About the Song
Boris Vian addressed his lyrics to the President of France in 1954, objecting to the participation of France in the Vietnam War.
It was first recorded by Marcel Mouloudji in 1954. Mouloudji's father was Algerian. He changed some of Vlan's original words.
Peter, Paul and Mary recorded this song as "Messieurs qu'on nomme grand," (men whose names are great).
Mister President, I'm writing you a letter
That you'll maybe read if you have time,
I've just received my military papers/orders
To go to war before Wednesday evening.
Mister President, I don't want to make it [war]
I'm not on earth to kill poor people.
It's not to anger you, I have to tell you,
My decision is taken, I'm going to desert.
Since I was born, I've seen my father die,
I've seen my brothers leave and my children cry,
My mother suffered so much that she's in her tomb
And doesn't care for bombs and doesn't care for worms.
When I was a prisoner, they stole my wife,
They stole my soul and all my dear past.
Tomorrow morning, I'll close my door
Right in front of the dead years*, I'll go on the ways.
I'll beg my living on France roads,,
From Brittany to Provence and I will tell people
"Refuse to obey, refuse to make it,
Don't go to war, refuse to leave.
If blood must be given, go to give yours,
You're a good preacher, Mister President.
If you chase me, warn your gendarmes
That I will have no weapons and that they can shoot.
* The French is "je fermerai ma porte au nez des années mortes" which translates literally as "I'll shut the door at the nose of the dead years". The idea is when you shut the door when someone is about to enter the room so that the door almost hit the person on the nose.