Antiwar Opera: Roger Waters Rocks the Garden With ‘This Is Not a Drill’

Those familiar with the music of Roger Waters know that the creative force behind Pink Floyd is an outspoken activist. But just to make sure everyone knew the score going in the performance began with a simple announcement broadcasted over the loudspeakers and typed out on huge video screens in giant letters:

"If you’re one of those ‘I love Pink Floyd but I can’t stand Roger’s politics people,’ you might do well to fuck off to the bar right now."

He wasn’t kidding. From start to finish Waters used his platform to scream out a message to a packed Boston Garden. It was a message that was explicitly anti-war, anti-authoritarian, pro-people, and pro-justice; offering commentary that was not only poignant but also intentionally challenging to a mainstream audience.

Activists should know that Roger Waters is the real deal. Volunteers and staffers from Massachusetts Peace Action were in attendance through the kind invitation of our long time allies, the Smedley D. Butler Brigade of Veterans for Peace. They received the tickets from Roger Waters himself. Recognizing the importance of VFP’s work, the long-time front man of one of the biggest rock bands in history invited peace activists to his performance and asked that they spread their message. While the Vets for Peace handed out copies of Peace and Planet, their antiwar and pro-climate newspaper, at an educational table in the Garden, MAPA activists were outside handing out fliers in opposition to flooding Ukraine with weapons that serve to enrich war profiteers.

We knew the audience would be receptive and that our message would be reinforced from the stage. None of us expected it to be echoed so loudly and clearly. Over the course of two and a half hours Waters addressed almost all of the issues that antiwar activists work on every day. He hit on war in the Middle East, Palestinian rights, Latin America, nuclear weapons, racial justice, militarized policing, Indigenous rights, and on and on and on. Waters’ willingness to take on extremely difficult topics directly and in depth, and the resonance it received from a mainstream audience, was an inspiration that deserves a close look.

The show began with an understated version of "Comfortably Numb." Paired with images of a ruined and desolated city on 100 foot video screens, the message was clear. These are the consequences of apathy. As the gigantic screens rose exposing a center stage in the round, the band went into "Another Brick in the Wall," perhaps Pink Floyd’s most famous anthem. Waters used the tune to highlight the education we all receive through propaganda with messages like "US GOOD THEM EVIL" scrolling across the screen again and again.

Next, during "The Bravery of Being out of Range," came images of every president since Ronald Reagan. Alongside the large label "WAR CRIMINAL," were their rap sheets. Waters cited 500,000 Iraqi children killed by Bill Clinton’s sanctions, 1 million killed in the wars of George W. Bush, the drone programs of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and the image of Joe Biden with the cryptic quote "just getting started…" Say what you will, for Roger Waters it isn’t about partisanship. He followed up with a positive celebration of the resistance at Standing Rock during a new song, "the Bar," which ended with a simple question, "would you kindly get the fuck off our land?"

After a few songs in tribute to his co-founder and best friend Syd Barrett, who tragically succumbed to mental illness in the late 60’s, Waters played "Sheep" off his 1977 homage to George Orwell, Animals. He lamented that, "the pigs and dogs are even more powerful today, and yet we still don’t teach our children well. We teach them bullshit like the rapture, ultra-nationalism, and the hatred of others. And sadly we also teach them how to be good sheep."

Not one to waste a moment, the spectacle during intermission may have been the clearest message against militarism and war profiteering of the entire performance. A giant inflatable pig, a staple of Pink Floyd concerts also from Animals, floated high above the audience and flew around the stadium. On one side was the message "Fuck the Poor." On the other, "Steal from the Poor, Give to the Rich." Emblazoned alongside these messages were the logos of the world’s largest "defense contractors," the war profiteers Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Elbit Systems, and more.

As the second set began red banners fell from the ceiling and the crowd was suddenly transported to a fascist rally with "In the Flesh" and "Run like Hell." Dressed as an authoritarian figure in black leather trench coat, dark sunglasses, and red armband, Waters illustrated the dangers of militarized policing, racism, and cults of personality. The screens showed images of police dressed indistinguishably from fascist stormtroopers, a sight that has become all too familiar in recent years.

Waters continued with the entire second side of Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon. Connecting capitalism with militarism again he showed images of stacking cash with fighter planes, attack helicopters, and assault rifles during "Money." He went on to play "Us and Them," "Any Color you Like," and "Eclipse," which were used to celebrate diversity and champion a sense of oneness with all of humanity. Snapshots of people from cultures all over the world joined together to form a tapestry, eventually making up the spectrum of light through the prism in Dark Side’s iconic album art.

By this point in the show the connection between artist and audience was palpable. The applause went on and on to the point that Waters was visibly moved by the response, near tears of joy and appreciation. His encore was brief but powerful. "Two Suns in the Sunset," a song about nuclear holocaust, showed a verdant landscape overcome by the massive firestorm of an atomic weapon. Innocent people became silhouettes and then those silhouettes turned into so many burning pieces of paper as they were vaporized by the concussive shockwave.

