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soldiers singing an anti-war ballad; ignorance for the sake of patriotism

13.05.24, 12:04 AM

A few weeks ago I was sitting at my desk, doing nothing in particular; mostly a bit of HTML coding with some music in the background. Same old, same old. After I'd heard the entirety of the 2010 Rock Am Ring performance a fair amount of times, I figured it was time for something else to listen to. And wouldn't you know it, YouTube had just reccomended me a cover of one of my favorite songs. A video titled Rise Against - Hero of War (In a bunker in Afghanistan).

Initially, I hadn't put much thought into it. It's not exactly groundbreaking; soldiers singing about how bad war is is as old as war itself.

... But that's not what this is.

The original song, if you didn't know, is an anti-war acoustic ballad written by the melodic hardcore band Rise Against. The song tells the story of an unnamed protagonist, who is persuaded by a recruiter to enlist in the military. With promises of adventure and money, he signs up— only to realize that he (literally) didn't know what he was signing up for. He throws away his principles and partakes in unnecessary violence on his tour overseas. By the end, the now-veteran is back in his home country without his flag-waiving patriotism he'd once had as he recalls the recruiters first words to him in bitter irony.

"Different events in this war... everything from Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib to Haditha, where 25 innocent civilians were killed in what appeared to be a revenge killing of U.S. soldiers. Simply donning a uniform doesn't make you a perfect or noble person. There are people who did some serious wrongs in this war and they did them in uniform. You can't generalize anything with soldiers. With that said, the song isn't even a condemnation of soldiers or the Army or Armed Services — it's just a story. It's a story I'm hearing from our fans, it's a story I'm reading about from soldiers coming home. And it's a story that needs to be told."
—Tim McIlrath, via The Red Alert (2008)

Watching this video was a puzzling experience, to say the least. The grainy footage, circa 2012, is a familiar nostalgia to someone who grew up on 2010's internet (like myself). A group of U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan play the song on a shitty guitar in a dust-filled bunker, with smiles on their faces despite their situation! A staple. This video is different, though. They aren't singing Call Me Maybe, they're singing Hero of fucking War. Like blokes at an Irish pub. They belt out the lines about loving your flag and fighting terrorism alongside your buddies, about brotherhood and selflessness. It's not just that, either. When the turn of the second verse comes in, their tone noticably shifts. You can tell which lyrics they agree with, and the lyrics they sing because they're in the song. It's tone deaf, it's contradictory, and it's just straight-up odd.

I like to call this phenomenon the Bruce Springstein treatment. When Born in the U.S.A was released in 1984, people had a similar blindness to it. They reveled in the chorus and simply never learned the verses. It's the unfortunate consequences of writing sarcasm and irony; the people who don't want to hear it simply won't. I think this video speaks volumes. Not just about the people in it, but the ones who consume it. In the culture of militarism, and its effect on both the people affecting and the ones affected.

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soldiers singing an anti-war ballad; ignorance for the sake of patriotism