Republicans Miss the Point of a Song. Again.

In 1984, Ronald Reagan famously used Bruce Springsteen’s song Born in the USA as a campaign song, calling it a “message of hope” about making “dreams come true.” In fact, the song is an angry anti-war song about Vietnam. And now the Republicans are flipping out at Springsteen for singing another anti-Vietnam war song at a Veteran’s Day concert.

Springsteen, Dave Grohl and Zac Brown sang the song Fortunate Son, written by Vietnam veteran John Fogerty and done originally by Creedence Clearwater Revival, at the Concert for Valor in Washington, DC and the Weekly Standard threw a fit:

Who would have thought that that Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, and Zac Brown, accomplished musicians all, would be so, well, tone-deaf? But how else to explain their choice of song—Creedence Clearwater’s famously anti-war anthem “Fortunate Son”—at the ostensibly pro-military “Concert for Valor” this evening on the National Mall?

The song, not to put too fine a point on it, is an anti-war screed, taking shots at “the red white and blue.” It was a particularly terrible choice given that Fortunate Son is, moreover, an anti-draft song, and this concert was largely organized to honor those who volunteered to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the song does not “take shots” at the “red, white and blue,” it takes shots at those who worship the flag and use it as the symbol of their alleged patriotism while sending young men to die in wars started by lies (remember, the Vietnam war began with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, when our government invented an attack on an American warship to invade the country). It’s a song about chickenhawks and their children supporting wars but refusing to go fight in them. It is absolutely pro-soldier.

But for the right wing, patriotism is nothing but mindless cheerleading. It’s not about demanding that your country do the right thing and live up to its stated principles. It’s not about making society more just and fair and equal. It’s only about tribalism, flag-waving and getting all weepy-eyed at Lee Greenwood songs. Far from being tone-deaf, it’s the perfect song to sing at a concert honoring those in the military. So is Born in the USA.

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  • Morgan

    It was a particularly terrible choice given that Fortunate Son is, moreover, an anti-draft song, and this concert was largely organized to honor those who volunteered to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    I’m not really seeing how opposing a draft is supposed to be offensive to volunteer soldiers.

  • John Pieret

    St. Ronnie’s theme song:

    Got in a little hometown jam so they put a rifle in my hand

    Sent me off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man

    Born in the U.S.A.

    I was born in the U.S.A.

    I was born in the U.S.A.

    I was born in the U.S.A.

    Born in the U.S.A.

    That’s a dream come true.

  • themadtapper

    I’m not really seeing how opposing a draft is supposed to be offensive to volunteer soldiers.

    No shit. The draft is the POLAR FUCKING OPPOSITE of volunteering. And the idea that being anti-war is anti-soldier is always morbidly amusing to me. The best way to keep soldiers safe, healthy, and most importantly ALIVE is to NOT send them to war AT ALL. You can’t get much more pro-soldier than you can being anti-war.

  • themadtapper

    Aaaaaaand I failed my blockquote again. ><

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1159674804 robertbaden

    I’ve always liked No Man’s Land or The Band

    played Waltzing Matilda. Especially appropriate this year.

  • whheydt

    Re: themadtapper @ #4…

    On the other hand, there is the statistic that came out of Gulf I that *fewer* US servicemen died in Saudi Arabia than (statistically) would have died had they been stateside for the same length of time. The main difference being the lack of drunk driving deaths in Saudi Arabia compared to the US.

  • colnago80

    I suspect that the chickenhawks at the Weekly Standard are equally bent out of shape about Springsteen being a pal and supporter of President Obama.

  • http://timgueguen.blogspot.com timgueguen

    To be picky Fogerty didn’t serve in Vietnam. He was drafted in ’66 and went on to serve in the Army Reserve before being discharged in July ’67.

  • blf

    You can’t get much more pro-soldier than you can being anti-war.

    Anti-military, perhaps?

    Admittedly, that means there is no such thing as a soldier, but that is not a defect per se.

  • chirez

    It’s fascinating that certain conservative elements in the US don’t seem to grasp the possibility of being pro-military, yet anti-war. I have a lot of respect for anyone willing to sign their life away in defense of their nation and its people, but I don’t understand why that should mean supporting aggressive wars of opportunity.

