SANTA MONICA, California — On Serj Tankian's desk, propped against his computer monitor, is a postcard of the famous billboard John Lennon and Yoko One erected in Times Square in 1969. In giant letters are the words "War is over!" Below, in much smaller letters, are the words "If you want it."
That message is the essence of System of a Down's new video for "Boom!," directed by Michael Moore and featuring footage of the February 15 protests in Los Angeles and more than 40 other cities around the world (see "System Of A Down Nab Michael Moore To Helm 'Boom!' Protest Clip").
"They're going to drop as many bombs in the first week as during the whole Gulf War," Tankian said, discussing American's likely invasion of Iraq. "I say 'they' because I'm not in my name giving that power to anybody, and that's very important. That's the point we want to make, that this is our choice. This is not their choice, and I am not giving them the power to do this, and neither should you."
System of a Down chose to document the protests for the "Boom!" video because the band felt the anti-war movement wasn't getting enough exposure.
"For us it was important to show the movement and not just put out a song," Tankian said. "The point was for us to show all of these beautiful people out on the streets making their voices heard. That's really not being covered well by the media, and it deserves that attention. They have something to say, and what they have to say makes sense.
"This is the first time in the world, historically, that there has been this type of mass peace movement before there is even a war," the singer added. "In Vietnam, it took five to seven years of body bags to create that type of peace movement."
Guitarist Daron Malakian, who has family in Iraq, penned the beginnings of "Boom!" after watching the Gulf War unfold in the early '90s. The anti-war anthem was recorded for Toxicity but wasn't released until last year's Steal This Album! (see "From-The-Vault System Songs Have New Political Relevancy"). Columbia Records suggested a different track to be the album's new single, but System of a Down felt "Boom!" would allow them a platform to express their anti-war sentiments.
"This — the video and the 'Boom!' song — is not about System of a Down for us," Tankian said. "This is about making a statement right now. We're in the video, but we're in the video as marching with the rest of the crowd. We're not in the video playing music."
"Look, we've moved past the point where we need to drop bombs on regular people to solve our problems," Malakian added. "Just like we moved past the point of putting black people in the back of buses and other things. We let women vote. These were things that were unheard of 100 years ago, even less. We move past certain things because as humans we should be getting smarter not going backward."
Moore, the famed documentary director behind 2002's "Bowling for Columbine," filmed the march in Los Angeles, although some of the footage was shot on cameras held by the members of System of a Down.
"It was really cool going up to people and asking them why they were there," Tankian said. "And a lot of people gave really profound answers that just defined everything in a really simple way. Sometimes the media just shows the fringes of these movements — you know, the hippies or the really old guys with the red jackets just standing around or whatever — but these movements are pretty much all across the board."
Along with scenes from the Los Angeles march, the "Boom!" video includes footage shot by guerilla filmmakers in cities like London, Berlin, Paris, Tokyo and Washington, D.C., where millions marched for peace.
"There is strength in numbers is basically what we're saying," Malakian said. "If enough people get out there — and I'm not saying get violent, I'm just saying get out there and show yourself — that crowd might change someone's mind."
The "Boom!" video, which also features an animated segment of President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden riding through the sky on rockets, premieres this week on MTV.
"People have to know that ... it is possible to live in a world without war," Malakian said. "We're not going to have peace or freedom if we drop bombs on Iraq. It's just going trickle into pissing more people off. It's going to get worse. You can't make a right with a wrong. You just can't."