Springsteen controversy shows Vietnam still isn’t over

From left, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, and Zac Brown, sing on the National Mall in Washington on Tuesday during the Concert for Valor. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Nearly 40 years after the Vietnam War ended, the battle to place it in historical context is still raging, testing whether it’s possible to separate the valor of people who fight wars from the politics and politicians who demand they do.

The latest skirmish happened last night when Bruce Springsteen played Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” at the Concert for Valor, part of a Veteran’s Day tribute.

The Weekly Standard is up in arms over the choice:

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.

On a musical level, “Fortunate Song” is not a bad song—that’s one hell of a riff. But the “Concert for Valor,” a Veterans Day event sponsored by HBO and Starbucks, in front of the Capitol Building, was not the place for it.

Settle down, Weekly Standard. You’re waste waist deep in the Big Muddy and making an old mistake: Confusing the war with the people who were drafted to fight it. It’s the mistake that led to the Vietnam veterans not being “welcomed home” and while that’s been rectified over the last decade or so, putting the two back together again because Bruce Springsteen played the song is convenient, but illogical.

Let’s look at those words again:

Some folks are born made to wave the flag
Ooh, they’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”
Oh, they point the cannon at you, Lord

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no Senator’s son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves, oh
But when the tax men come to the door
Lord, the house look a like a rummage sale, yes

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Yeah, some folks inherit star spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Oh, they only answer, more, more, more, oh

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no military son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one, no, no, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate son, no, no

It’s written from the perspective of the young person sent to fight a questionable war by politicians who often isolated their own sons from it. That’s history. It’s not a criticism of the people who went to Vietnam. It’s a criticism of the ones who didn’t.

That’s also partly why the United States dispensed with the military draft, which has led to an ongoing debate — particularly among the military — over whether it’s easier now to forget America’s servicepeople because we’ve isolated ourselves from the wars we wage, convincing ourselves that throwing a little ribbon magnet on the car qualifies as “supporting our troops.” Patriotism, 2014 style.

And there it is, the question we never seem able to answer: What is patriotism?

Here’s Justin Moyer of the Washington Post

So, starting right now, let’s agree: Songs like “Fortunate Son” and “Born in the U.S.A.,” while they criticize the armed forces, aren’t anti-American in the sense that, for example, the Islamic State is anti-American. By offering a critique of our nation’s policies, they celebrate its promise.

Or, as Mark Twain put it: “The true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.”

Okay?

There are 58,286 names on a granite wall in Washington. They’re not there to honor the policies that put them there. They’re there to honor the people who were swept up and sent to Vietnam.

By now, we should have been able to understand the distinction.

  • BJ

    Context matters. Hearing this same story without the context gives a completely different impression.

  • Jim G

    I heard a quote on MPR yesterday. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who said it as I was distracted… rolling paint on walls. It sums up my feelings about the Vietnam War.
    “I’m patriotic. I support my country… all the time. I support my government… when it deserves it.”

  • ” You’re waste deep in the Big Muddy”

    “Waste”??

    • I fixed it, but now that I think of it, I like my title better. Sorry, pete. :*)

      • I WAS wondering if that was intentional (and clever), but then realized it was a link.

        /Not that you’re not “clever” or anything.

  • Dave

    Fortunate Son is about as patriotic as it gets, in my opinion. Our military defends all our freedoms, including the first amendment.

    It’s also, as the Weekly Standard says, simply an ass-kickin song.

  • Chris

    Well, Dick Cheney takes this all a little personally, so someone has to defend him by attacking the song choice. Anyone who criticizes playing this song I don’t think understands the meaning.

    Looking to the Weekly Standard for blog material doesn’t feel very public radio to me though. I don’t think this is at all controversial among public radio listeners.

    • I don’t really understand what that even means.

      I don’t write based on what public *radio* people find interesting (ignoring that it’s a broad generalization), I write about what *I* find interesting.

      • chris

        Dick Cheney is one example of a fortunate son who did not serve yet was quick to want to send others to war. I’m sorry the reference wasn’t clear. I was just trying to provide an example for those who might not understand what the song is about.

        I really do not think the playing of this song in any context would be controversial among public radio listeners, because they understand what it means, unlike Weekly Standard bloggers.

      • Chris

        I think this comment changed after I posted my reply to it (not that it matters).

  • MikeB

    It’s a common tactic still being used (we never learn, do we?) that any criticism against the policies or leaders means that you don’t support the troops, an attempt to shut down the discussion.

    • DavidG

      Unless, apparently to Republicans now, it’s an Obama policy.

    • Dave

      I’ve never understood what it means, exactly, to “support the troops.”

      • gowian

        Duh, it means you send them off to war on a false rationalization, under-equipped, to police a millennia-plus religious conflict with no concrete goals or exit strategy other than “win”. And when they get back, refuse to provide them with the needed medical and/or psychiatric care (and don’t you dare raise my taxes one single penny to pay for it!). Finally, if anyone questions the wisdom or rationale of the whole adventure, you use their corpses to beat your political opponents over the head. Mmmmm….patriotism!

  • Jerry

    This reminds of when there was the run up to the invasion of Iraq when all the pro war signs were all about Support Our Troops. I was never sure how sending them to fight and die in an unjustified war was supporting them.

    • >>I was never sure how sending them to fight and die in an unjustified war was supporting them.<<

      Yet point that out to a true "Patriot" and you'll be shouted down as treasonous.

  • John

    John Fogerty wrote Fortunate Son. Springsteen has been covering it for years. Fogerty performed it live last Friday on PBS on the south lawn of the White House with the president and first lady in the front row in another salute to the troops. The Washington Post says this:

    Forgerty’s performance, though, was easily the most riveting. With a
    trademark red handkerchief cinched around his neck, he blasted through
    “Bad Moon Rising” and “Fortunate Son,” the latter a scalding protest
    anthem Forgerty wrote in 1969, back when a different White House was
    overseeing a different war.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    Most importantly, the song is just as relevant to the current war situation as it was to Vietnam or any other war. Whether it is a “just war” or an “unjust war” the soldiers don’t usually pick the fight, whether volunteers or draftees.

  • What the complainants don’t realize (or remember) is that songs like “Fortunate Son” and “War” were played on the American Forces Vietnam Network by US servicemen FOR US servicemen.

    “Although [Adrian]

    Cronauer is positive that there was no censorship at AFRS during this time, this

    is a unique response from an AFVN disc jockey. There is one thing, however, that

    makes Cronauer unique among the individuals who responded to questions about

    censorship. All of the other respondents were involved with AFVN years after

    Cronauer’s involvement. The majority of popular Vietnam protest songs were

    written after 1966. For example, songs like “Fortunate Son” and “War” were not

    released until 1969 and 1970, respectively. It is very likely that this fact

    contributed to the lack of censorship that took place at AFRS during the years

    in which Cronauer was a disc jockey.”

    http://www.oocities.org/afvn3/historymus.html

    • Great point. The “soundtrack” of Vietnam is mostly protest songs.

      If you use the Weekly Standard’s logic, M*A*S*H was about criticizing the soldiers who were sent to Korea.