Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground. Mother Earth will swallow you; lay your body down.
“Find the Cost of Freedom” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young was written during the Vietnam War and a year after the Kent State shooting (which is referred to in the band’s song “Ohio,” published in the same album), during which four students were killed by the National Guard in response to an anti-Vietnam War protest on the college’s campus (“The Pacifica Radio”). I found that the lyrics could also be viewed from a New Historical perspective, due to the ideologies that the lyrics are portraying.
Firstly, it is important to note that the lyrics, which comprise only of two sentences, address two very different (albeit related) ideas. When looking at the first, it is important to remember that, when using the New Historical critical theory, it is important to understand exchanges of power; the phrase “find the cost of freedom” suggests that freedom is something that can be bought and sold. According to Tyson, “the exchange of ideas,” which in this situation would be the concept of freedom, would occur through “the various discourses a culture produces” (284). When looking at the entire sentence “Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground,” it seems that the discourse could be the idea that in the past, freedom has only ever been achieved through violent means, always resulting in death. Therefore, the band is stating an ideological view of the past, in which, for sake of freedom, the necessary power exchange has always been the lives of people.
The second sentence is very different, because it is no longer trying to make us aware of how we must view past occurrences. Rather, it tries to tell us what is happening “now,” or, in this case, the time to which it applies (the Vietnam War). “Mother Earth will swallow you; lay your body down” is vocalizing a discourse about the present situation. However, this discourse is not very concerned about what exactly should be done, besides the necessity of death; it may therefore apply to both the soldiers dying in Vietnam as well as the protestors dying in the United States. Regardless of who exactly is being referenced in this the song, it is accepting the ideology displayed in the previous sentence, acknowledging that, yes, one must die for the sake of freedom and one should not fight against this fate. Rather, as we are all part of the exchange of power, we must acknowledge that our fate is death, and we should not resist it, so we should willingly “lay [our bodies] down.” Mother Earth will swallow us and we will be buried in the ground alongside those whose lives were exchanged for freedom in the past. We too will become the cost of freedom.
The idea of self-martyrdom is not foreign to this time period of American history, which is why it is valid to consider it to be an ideology of the time. One of the most extreme forms of this ideology can be seen in acts of self-immolation by certain groups of protestors (this is most often done by setting oneself on fire). Such radical acts occurred at least eight times during the anti-Vietnam War riots and marches. It is important to note that this song is not suggesting that listeners burn themselves to death for the cause of peace. That being said, it is quite clear that, because one should “lay [one’s] body down,” the ideology of self-sacrifice in general, whether as violent as hurting oneself or as unintentional as being caught in crossfire, is the ultimate price for freedom. Therefore, in viewing the deaths at Kent State as martyrs, as well as continuing to participate in protests and riots against the war despite the danger to one’s life, very many people living and taking action during the Vietnam War took part in the ideology that, sometimes, death is necessary for the attainment of freedom.
(Additionally, I have shared the song “Ohio,” which is referenced above. Besides being a great song, the youtube video also contains a good picture compilation of the riots that took place in response to the Vietnam War, as well as the Kent State shooting.)
“The Pacifica Radio/UC Berkeley Social Activism Sound Recording Project: Anti-Vietnam War Protests in the San Francisco Bay Area & Beyond.” Media Resources Center. Library, University of California, Berkeley, 10 May 2012. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.