This Is Not a Drill — Roger Waters Is the Real Deal
Rebuking the government of Israel, holding the United States accountable for aggravating the war in Ukraine and asserting that Taiwan is indeed a part of China are all positions that could get you blackballed, but not when you have the superior half of Pink Floyd's catalogue to your credit. Roger Waters, the band's co-founder, has remained ideologically consistent since he first committed to leveraging his musical credibility to sell peace on his own terms. By standing firm in the unpopular stances he has taken over the years, he has risked being labeled everything from anti-Semitic to an apologist. A year short of 80, Waters’s core values remain intact and his devotion to an unpopular brand of activism continues to manifest in his artistry.
This Is Not a Drill isn’t a concert tour as much as it is a sonic campaign on wheels that brings attention to the hypocrisy of Western virtue and the political insecurity that fuels it. The under- and misrepresented issues of the world that are central to the product take on the form of a setlist that isn’t designed to take you back to when you first started smoking weed to Dark Side of the Moon (though you'll get some of that regardless). Contrarily, it is an urgent call for us to take action against the flagrant imbalance of power that poses the threat of a bleak future.
It’s no secret that Waters can be difficult, but then again, those who go easy in their advocacy for human rights lack conviction — something the person in question cannot be faulted for. Respectfully disagreeing with a worldview even if it comes at the expense of others is a counterproductive norm that prompted Waters to adopt a with-us-or-against-us business model. He draws a clear line and leaves his fans to decide which side of history they want to be on, and that is why the ongoing tour opens with the following disclaimer:
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.
The ensuing performance makes it impossible to separate the art from the artist. The two-hour set holistically covers a rage of polarizing subjects that stem from a deep-seated aversion to the United States government and Western military forces. From there, he voices solidarity with those affected by the Black diaspora, dispossessed Palestinians and Native Americans, deprived Yemenis and the millions of innocent people who paid the price for callous “defense” operations. Throughout the show, Waters urges his audience to look closer and seek out the real perpetrators. At one point, the giant cross-shaped screen stretched across the center of the arena displays a war-criminal montage of US Presidents and the atrocities they each have to their respective names. While calling out the usual suspects such as Ronald Raegan, George Bush and Donald Trump, he extends his censure to Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden, who have a relatively cleaner images. Like Bill Clinton, whose conniving charisma and sex crimes distracted the American public from his involvement in the 1999 NATO attacks on Yugoslavia, Democratic leaders have fooled their supporters to the same capacity as their Republican counterparts.
The United States government’s history and continued practice of assuming the role of liberators and leaving behind a trail of ruin comes with the same repercussions as Superman destroying the entire city while fighting off threats he himself creates: none. By reversing the roles of heroes and anti-heroes as commonly accepted in the West, he sheds light on the narratives that benefit the oligarchy. This is precisely why Waters commends the bravery of Chelsea Manning and demands the freedom of Julian Assange.
Through his success as a musician, Waters has bought himself the freedom to dissent and hold his own as a politically motivated creative. Most recently, he penned open letters to the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska and Russian President Vladimir Putin, pressuring them to negotiate an end to the war that has been further stimulated by the United States’ involvement. This sparked a lot of criticism for what was seen as his support for the invaders, but unlike those who've been trained to see the war as an isolated ordeal, he lays emphasis on the history behind the conflict and the proxy tension that continues to provoke it. Only a handful of artists risk taking such bold positions against the Western machine, which is as focused on global expansion and control as the countries it claims to protect its people from.
Here is an artist who abides by a standard for human rights instead of an appearance, which is why his activism extends past regional tension and into the broader issues involving the middle and working classes, queer folks and women. He doesn’t care for the fantasy of a holy land being carved out to compensate for the same war that killed his father when it involves the suffering of innocent people who are not within our line of sight nor does he care about the United States getting involved in “stabilizing” other counties.
It’s that simple: no blind allegiance, no unconditional nationalism and no inherited pride; just a central standard for compassion and well-being. He repeatedly circles back to this with a series of not-so-friendly reminders of the injustices we're complicit in when we turn a blind eye to inconvenient issues.
John Lennon used to talk about selling peace like soap, i.e., domesticating love in a manner similar to how Beatles records found their way into so many households. With similar influence, Waters's inventive genius has been filling arenas for decades now because the 70s Floyd records stood the test of time. With his admirers gathered in one place, he puts on a presentation to sell them a message that is far more important than the music just by itself.
So sophisticated as a musician yet brash in his activism, Waters is tired of waiting for the world to become a better place, and especially tired of the powers that be who falsely claim to be making it such. His creative output is the perfect balance between artistic elegance and profanity-laced frustration — it is a giant “fuck you” to the enemy, and there’s a lot of them.
Despite the aggression that drives the project, This Is Not a Drill, at its core, is heartfelt and motivated by the pursuit of coexistence. It is the brainchild of a man who has suffered loss since an early age — from his father dying in the Second World War when he was only five months old to Floyd co-founder Syd Barret’s mental decline, Waters knows what’s it’s like to live with irreversible tragedies. This tour serves as a warning for us to act before it’s too late because the threats we face are as real as they've ever been ... we're way past practice drills.
There is no question that the members of Pink Floyd will live on through their music, but what Waters is doing right now is far greater than any of that. Instead of trying to cement pleasant memories for his fans, he’s doing everything in his power to fight for an inclusive future. As he grows older, his fight for human rights continues to gain momentum. He is among the Bernie Sanders of this world who saw through the generations that raised them, the governments that fooled them and the peers who failed them.
What’s your excuse?