This machine kills fascists
Historian Anne Neimark relates that 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
Historian John Partington notes that 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 allegedly endangered 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 Read" 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".
The most famous photo of Guthrie with his anti-Fascist message on his guitar was taken in 1941 by Lester Balog. Historian John Partington notes that it has become iconic, in it "Guthrie, who looks to have emerged from a crowd, blowing smoke almost defiantly, harmonica holder loose around his neck, cigarette poised in his left hand, and his right arm resting on top of a guitar, across which he has brushed with broad strokes 'This Machine Kills Fascists'. This is the image of a folk outlaw. What this image has come to represent is not unlike the only 'verifiable' photo of Billy the Kid, standing at attention with his cocky stare, left hand gripping the muzzle end of his rifle. In one sense, this image of Guthrie as a folk - or cultural - outlaw, just as Billy the Kid became a folk hero". Partington goes on to say that while this does serve to keep the tradition of the folk outlaw alive, we must consider "what this tradition historically and critically represents. All too often, we forget the radicalism behind Guthrie's scrawl or that the Kid's rifle might have take a man's life." Partington notes that Guthrie was one of the few folk singers of his day admitting to the extreme violence of quasi-mythic figures like Billy the Kid and Jesse James, but that Guthrie also followed folk formula and linked this to the claim that such figures were "a friend to the poor" or that "he took form the Rich and delivered to the Poor". Partington says this "demonstrates both Guthrie's consideration of the real and the ideal and the tension of the outlaw figure's rugged individualism and collectivism" and thereby the historian calls on us to do the same when considering Guthrie's image.
The author Greil Marcus questions the effectiveness of Guthrie's use of the phrase on his guitar, saying "Woody Guthrie had a sign on his guitar that said, 'This machine kills fascists.' That's just the kind of connection between music and politics that I'm arguing against. It wasn't a machine and it didn't kill fascists. It made Woody Guthrie and the people who listened to him feel noble. I'm not saying that he wasn't against fascism but to say that you could defeat it by singing songs is not helpful in the war against fascism." Marcus contrasted this to songs that say "fascism is the dominant mode of political behavior in the West today and it has seeped down to our everyday lives. If fascism now pervades our everyday lives and our interactions with each other, our whole understanding of social intercourse supports and ultimately affirms fascism." Marcus holds that songs on Elvis Costello's Armed Forces record do just that. He stated that "Woody Guthrie says, 'Sing my songs and defeat fascism.' Elvis Costello says, 'Fascism exists - look around you.'"
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (December 2013)|
Guitar manufacturer Gibson has replicated Guthrie's 1945 Southern Jumbo complete with sticker.
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 and sang "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy (and the Big Fool Says to Push On)" 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."
"This Machine Kills Fascists" is the title of
- an Anti-Flag track on their 2001 album "Underground Network" and on their 2004 DVD "Death of a Nation", and also seen on Chris Barker's bass guitar.
- a Today Is the Day track from their 2004 album "Kiss The Pig"
- an album by Ethan Daniel Davidson
- the 2005 album by US jazz trumpeter Nate Wooley
- the 2005 film by Stephen Gammond
- the 2009 album by Beatnik
The title of French punk rock compilation "Cette Machine Sert A Tuer Tous Les Fascistes" translates as "This Machine Is Used To Kill All The Fascists".
Micah P. Hinson also adorns his guitars with this slogan.
John Green of Crash Course and Vlogbrothers has a "This Machine Kills Fascists" sticker on the laptop on his desk in the Crash Course YouTube video series, as well as mentioning this sentence in his book "Paper Towns". His brother, Hank Green, also from Crash Course and Vlogbrothers, has a guitar bearing the inscription "This machine pwns n00bs" and has written and produced an album of the same name.
- The inside cover of the Half Man Half Biscuit album Achtung Bono contains an image of a guitar with "This Machine Kills Wasps" written on it.
- The liner booklet of the Ocean Colour Scene album B-sides, Seasides and Freerides includes a close-up photograph of someone holding an acoustic guitar (presumably lead singer and guitarist Simon Fowler who often used one) with an attached sticker reading "This Machine Kills The En·Em·Y", possibly a reference to the NME pop music magazine which generally gave them mediocre review scores.
- Hank Green of the Vlogbrothers has "this Machine PWNS N00bs" written on his guitar. It is also the name of his second album. Also, the online record label founded by his brother, John Green, sells laptop stickers with the slogan on them.
- As a tribute to both Guthrie and Seeger, The Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk has written "This Machine Kills Thieves" on his banjo.
- Fallout: New Vegas, a video game by Obsidian Entertainment, features a rifle named "This Machine". On the side of the rifle is carved "Well This Machine Kills Commies" phrased seemingly as a direct reply to the sticker. Obsidian has confirmed it is a nod to Guthrie.
- On the New Orleans-based TV series Treme, Harley (Steve Earle) plays a guitar with the message "This machine floats," a reference to Hurricane Katrina.
- Satirical Folk Guitarist Roy Zimmerman wrote a song entitled "This Machine" in reference to the phrase, which grows longer with each chorus.
- The violin (made using human bones) used by the character of Dominique "Mo" O'Brien in Charles Stross's Laundry series has a sticker saying "This Machine Kills Demons".
- Phill Jupitus gave away a ukulele inscribed "This Machine Kills Twats" as an audience prize at a live performance of Phill and Phil's Perfect Ten.
- Donovan had 'This Machine Kills' inscribed on his guitar during the early stages of his career.
- Rapper Busdriver's 2002 album is named "This Machine Kills Fashion Tips"
- Cooper McBean of The Devil Makes Three plays a tenor banjo with the inscription "This Machine Annoys Everyone"
- The standup bass for English folk band Skinny Lister has the slogan "This Machine Kills Dubstep"emblazoned upon it. It was first played by Dan Gray and most recently by Michael Camino.
- The Chinese made classical acoustic played by Bill Cigich of the Shrieking Balkan Harpies has the slogan "This is a Weapon of Mass Destruction" in reference to the war on terror.
- The Belgian disk-jockey DJ Chevals uses a laptop with the inscription "This machine kills turfists".
- The band Gogol Bordello released merchandise featuring the slogan "This Mustache Kills Fascists."
- A compilation album released by Relapse Records is entitled This Comp Kills Fascists.
- Singer-songwriter Brett Dennen plays a guitar with the expression "This machine works for peace" and a dove marked upon it.
- EDM Artists Dada Life released a song in 2007 called "This Machine Kills Breakfasts" and later on in 2013 one called "This Machine Kills Ravers".
- 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.
- Joe Bonomo, ed. (2012). Conversations with Greil Marcus. The University Press of Mississippi. p. 116-117.
- 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.
- Brennan, Tim (August 1, 2013). "This Machine Kills Fascists pedals". TYM Guitars.