How Bertrand Russell Turned The Beatles Against the Vietnam War

The Bea­t­les were so much a part of the youth move­ment that blos­somed in the 1960s that it’s amus­ing to think that one of the main issues that ener­gized the movement–peace–came to the Bea­t­les through a 92-year-old man.

As Paul McCart­ney explains in this clip from a Jan­u­ary 14, 2009 inter­view on The View, it hap­pened when he decid­ed to pay a vis­it to philoso­pher Bertrand Rus­sell. A co-founder of ana­lyt­ic phi­los­o­phy, Rus­sell had been a life-long social and polit­i­cal activist. Dur­ing World War I, he was not allowed to trav­el freely in Britain due to his anti-war views. He lost his fel­low­ship at Trin­i­ty Col­lege, Cam­bridge, and was even­tu­al­ly jailed for six months for sup­pos­ed­ly inter­fer­ing with British For­eign Pol­i­cy. After World War II, Rus­sell lob­bied stren­u­ous­ly for the abo­li­tion of nuclear weapons. In the 1960s, he opposed the Viet­nam War.

After the Bea­t­les became big in 1963 and 1964, McCart­ney began tak­ing advan­tage of his celebri­ty sta­tus by call­ing on peo­ple he admired. In an inter­view with Bar­ry Miles for the book Paul McCart­ney: Many Years From Now, McCart­ney describes his meet­ing with Rus­sell:

Some­how I got his num­ber and called him up. I fig­ured him as a good speak­er, I’d seen him on tele­vi­sion, I’d read var­i­ous bits and pieces and was very impressed by his dig­ni­ty and the clar­i­ty of this think­ing, so when I got a chance I went down and met him. Bertrand Rus­sell lived in Chelsea in one of those lit­tle ter­race hous­es, I think it was Flood Street. He had the arche­typ­al Amer­i­can assis­tant who seemed always to be at every­one’s door that you want­ed to meet. I sat round wait­ing, then went in and had a great lit­tle talk with him. Noth­ing earth-shat­ter­ing. He just clued me in to the fact that Viet­nam was a very bad war, it was an impe­ri­al­ist war and Amer­i­can vest­ed inter­ests were real­ly all it was all about. It was a bad war and we should be against it. That was all. It was pret­ty good from the mouth of the great philoso­pher. “Slip it to me, Bert.”

McCart­ney report­ed his expe­ri­ence to the oth­er mem­bers of the Bea­t­les, and it was John Lennon who real­ly took the anti-war mes­sage and ran with it. For a reminder of those days, watch the video below of Lennon and Yoko Ono at their “Bed-In” for peace in 1969:

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  • Give piece a chance is such a great move­ment all of us have to par­tic­i­pate in this. This world is poor because of its atti­tude. Devel­op more tol­er­ance and learn to live togeth­er by shar­ing what you have. Leave greed. I am immense­ly influ­enced by Sir Bertrand Rus­sel. A great intel­lec­tu­al of the last cen­tu­ry.

  • Jason says:

    It was Bertrand Rus­sell. I think he prob­a­bly went into more depth than that.

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