    As far as the anti draft sentiment of the song goes, I believe the point was that if they were attempting to protest the actions of a volunteer army, anti draft sentiment is poorly aimed.

  • dingojack
  • Mr Ed

    Every year on election day the Democrats and Republicans set up tents on the green across the street from town hall where we vote. The Republicans think bigger is better an behind their tent the put up scaffolding to create their “Freedom Tower.” Complete with flags, loudspeakers and a short range FM broadcast. Between inspirational propaganda they play what they think are patriotic songs. They even fist pump to born in the USA and strut to Woody Guthrie’s This land is Your Land. Just once I would like to capture them playing the Liberty Bell march.

  • Michael Heath

    chirez writes:

    It’s fascinating that certain conservative elements in the US don’t seem to grasp the possibility of being pro-military, yet anti-war.

    Particularly the chicken-hawk segment of the conservative population.

    I watched the concert and was in rapt attention when this song was played. I was interested in seeing the response by service members in the audience since the message is nuanced and beyond the thinking capabilities I observe amongst ardent conservatives. Those service members who were shown were reacting very enthusiastically to Fortunate Son.

    I’m not surprised, one can have a good career in the military while appreciating the fact the military provides career opportunities to so many who don’t have other viable options. And even then service members will suffer from far less competent individuals progressing more because of their familial or social ties. The ability to appreciate one’s career in the military while recognizing how unfair the private sector and military are in regards to the privileged elite remains a nuanced perspective that’s not mutually exclusive though again, most ardent conservatives aren’t sufficiently equipped to realize this nor wise enough to appreciate the irony.

    John Fogerty recently released an album covering fourteen of his old CCR hits, it’s titled Wrote a Song for Everyone. Different artists were featured in each song. It’s an excellent album and the one I’ve played the most this past year. The Foo Fighters are a good back-up band for Fortunate Son. My slightly favored version of this song is a live performance by Bob Seger that’s published on his Like a Rock album. Seger and Fogerty do an awesome duet of Who’ll Stop the Rain on Fogerty’s last album.

  • matty1

    @12 I think you could make a case that those are patriotic songs, if you define patriotic the way Ed seems to here as wanting your country to live up to it’s stated principles.

  • tbp1

    I’m sure there are exceptions, but so many conservatives seem to miss the point of almost any work of art at all. My favorite example is Animal Farm, which every conservative on the planet seems to think is anti-socialist, when in fact it’s actually a warning not to let the socialist movement, and whatever victories it attains, be undermined by the very forces it opposes. It’s been a while now, but I remember a bunch of conservatives whining about the wife-swapping scene in The Ice Storm (book and movie both), thinking it was actually advocating the practice.

    They seem particularly blind to satire. How many times do articles by Andy Borowitz or from the Onion get taken as straight reporting, and how many conservatives think Stephen Colbert is really one of them?

  • dingojack

    MH – The difference is that Australians ‘celebrate’ a military failure, so the emphasis is on ‘the cost of war’ rather than the supposed ‘benefits’.

    Dingo

    ———

    Bu Memleketin toprakları üstünde kanlarını döken kahramanlar! Burada dost bir vatanın toprağındasınız. Huzur ve sükun içinde uyuyunuz. Sizler Mehmetçiklerle yanyana koyun koyunasınız. Uzak diyarlardan evlatlarını harbe gönderen analar! Gözyaşlarınızı dindiriniz. Evlatlarınız bizim bağrımızdadır, huzur içindedirler ve huzur içinde rahat rahat uyuyacaklardır. Onlar bu toprakta canlarını verdikten sonra artık bizim evlatlarımız olmuşlardır.

    “Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well. ”

    Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

  • sugarfrosted

    @10 Hell, a good military strategy involves being anti-war. War should be treated as a last resort, which should be prepared for nonetheless. This isn’t a new idea, as Sun Tsu wrote about it. Pro war is an obvious misuse of resources and human life and in the long term leads to instability: see Iraq.

  • gog

    I’ve long held the belief that being a conservative slowly erodes your ability to sense irony.

  • busterggi

    Repubs -the pro-life/pro-war party.

