Songs resonate on both sides of issue

Tunes about war, peace wage a battle for nation's attention


March 19, 2003|By Susan Campbell | Susan Campbell,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Songs on the airwaves ask if we should go to war. First, let's decide: Does it have a good beat, and can we dance to it?

In this corner, Darryl Worley and his "Have You Forgotten?" a plea that thinly links the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with the need to bomb Iraq. And it is streaking up the country charts with a bullet.

And in this corner, John Mellencamp, with his new release, "To Washington," an anti-war song that he admits probably won't get much airplay.

Isn't that always the way? For every "Feels Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag" by Country Joe and the Fish, there's a "Ballad of the Green Berets," by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler.

Worley may end up being this generation's Sadler, whose 1966 ballad topped the charts. But then again, maybe Worley is simply this year's Lee Greenwood, whose 1984 song "God Bless the U.S.A." became an anthem for Ronald Reagan's 1984 campaign, and, later, for the Persian Gulf War.

Somewhere in the cacophony are people humming along. Never mind the lyrics.

No, wait. Let's do mind the lyrics. Sings Worley, who co-wrote the song: "I hear people saying we don't need this war. I say there's some things worth fighting for. Some say this country's just out looking for a fight. After 9/11, man, I'd have to say that's right. Have you forgotten all the people killed?"

No, we haven't. In fact, we will never forget. Worley is willing to make the leap that we can right the wrongs committed that September day by bombing Saddam Hussein. Mellencamp is not: "What is the thought process to take a human's life? What would be the reason to think that this is right?"

And that is what it comes down to - death, and whether it's a glorious or useless one. It took Navy veteran Country Joe McDonald a half-hour to write the classic "Fixin' to Die Rag," a song that included:

Well, c'mon mothers throughout this land,

Pack your boys off to Vietnam.

C'mon pops, don't hesitate,

Send 'em off before it's too late.

Be the first one on your block

To have your boy come home in a box!

Sadler wrapped death in a flag - and silver wings, the Army Airborne's emblem - and sang:

Back at home a young wife waits.

Her Green Beret has met his fate.

He has died for those oppressed.

Leaving her this last request ...

to put silver wings on his son's chest.

Is anyone singing about rank-and-file Iraqi deaths? Not here. But there is word that Hussein has taken a liking to Madonna. Her forthcoming video "American Life" examines war's horror.

Susan Campbell writes for the Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

To Washington

Excerpt of the song by John Mellencamp

Eight years of peace and prosperity,

Scandal in the White House,

An election is what we need,

From coast to coast to Washington.

So America voted on a president.

No one kept count

On how the election went

From Florida to Washington. ...

And he wants to fight with many,

And he says it's not for oil.

He sent out the National Guard

To police the world

From Baghdad to Washington. ...

Have You Forgotten?

Excerpt of the song by Darryl Worley

I hear people saying we don't need this war.

I say there's some things worth fighting for.

What about our freedom and this piece of ground?

We didn't get to keep 'em by backing down.

Now they say we don't realize the mess we're getting in.

Before you start your preaching, let me ask you this my friend:

Have you forgotten how it felt that day?

To see your homeland under fire

And her people blown away?

Have you forgotten when those towers fell?

We had neighbors still inside going through a living hell.

And you say we shouldn't worry 'bout bin Laden.

Have you forgotten? ...

Have you forgotten all the people killed?

Some went down like heroes in that Pennsylvania field.

Have you forgotten about our Pentagon?

And all the loved ones that we lost and those left to carry on? ...

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