Kris Kristofferson: Scholar, Veteran, Activist, Icon

Kris Kristofferson may not exactly be a trending topic at the moment, but in the midst of the overwhelming negativity that accompanies every campaign season, I decided today was a good time to write about an American who deserves respect — an American who is a scholar, a veteran, an activist, and after decades in the public eye, an icon.

Kris Kristofferson has lived a life that only an American can live, and he deserves everyone’s respect, regardless of whether one agrees with his politics. The story of Kris Kristofferson’s life, especially as an activist, is a reminder that the freedoms we enjoy as Americans come with a responsibility — the responsibility to try to effect positive change in the world.

Kris Kristofferson, known for writing a string of hits, including “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Me and Bobby McGee, is so much more than a talented songwriter, singer and actor. Kristofferson was a Rhodes Scholar who studied at Oxford University’s Merton College, earning a master’s degree in English literature. He went on to serve as a captain in the U.S. Army, where he became a helicopter pilot, in addition to having completed U.S. Army Ranger School.

While Kristofferson’s resume is indeed impressive, it is his willingness to speak out against injustice that earns him the most respect. In the 1980s, Kris Kristofferson traveled to Nicaragua and spoke out vehemently against the U.S. government involvement in the Sandinista Revolution. Kristofferson still speaks about that time regularly, as he did during an appearance on “Enough Rope with Andrew Denton” in 2005.

“I made a couple of trips down to Nicaragua and I got exposed to information that I thought was not what I had been brought up to believe that my government stood for, you know. I came from a background of duty, honor and country and I felt it was my duty to tell what we were doing down there.”

Kris Kristofferson’s attention to the problem in Central America during the 1980s was the result of the tragic stories told by an El Salvadoran woman who worked for him. In an interview with Rosa Jordan published in The Progressive in 1991, Kristofferson clearly summarized his reaction to the stories of horrors inflicted by the death squads.

“The more I learned about what we were doing down there, the more horrible it seemed.”

Kris Kristofferson became an outspoken ally of the people of both countries, and his continued support for the people in the region resulted in an invitation to play at the 8th anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution — Kristofferson’s invitation came directly from Daniel Ortega, who, today, is the president of Nicaragua.

Kris Kristofferson in 1987
The end of the revolution in Nicaragua did not bring an end to Kris Kristofferson’s political crusade. The Iran-Contra Affair disgusted him, and he believed American targets were not soldiers as Oliver North claimed, but instead schools and clinics. Many of Kristofferson’s fans were not pleased by his political position, but he never let people’s feelings deter him from speaking his mind.

“The most opposition I ever had was in Atlanta when Oliver North was on trial and the Iran-Contra hearings were turning out to be nothing but a commercial for the Contras.”

In a 2008 interview with The Guardian, more than 20 years after the hearings, Kris Kristofferson’s disgust with the entire affair was still evident.

“Iran-Contra! We should have jailed all those guys for ever back then, and we wouldn’t be where we are right now — because it’s the same guys now, the same 20 guys!”

During Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s, Kris Kristofferson continued to speak out against U.S. government involvement in the Middle East. As a result of his stance, his shows were picketed, and some Americans labeled him a traitor. In a 1993 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Kristofferson explained his view of the Gulf War.

“We bombed a defenseless population for 44 days around the clock. We’re holding these people responsible for what their government did or didn’t do. It’s just too evil for words.”

Today, Kris Kristofferson shows no signs of slowing down professionally. He is currently preparing to release a new double album on June 17 titled Cedar Creek Sessions, and he is in the film Traded, which is set to be released this summer. In addition to celebrating his 80th birthday in June, he is scheduled to perform three shows that month.

As for Kris Kristofferson’s political side, his most recent involvement in a cause has been as an advocate for industrial hemp and sustainable agriculture. He threw his support behind The California Grange and Hempstead Project Heart by playing the 2014 Hemp Aide concert in Sacramento.

Although Kris Kristofferson appears to have mellowed a bit with age, supporting agricultural causes instead of revolutionaries, don’t count him out yet. A man like Kris Kristofferson, armed with intelligence, talent and a platform, can’t ever stop taking advantage of opportunities to try, right or wrong, to make the world a better place.

[Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]