  • hunter

    Sugarfrosted @17: It’s long been a truism that war results from the failure of diplomacy. To contemporary “conservatives,” war is the first recourse, not the last, and diplomacy is for sissies. The whole point of having the world’s greatest military machine is for it to be so overwhelming that you don’t have to use it — see “Pax Britannica.” Also “Speak softly and carry a big stick” — another area where conservatives miss the point.

    tbp1 @15: The contemporary conservative movement is not about nuance, and they don’t understand metaphor — they think metaphor is fact. That’s going to seriously hamper your understanding of art in any form. They tend to be more than a bit literal-minded, so forget satire.

    Michael Heath @13: My first question on reading this story was “Did they bother to ask any veterans what they thought of it?”

  • david

    “remember, the Vietnam war began with the Gulf of Tonkin incident…”

    That’s a very U.S.-centric view.

    US ground troop commitment began with the Tonkin incident. The Vietnam war itself, as a whole, started soon after the French returned to their colony at the end of WWII.

  • dingojack

    I can’t vouch for it’s absolute truth….

    There is a story –

    That the playwright, Tom Stoppard was running a little late to a play (in the late sixties), so he came after the lights had came down. He felt his way into a empty seat. The play was Oh What a Wonderful War, which contrasted the speeches and popular songs of the First World War with the reality of the experiences (and costs) of the Great War.

    At the interval, he noticed that the bulk of the audience seemed to be very old men (all hurrying away the go to the toilets, or to get a drink) which he thought was very strange. Suddenly, he felt a claw-like hand grab his arm, turning around he found himself face to face with an old man, with tears running down his face, who whispered: “It was really like that you know”. It was only then that Stoppard realised, the audience was mostly men who had actually served in the first world war,

    They’d know.

    Dingo

  • whheydt

    Re: Mr Ed @ #12….

    There is an annual single-day “festival” (for want of a better term) along Solano Ave in Berkeley and Albany, CA. It’s called the Solano Stroll. The street is closed and all manner of groups come out to push whatever agenda they have and the merchants along the street participate as well.

    Years ago, there was a small filk studio on Solano. A group devoted to accordions and polkas set up across the street. After a few hours of being blasted by polka music, the filk studio played their recording of the “Graviportal Polka” back at them. After that, the too groups became fast friends.

    The Graviportal Polka starts with…

    If you weigh a ton or more

    And can’t do waltzes or a minuet,

    Grab a partner, get in line

    And lumber to the graviportal portal polka.

    The chorus is:

    Stamp your feet, slap your tail

    Seven on the Richter Scale

    Everybody lumber to the graviportal polka.

    It also includes such lines as:

    Oh hadrosaur you are divine

    I wish we were alone.

    We’d be dancing very slowly

    Cheek to ankle bone.

  • whheydt

    Re: david @ #21….

    I have remarked from time to time that Viet Nam was the last gasp of WW2.

    I suppose a case could be made that there are some later–if mostly rather minor–examples, such as leftover Japanese soldiers that have come forward even later, or even Korea, which is *still* just a truce as a holding pattern (at least officially).

  • chuckonpiggott

    After I heard this nonsense on Wednesday I thought perhaps it should have been John Prine singing “Sam Stone” or Country Joe doing “Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die”.

    That would have fried some asses.

  • http://timgueguen.blogspot.com timgueguen

    A good case can definitely be made for Korea, given that the current divide is a side effect of Korea having been a Japanese colony, and the subsequent division of the country into US and Soviet controlled occupation zones after the Japanese surrender.

  • dingojack

    Fixin’ to Die Rag – County Joe and the Fish.

    Or at Woodstock.

    Dingo

  • whheydt

    Re: timgruen @ #26….

    Well… In theory, the US and USSR were on the same side of WW2. But if you want to make that particular case, compare and contrast to the division of Germany and ensuing events. (Also bear in mind that Patton kind of liked the idea of re-arming the Wehrmacht–der Obercommando des Heeres, to be specific–and sending them east as was proposed by some of the surviving WW2 German generals. Patton is something of a tragic figure. It’s probably a good thing he died so shortly after the war. Otherwise he might have gone into politics. One shudders to think of what would have happened if a Gen. MacArthur had asked a Pres. Patton to nuke Beijing….)

