Circa 1943, in the midst of World War II, Guthrie wrote the war song "Talking Hitler's Head Off Blues". This was printed in the Daily Worker, a newspaper published by the Communist Party USA. Then, according to biographer Anne E. Neimark, "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", straightforwardly denouncing 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 portrayed these characters as something larger than merely "dumb gangsters", while his lyricism 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".
The message has inspired subsequent artists.
- Author John Green of vlogbrothers added a sticker with the message onto his laptop for the series Crash Course, which drew criticism from New Hampshire State Representative Richard Littlefield. The phrase, in the context of Guthrie, was also featured in Green's novel Paper Towns and the movie of the same name.
- New York City street performer Colin Huggins inscribed the message on his Steinway grand piano.
- Donovan put the message "This machine kills" on his guitar, leaving off the word "fascists"; he explained in his autobiography, "I dropped the last word, thinking fascism was already dead."
- The Dropkick Murphys' 11th studio album is titled This Machine Still Kills Fascists.
- 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. p. 66.
- John S. Partington (2011). The Life, Music and Thought of Woody Guthrie: A Critical Appraisal. Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
- Green, Hank [@hankgreen] (June 5, 2020). "Really never thought that John putting a "This Machine Kills Fascists" sticker on the laptop he used in Crash Course videos would be seen by some as controversial" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- Littlefield, Richard (6 December 2021). "Rep. Richard Littlefield: Teachers should set aside personal feelings and just teach". The Laconia Daily Sun. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
- Brown, Jennifer M. (2008-09-12). "Shelf Awareness for Friday, September 12, 2008". Shelf Awareness. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
- Rea, Steven (2015-07-26). "'Paper Towns': Romantic teens trying to catch on". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
- Pereira, Sydney (September 13, 2019). "Local Legend: Colin 'The Piano Guy' Plays Washington Square Park". Patch. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
- Leitch, Donovan (2007). The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. p. 69. ISBN 9780312364342. Retrieved 2022-07-14.
- Engelhart, Kris (2022-06-21). "Dropkick Murphys Announce New Album This Machine Still Kills Fascists Bringing "Original Punk" Woody Guthrie's Words To Life". Retrieved 2022-07-05.