Jon Wiener: John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Deportation Battle

Roundup: Talking About History

[Jon Wiener is a professor of history at UC Irvine and author of "Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files." Copies of the letters he obtained protesting Lennon's deportation order are posted online at]

In 1972, John Lennon had a problem.

He and his wife, Yoko Ono, had been living in New York for a year, and they wanted to stay. But it happened also to be the year President Nixon was running for reelection. Opposition to the Vietnam War had reached a peak, and Lennon and Ono often showed up at antiwar rallies to sing "Give Peace a Chance" — and to tell their fans that the best way to give peace a chance was to vote against Nixon.

The Nixon White House responded by ordering Lennon deported....

In honor of what would have been Lennon's 70th birthday this month, I pulled a box from my garage containing documents I obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request about Lennon's deportation case. The government's response included copies of hundreds of letters sent to the INS, and they revealed the different and fascinating ways artists, writers and others tried to make the case that Lennon, a rock musician and an antiwar activist, should not be kicked out of the country.

The letters were not a spontaneous expression of enthusiasm. Rather, they were part of an organized campaign of the country's cultural elite to stop the Nixon administration from deporting the ex-Beatle. Joan Baez wrote a letter; Beat poet Gregory Corso wrote one. So did novelists John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates, painter Jasper Johns and composer John Cage, Leonard Bernstein of "West Side Story" and Joseph Heller of "Catch-22."...

comments powered by Disqus