My Acculturated colleague Erin Vargo wrote a very nice reflection this week on the bipartisan values we share as Americans, and on the Veterans Day “Concert for Valor” at Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, a three-hour concert that included Rihanna, Carrie Underwood, Bruce Springsteen, and others. Vargo felt that the show depicted a “universality of America’s regard for our veterans” that crossed party lines. But some were less than thrilled about Springsteen’s choice of material for an event intended to honor our nation’s warriors.
Justin Moyer at the Washington Post wrote that Springsteen sparked social media unrest for playing – along with Zac Brown and Dave Grohl – Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Vietnam-era anti-war song, “Fortunate Son.” Some folks inherit star-spangled eyes, songwriter John Fogerty’s rock classic goes. They send you down to war/And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”/They only answer, more, more, more.
The Weekly Standard wasn’t too thrilled with the tone-deaf selection, either: “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.”
Springsteen went on to perform what Moyer called a “dirge-like version of ‘Born in the U.S.A.,’” a song often misinterpreted, by politicians who aren’t paying attention, as a patriotic anthem. Both that piece and “Fortunate Son” present the American soldier less as a hero than a victim of pointless, immoral wars and a pawn of greedy politicians who send him off to do their fighting for them, and who then cast him aside upon his return home.
The Post’s Moyer defended Springsteen, pointing out that both songs, “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.” His article prompted nearly 2700 heated responses from commenters, some of whom felt that it was perfectly appropriate and patriotic for Springsteen to raise the issue of the ugly reality for veterans. Better to spark a conversation about that than to bury it, they claimed.
And there certainly is a host of serious issues that our veterans face: unemployment, a shocking suicide rate, a Veterans Administration that has been revealed to be ignoring the vets who need its assistance and care. Had Springsteen raised some awareness about these problems, say, in between songs, that might have been more appropriate than anti-war anthems.
Veterans Day is not the time to critique the government’s policies. It’s a time for honoring the warriors who served their country, who did their duty at risk of life and limb, regardless of the rightness or wrongness of those policies. It’s a time for paying tribute to the sacrifice of our soldiers and their families, not for attacking politicians or questioning the motives for war. By performing songs about how those warriors fought in vain, and then were discarded and dishonored back home, Springsteen portrayed them as pitiable and their service as a futile waste. Regardless of whether there is any truth to that, it’s the wrong message to be sending on this particular holiday. That message, simply put, is one of respect and only respect.
There are others times and ways to protest wars: voting, protests, marches, contacting your political representatives, and yes, writing songs. Every other day of the year, we can put our backs into solving the serious problems our veterans face. But on Veterans Day, leave your protest signs in the garage, put your politics aside, and concentrate simply on saluting the men and women whose service deserves our gratitude and respect.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 11/14/14)