Comfortably Numb: The Politics of Roger Waters

Recently, I attended the Roger Waters concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. In 1965, Waters co-founded the great British rock band Pink Floyd, which produced several unforgettable concept albums. It was a joy seeing Waters, who is still in top form at age 63, masterfully perform many classic Pink Floyd tracks, including the album “Dark Side of the Moon” (1973) in its entirety. Unfortunately, the concert’s politics failed to match the excellent quality of the music.

When Waters performed “The Fletcher Memorial Home” from Pink Floyd’s album, “The Final Cut” (1983), the large screen behind him broadcast a video that compared Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin, and Kim Jong-Il to President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush.

A self-described socialist and militant pacifist, Waters has always taken an interest in politics. One track, “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert,” from “The Final Cut,” equates British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with General Leopoldo Galtieri, Argentina’s military dictator who seized power in 1981 and invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982.

In recent years, Waters has bitterly attacked Prime Minister Tony Blair for participating in the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

As a private citizen, Waters has the right to speak out on any issue. Disagreeing with him or any celebrity, left or right, is not censorship. I believe that the comparisons Waters is making during his current tour are not only offensive, but reveal substantial ignorance on his part.

Reagan, Thatcher, Bush, and Blair all came to power by winning elections. Those who opposed their views had the opportunity to vote against them. By contrast, Stalin, Hussein, Kim Jong-Il, and Galtieri never allowed free elections in their countries or any opposition to their rule.

Reagan and Thatcher gave up power voluntarily. Blair is expected to step down next year. Bush will leave office on January 20, 2009. How often do dictators give up power voluntarily and peacefully? Despite his advancing age and serious illness, Fidel Castro refuses to relax his grip on the Cuban people 47 years after seizing power.

In Great Britain, the United States, and in any democratic country, Waters enjoys the freedom to criticize the government, including its leaders and policies. Additionally, Reagan, Thatcher, Bush, and Blair never made any effort to silence Waters. People who live in dictatorships don’t have that freedom.

If Waters were Cuban, Castro would have thrown him into prison, where thousands of political dissidents presently suffer. Both Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il probably would have had Waters tortured and then executed for opposing their dictatorial rule.

In 1990, Waters organized a concert in Berlin to celebrate the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe. Did it ever occur to Waters why the Berlin Wall finally fell? The combined leadership of Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II made it happen. They helped extend freedom to hundreds of millions of people who were being repressed by communist dictatorships. Today, people in Eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union can choose their leaders, have a say in their governments’ policies, and even enjoy Pink Floyd without being harassed by the secret police.

Apparently, Roger Waters is like many ideologues on the right and left. They think democracy works only when people who agree with them win elections.

I myself voted against President Bill Clinton twice. Although I was disappointed that he won, I never thought there was something evil afoot in the republic. I often rolled my eyes when I heard conservative extremists accuse him of orchestrating several murders and peddle other conspiracy theories about him.

Would it have been appropriate for the right to equate Clinton to Slobodan Milosevic, the late dictator of Yugoslavia and “The Butcher of the Balkans”? Was President Jimmy Carter no different than Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini? Where does it end?

How about Waters? If those who disagree with his views were to compare him with Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, or Al Qaeda propaganda that is often broadcast on the Al Jazeera network, I am sure that Waters would be morally outraged (and rightly so).

Unfortunately, many ideologues aren’t satisfied with simple disagreement. By demonizing opponents and comparing them to monsters from history and the present, they hope to increase the stakes. Differences of opinion suddenly escalate into a battle between good and evil.

Many people on both sides are often turned off by such extreme and divisive tactics. In fact, after Waters finished, “Leaving Beirut,” an anti-war song he wrote in 2003, about half the concert audience booed. Many of them probably weren’t Bush supporters.

For someone who wants to tear down walls that keep people divided and living in fear, Roger Waters helps to build them higher and higher when he makes these false and outrageous comparisons.


@ Marcfrans

I’m not going to defend Wasters’ views, though I think my interpretation of his views clarify his argument to some extent (at least in Fletcher Memorial Home). He’s not exactly the world’s foremost IR thinker and, as you point out, does not take into account any arguments that flow from Democratic Peace theory. Labeling pacifist artists as ‘dangerous’ seems like a stretch. The rhythm of world politics in the Pink Floyd era does not appear to be affected by Waters and likeminded musicians.


