The Not-So-Subtle Political Commentary Behind Kris Kristofferson’s 1990 Single “Don’t Let the Bastards (Get You Down)”

They’re killing babies in the name of freedom opens Kris Kristofferson on his 1990 song “Don’t Let the Bastards (Get You Down).” Released months before the U.S. was about to invade Iraq, no specific conflict is referenced in the song by Kristofferson, who served as a captain in the U.S. Army. At the time, Kristofferson’s political views were crystal clear, and he opposed the recent military policies enforced by the then George W. Bush Jr. administration and remained outspoken about his more left-wing stances.

A year earlier, the U.S. invaded Panama on December 20, 1989, to oust long-running dictator Manuel Noriega, which resulted in more than 500 Panamian casualties, including soldiers and civilians, along with 23 U.S. soldiers and 23 American civilians. In 1990, Kristofferson also voiced his support for Nelson Mandela, when the South African leader was freed from prison after 27 years, and the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua.

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‘Third World Warrior’

Released on Kristofferson’s 1990 album Third World Warrior, “Don’t Let the Bastards (Get You Down),” opposes war, the death of innocent people, and how history was still repeating itself.

They’re killing babies in the name of Freedom
We’ve been down that sorry road before
They let us hang around a little longer than they should have
And it’s too late to fool us anymore

We’ve seen the ones who killed the ones with vision
Cold-blooded murder right before your eyes
Today they hold the power and the money and the guns
It’s getting hard to listen to their lies

And I’ve just got to wonder what my Daddy would’ve done
If he’d seen the way they turned his dream around
I’ve got to go by what he told me, try to tell the truth
And stand your ground
Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down

Mining roads
Killing farmers
Burning down schools full of children
Fighting communism

Sinéad O’Connor

Soon after the release of Don’t Let the Bastards (Get You Down),” the title became Kristofferson’s catchphrase. He even said the words to Sinéad O’Connor, after she was booed at a Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden, shortly after her controversial appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1992 where she tore a photograph of then-Pope John Paul II to shed light on the unspoken sexual abuses by priests in the Catholic church.

More than 15 years after the 1992 incidents, Kristofferson continued standing by O’Connor writing “Sister Sinead,” a tribute to the singer and songwriter, on his 2009 album Closer To The Bone.

Post-Gulf War

Following the Gulf War, Kristofferson switched up some of the lyrics of the song:

Bombin’ Baghdad back into the Stone Age
Around the clock non-stop
Killed them in their homes and on their highways
Then after a decade of crippling sanctions, we decided to do it all over again
Fighting terrorism

Photo: David Redfern/Redferns

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