It ain’t the Doobie Brothers. It’s a difficult show. Roger Waters, as much an artist and activist as he is a musician, reminds his audience to be uncomfortable with what’s wrong in our society. He purposefully discomforts us. It’s meant to be a slap in the face and it stings more than it delights. But there is hope in it too. To know that these complex and challenging issues can play to a mainstream audience, or at least to a crowd that packed one of the city’s largest venues, gives heart. It should give heart to the climate activists fighting against 200 years of oil and coal and gas and money. It should give strength to BLM activists getting hit with tear gas and batons and riot shields; whether they’re held by Nazi thugs or cops who act like them. It should give hope to peace activists in the land of forever war.

Roger Waters is unafraid to say, "Fuck the Warmongers." He’s unafraid to say "Fuck your Guns." Unafraid to say "Fuck Empires." Unafraid to say "Free Assange." Unafraid to say "Free Palestine." Willing to dedicate a show to Human Rights. To Reproductive Rights. To Trans Rights. To the Right to Resist Occupation.

It’s not for everybody. Some people fucked off to the bar. Who needs ‘em? On Tuesday night the Boston Garden was full of people ready to hear this message. Our message. In our dark nights of the soul all activists have asked ourselves, "Is there anybody out there?"

The answer is Yes. They’re out there and they’re fed up, just like us. Ideas like peace and justice and anti-authoritarianism aren’t fringe. They’re mainstream. It helps to know that. Because Waters is right. This isn’t a drill. It’s real and the stakes are high. But our people are out there. And if we can get together, we can win.

Brian Garvey is the Assistant Director of Massachusetts Peace Action. He is also a co-founder of the Raytheon Antiwar Campaign.

14 thoughts on “Antiwar Opera: Roger Waters Rocks the Garden With ‘This Is Not a Drill’”

  1. For those who don’t know, Waters lost his father in WW II, KIA before he was born. Ideally everyone would have his antiwar views, but he got his handed to him.

    1. I’m sorry he lost his father due to war and never got to see him. If his father were alive now, they could both take a stand against wars and support for Israel’s crimes against humanity.
      I’d rather have Roger Waters for president than Biden, Obama, Trump, W, etc.
      Since Waters is not a US Citizen and was born outside of the US, he is ineligible to be president or vice-president. Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Austria and wants the Constitution amended to allow himself to be president. I’d rather have Waters for president since he is against war and many other things Schwarzenegger is for.

      1. Problem being Waters, or anyone like him, would never be accepted by either party and without that “R” or “D” next to your name, you aren’t “viable”.

        1. The Israelis losing their loved ones lose them due to Israel’s persecution and ethnic cleansing of Arabs. The Israeli Settlers in the Colonized West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem force Arabs out to make room for them. The Israelis that are killed by Arabs put themselves in that position. CNN, Fox, MSNBC and most of the Western Media show Israelis crying because members of their families were killed in the Colonized Territories. They don’t tell you Arabs are being forced out of their homes to make room for settlers.

          1. Horsedroppings. Arabs Moslems and Persian Moslems were persecuting Arab Jews way before the birth of the Zionist movement-race riots,pogroms, forced conversions and statutory discrimination.Get your facts right. Any person has a right not to be killed,no matter what their origins or where they live-this may come as a shock to the “antiwar crowd”.As far as East Jerusalem, I fully recognize that Moslems and Christians have genuine feelings for Jerusalem, and are stakeholders,but Jerusalem was built by King David-and now it is back in its rightful hands -no “colonization baby”-homecoming!!!
            By the way,there are no Israelis in Gaza these days.

          2. You are entitled to your opinion but not your own facts which are not facts at all but are true lies. If King David built Jerusalem, it doesn’t mean the entire city belongs in Israel. If the Jews need Israel because it was their ancestral homeland, the Native Americans should get the Continental USA back, the Native Alaskans should get Alaska back and the Native Hawaiians should get Hawaii back, the USA was built on land stolen from the Native Americans, Native Alaskans and Native Hawaiians. Most of the Native Americans died from wars and diseases brought by the Europeans that used to be non-existent in the Western Hemisphere and that’s why they couldn’t enslave Native Americans and brought Blacks to be their slaves.
            There are Native Hawaiians that don’t like being part of the USA, they want to secede, restore their monarchy and make Hawaiian their official language. The US won’t allow that but funds Israel’s ethnic cleansing and persecution of Arabs. 2009 was Hawaii’s 5oth anniversary of statehood and 2019 was its 60th anniversary of statehood and many Native Hawaiians were in no mood to celebrate.

          3. So give your own home back to a so called Native American. Since I was born in the US,I am also a “native American” HA! King David Built the temple,so the temple area belongs to the Jews,as it does now.Egypt had Jews living there since 1500bc,way before the birth of Jesus and the advent of Islam-Egypt evicted its entire Jewish in 1956 population for the sole reason that they were Jews. As far as Hawaii goes,I would respect the result of any public vote.

          4. If you are a Native American, so am I, I was born in the USA. I would be a Native American in addition to being an Asian Indian. The Ancient Egyptians did not own slaves and did Moses did not ask to leave Egypt. If the Canaanites were the original people of Israel, the land was never the Jew’s land to begin with and they committed genocide against them, the same thing Hitler did to Jews, Gypsies, LGBT People and disabled people.

      2. It’s easy to be anti-war and pro socialist when you’re a multi-millionaire who never has to face the day-to-day struggles of middle-class America. Waters is just like all the other liberal elitists. He stands at the top, looking down and criticizing everything he thinks is wrong. F#ck Him!

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