy Floyd, Calamity Jane or the Dalton Gang both as legitimate acts of social responsibility and as ‘the ultimate expression of protest’, thus transforming the outlaw into an archetypal partisan in a fight against those who were held responsible for the worsening social and economic conditions”.
In this Guthrie cast those opposing fascism not as mere outlaws in a fascist state, but as heroes rising “in times of economic turmoil and social disintegration” to fight “a highly illegitimate criminal endeavor intended to exploit the common people.” Guthrie joined his voice in portraying not only as “dumb gangsters” but he also “externalized the inhuman element of fascism by describing its representatives as animals that were usually held in very low esteem and were associated with a range of bad character traits.” For example, he talked about the “Nazi Snake” that has to be countered in his song “Talking Hitler’s Head Off Blues.” Guthrie would declare “[a]nything human is anti Hitler” and in his song “You Better Get Ready” he has the figure of Satan declare that “Old Hell just ain’t the same/Compared to Hitler, hell, I’m tame!” Guthrie saw the battle against fascism as the ultimate battle of good versus evil. In a letter to “Railroad Pete” he stated “fascism and freedom are the only two sides battling…[this was the war] the world has been waiting on for twenty five million years…[which would] settle the score once and for all”.
Guthrie did celebrate the killing of fascists by Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko in his song Miss Pavlichenko, which includes the lines, “You lift up your sight and down comes a hun, and more than three hundred nazidogs fell by your gun.”
When appearing on a Glen Campbell-hosted television show in the late 1960s Pete Seeger paid homage to Guthrie’s phrase by writing “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender” on the calfskin head of his banjo as he sang “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” over images of the drawn-out war in Vietnam.
In his autobiography the folksinger Donovan recalled that out of homage to Guthrie he placed the words “This machine kills” on his guitar, “thinking that fascism was already dead. My machine would kill greed and delusion.”
Author John Green has a “⚠ THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS” sticker on the laptop on his desk in the Crash Course history video series, and refers to the famous photo and accompanying catchphrase in his 2008 novel Paper Towns. His brother, Hank Green, has a guitar that reads, in a style similar to Guthrie’s guitar: “THIS MACHINE pwns n00bs”. “This Machine Pwns n00bs” is also the name of one of Hank Green’s albums, which was released in 2009.
Marlboro College art professor, potter, painter, and performance artist, Roberto Lugo, writes “This machine kills hate” on his potters wheel and describes why in a talk he gave to the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA).
The sleeve notes for the 2005 Half Man Half Biscuit album Achtung Bono feature the band’s lead singer Nigel Blackwell, holding a guitar with the words “This Machine Kills Wasps” written on it.
Bassist Bob Crawford for The Avett Brothers plays an electric bass with the words “This Machine Kills Cancer” on the body.
Anti-Flag, a very politically active Peace Punk band, has a song by the name “This Machine Kills Facists” off of the album Underground Network. The song was designed as a tribute to Woodie Guthrie. It was written in February 2001 but became very relevant after the tragedy of September 11th 2001.
The character Monique O’Brien in the scifi-horror novel series The Laundry Files has an possessed violin with the sticker “This Machine Kills Demons” put on its case.
In the videogame Fallout: New Vegas, players can acquire a gun called This Machine, which has ‘WELL THIS MACHINE KILLS COMMIES’ on its stock.
The serially published work of long fiction, Unsong, has the inscription “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS,” written in big letters near the bottom of the nuclear targeting computer, with the added mention “BUT NOT SELECTIVELY”.
- Robert Weir, ed. (2007). Class in America [Three Volumes]: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 337.
- Anne E. Neimark (2002). There Ain’t Nobody That Can Sing Like Me: The Life of Woody Guthrie. Atheneurn Books.
- John S. Partington (2011). The Life, Music and Thought of Woody Guthrie: A Critical Appraisal. Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
- Guthrie, Woody, Guthrie, Hardtravelin’ The Asch Recirdings Vol 1, Smithsonian Folkways, Washington D.C. 1998, track 8
- Steve Martin (2007). Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life. Simon and Schuster, Inc.
- Donovan Leitch (2007). The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man. St Martin’s Griffin. p. 69.
- Andrew Collins (2013). Billy Bragg: Still Suitable for Miners. Ebury Publishing.
- Musician’s Friend. “Tom Morello Guitars & Home Studio”. YouTube. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
- Brennan, Tim (August 1, 2013). “This Machine Kills Fascists pedals”. TYM Guitars.
- “My Computer Just Got So Much More Awesome”. John Green Tumblr. October 25, 2011.
- New Albanian Brewing Company Store Website
- This Machine Kills Hate – NCECA Blog
- Busdriver – This Machine Kills Fashion Tips on Discogs.net
- TheTragicallyHipVEVO (2009-06-16), The Tragically Hip – Bobcaygeon, retrieved 2017-01-17
- KT Tunstall – Black Horse and The Cherry Tree (Live on Jay Leno 14-June-2006)
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