Veterans

This Week's Culture War: Arguing About a Creedence Clearwater Revival Song

When the band plays "Fortunate Son," they point the cannon at...

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At first it looked like the designated controversy from the Concert for Valor, a Veterans Day show held on the National Mall and broadcast on HBO, was going to be that Eminem spent his set cussing like…well, like Eminem. But that debate faded pretty quickly, perhaps because it was hard to imagine that many old soldiers watching at home were gasping that they never heard language like that in the Army. Instead we're now arguing about the fact that Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, and Zac Brown played Creedence Clearwater Revival's resentful anthem "Fortunate Son," a Vietnam-era jeremiad against the people who send Americans into wars their own kids won't fight.

I can't embed Tuesday's performance, but you can watch it here. If you'd rather listen to the original, here you go:

That part of the set list pissed off some hawks, who seem to think the trio should have saved it for some antiwar holiday—I dunno, Armistice Day or something. The Weekly Standard's Ethan Epstein complained that the song is "an anti-war screed, taking shots at 'the red white and blue.'" The actual lyric is a bit different: "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'/They point the cannon at you." Epstein has evidently confused people who wrap themselves in the flag with the flag itself.

A better description of the song's theme comes from Outside the Beltway's Doug Mataconis, who asks: "Is there anything that more accurately portrays the reality of who fought in Vietnam, who sent them there, and who was able to get away with not fighting there?" If the authorities ever create a holiday to honor the people who declare wars, I suppose the song might be a disrespectful choice for it, but there's nothing there that sneers at the people who actually fought. (The guy who wrote the track certainly doesn't think so.)

"Fortunate Son" was undeniably opposed to the Vietnam War. It's also a song whose sentiments a lot of Vietnam veterans would endorse. Of course there's also a lot of vets who wouldn't endorse it, but that's just as true of any pro-war ditty that might meet The Weekly Standard's approval. Wars are controversial, not just among the general public but among the people who fight them. (According to a Washington Post poll released earlier this year, half the veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars now say the invasion of Iraq wasn't worth it.) As with wars, so with music: Some people in the audience reportedly jeered during the performance, but the crowd in the video looks pretty happy.

Some of them even waved the flag. I kind of wish the band had played "Hail to the Chief," just to see what would have happened.