@ na

....becomes a vice when it goes along with stupidity.  There is not much to be said for consistent stupidity.

History can teach many lessons. Let's make two simple historical observations.  (1) War is a constant throughout human history between groups, clans, nations, just like crime is a constant throughout human history within nations or groups. (2) While democracy may be relatively recent in history, there has not been a single case of war between democratic nations.  

What can we learn from this?  That it is precisely the differences in "regime type" that is at the root of the problem.  If the world consisted solely of democrats and democratic cultures, there would likely be no more war.

It is thus clearly childish (a refusal to think beyond immediate 'feelings') to put the blame on an "international system that (supposedly) legitimizes and glorifies war".   How convenient. What a copout!   There is no such "international system" that legitimizes war, and there is even less such a system that glorifies war.  The system that the world got is a very imperfect one, but at least it tries to deal with the reality of war (or war-like actions)  by trying to regulate proper responses.

Artists (and others) who live on a phantasy planet (or a dreamworld), instead of on the one we got, are dangerous for us all because they help undermine our will to survive in a very dangerous world. 

If Waters cannot "differentiate between states based on regime type", then he has got his head in the sand.  In other words, he is irresponsible because he does not use his brains.  And there is no excuse for that, not even for 'artists'.         

The Fletcher Memorial Home

“I believe that the comparisons Waters is making during his current tour are not only offensive, but reveal substantial ignorance on his part.”

Without endorsing his pacifism, I’ll at least defend Wasters for being consistent. Fletcher Memorial Home is a critique on an international system that legitimizes (and glorifies) war. He’s attacking a sub-culture of international statesmen that he thinks are disconnected from the suffering they help create. You’re right: he doesn’t differentiate between states based on regime type. That doesn’t mean he’s endorsing authoritarianism or denouncing liberal democracy. In the song he’s criticizing the logic of the international game (the slide-show does sound a bit clumsy, though I don’t think it necessarily negates this interpretation of Waters’ political views). On the topic of the song itself, I’ve always found the last lines of the song to be both brutal and, given Waters’ pacifism, ironic:

“is everyone in?
are you having a nice time?
now the final solution can be applied”


"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"

There's no such thing... a rich socialist. Period. Like many such talented artists, he subscribes to a confused and contradictory ideology that is Neo-Marxist (or armchair Marxist), anti-globalist, anti-nationalist yet pro-national-self-determination, pro-statist (esp. welfare state), anti-government, anti-business, pro-living in a castle, and pro-individual liberties.

"Great" Pink Floyd

What on Earth is so "great" about Pink Floyd? Their lugubrious drug music cast a virtually inescapable pall over the American suburbs when I was growing up. The drug culture of which their "art" was so prominent an expression has been, perhaps, the single most corrosive cultural influence of the past fifty years. This band is a particularly notable example of sorts of creeps and junkies which our society has permitted to pervert the minds of its youth.
Are you at all surprised that the founder of this band is a moonbat? His artistic products tell you all you need to know about where this guy is coming from. And every dollar you give him just turns up the volume on his leftist PA system.

SHUT UP AND SING!!!!!!.....

I am paying you my HARD EARNED MONEY to hear your MUSIC, not your F-ING POLITICS!!!!!.....I am sick and tired of these left wing celebritys trying to inflict their marxist views on me when I am trying to enjoy their music/movie/tvshow, etc...Just because you have a right to speak your mind does NOT mean you have a right to be agreed with, or to BE HEARD!!!!!!...When I want your opinion, I WILL ASK FOR IT!!!!!!!!.......

roger waters exit stage left.

   It is obvious that some of roger waters politics come from the dark side of the moon lets hope he refrains from stealing bonos hat. Basically he is just spitting into the fan and playing the politically muddled and confused artist (celebrity) who has exited stage left. On a subconscious level Rogers loss was our gain freedom of speech and a great artist.

On Goebbels

It is no mark against Mr. Cavalli that he explained the late doctor's office in the Third Reich; indeed, in spite of its anti-racist, anti-Fascist, anti-National Socialist, pro-"Alternative," and pro-"Social Democratic" stances, Western education seems unable to instill such basic facts into its pupils, or misguided automatons.


"We don't need no education.

We don't need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teachers leave them kids alone..."

Who'da thunk that it would now apply to postmodern liberal education?