  • jimmyfromchicago

    @David #21

    I’d say it started earlier than that, with the Viet Minh’s resistance to the Japanese occupation. (If we really want to eschew a purely Western perspective.)

  • jimmyfromchicago

    Also, props to Dingo for the music.

  • Die Anyway

    As a veteran from the Viet Nam era (USAF 1969-1973), Fortunate Son gets my vote of approval. In fact, for those of you who know about geocaching, I have created a cache named “Fortunate Son” in Clearwater, FL. And since it was mentioned in this same context, I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag is very near the top of my all time favorites.

    Come on all of you big strong men,

    Uncle Sam needs your help again…

    Eat well, stay fit, Die Anyway

  • Suido

    I was only nineteen

    Mum and Dad and Denny saw the passing-out parade at Puckapunyal

    It was a long march from cadets.

    The sixth battalion was the next to tour, and it was me who drew the card.

    We did Canungra, Shoalwater before we left.

    And Townsville lined the footpaths as we marched down to the quay

    This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean.

    And there’s me in me slouch hat with me SLR and greens.

    God help me, I was only nineteen.

    From Vung Tau, riding Chinooks, to the dust at Nui Dat

    I’d been in and out of choppers now for months.

    But we made our tents a home, VB and pinups on the lockers

    And an Agent Orange sunset through the scrub.

    And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?

    And night-time’s just a jungle dark and a barking M16?

    And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?

    God help me, I was only nineteen.

    A four week operation when each step could mean your last one on two legs

    It was a war within yourself.

    But you wouldn’t let your mates down til they had you dusted off

    So you closed your eyes and thought about something else.

    Then someone yelled out “Contact!” and the bloke behind me swore

    We hooked in there for hours, then a god all mighty roar

    Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon,

    God help me, he was going home in June.

    I can still see Frankie, drinking tinnies in the Grand Hotel

    On a thirty-six hour rec leave in Vung Tau

    And I can still hear Frankie, lying screaming in the jungle

    Til the morphine came and killed the bloody row.

    And the Anzac legends didn’t mention mud and blood and tears

    And the stories that my father told me never seemed quite real.

    I caught some pieces in my back that I didn’t even feel

    God help me, I was only nineteen.

    And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?

    And why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?

    And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?

    God help me, I was only nineteen.

  • dingojack

    Suido – And how old were those who marched in the Moratorium Marches? How old were those who went to jail rather than go to SE Asia to kill civilians and burn villages?

    Sorry, this song always irritates me, it seems to be saying: ‘Everyone’s else’s fault, not mine’.

    Dingo

  • bryanfeir

    whheydt:

    Graviportal Polka

    Oh, wow, I’ve actually got that song on the ‘Fossil Fever’ CD around here somewhere, so my brain automatically started providing the music to the lyrics you posted.

  • eric

    Heath @13:

    I watched the concert and was in rapt attention when this song was played. I was interested in seeing the response by service members in the audience since the message is nuanced and beyond the thinking capabilities I observe amongst ardent conservatives. Those service members who were shown were reacting very enthusiastically to Fortunate Son.

    I’m not at all surprised. Most of them aren’t Senator’s sons and some may have enlisted because of economic reality. The song is very much sympathetic to such folk. Ed’s correct, the right completely missed the boat on this one.

  • johzek

    Springsteen’s original acoustic demo version of Born in the USA was much better than the familiar E Street Band version because it more accurately reflected the meaning of the lyrics.

  • Loqi

    Happy that “No Man’s Land” was mentioned. I distinctly remember the first time I heard it (Clancy Brothers, under the alternate title “Green Fields of France”). I remember Tom Clancy hitting the verse where he informs Willie that it happened again (and again, and again…). As he repeated the words “and again,” his voice slowly changed from solemn and mournful to angry and disgusted. He was practically spitting the words by the end, and carried that feeling right through the chorus. Every recording I’ve heard since sticks to mournful, which I think is less powerful than using both.

  • Doug Little

    Suido @32,

    I actually knew the guy that is mentioned in the song “I was only 19” as Frankie. He eventually became president of our local Australian Rules Football League on the Sapphire Coast and yes he did lose his foot stepping on a land mine in Vietnam.