Dead and Loving It

I'm not a fan of country music, but I saw a music video on Country Music Television today that caught my attention. Sung by [[w:Trace Adkins]], it's titled "Arlington," and it is written from the point of view of a soldier buried in Arlington National Cemetery:

I never thought that this is where I'd settle down.
I thought I'd die an old man back in my hometown.
They gave me this plot of land,
Me and some other men, for a job well done.

There's a big White House sits on a hill just up the road.
The man inside, he cried the day they brought me home.
They folded up a flag and told my Mom and Dad:
"We're proud of your son."

And I'm proud to be on this peaceful piece of property.
I'm on sacred ground and I'm in the best of company.
I'm thankful for those thankful for the things I've done.
I can rest in peace;
I'm one of the chosen ones:
I made it to Arlington.

Maybe this song is actually some solace to the families of soldiers deployed right now in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I found it rather disturbing. Of course it's not the first song ever written during wartime that celebrates the honored dead, but I find it rather creepy to hear a musician who is still living (and who never served in the military) singing about how much someone else must be enjoying their graveyard.

"Arlington" appears on Adkins' latest album, "Songs About Me." [|On his website], Adkins says, "There's so much about this CD that is autobiographical. Even if we're able to release four singles on this record, every one would perfectly represent me and where I am. ... 'Arlington' allows me to express a deep reverence and respect and to pay homage to veterans without making a political statement."

I disagree. To begin with, "Arlington" doesn't "pay homage to veterans." Veterans are people who survived their wars. Adkins' song attempts to pay homage to people who died in wars. More importantly, the song is clearly making a political statement when it refers to the man inside the White House who "cried the day they brought me home." Another lyric says, "this is what it cost to keep us free," which clearly suggests that the death of Adkins' imaginary soldier was a necessary sacrifice—a political sentiment that a number of real soldiers and their families ([[Cindy Sheehan]], for example) don't necessarily share.

The song reminds me in some ways of "Ballad of the Green Beret," a pro-war song that was a hit during the Vietnam war. It also celebrated a dead soldier:

Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her his last request:

"Put silver wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret."

One difference, though, is that Adkins' song doesn't merely say that the soldier "died for those oppressed." It goes even further, imagining bizarrely that his death should be considered a success in and of itself. In Adkins' song, dying has become a way to join the "chosen ones" on America's ladder of upward mobility: "I made it to Arlington."

"Ballad of the Green Berets" came out in 1966. Three years later, even country music was turning to anti-war themes, with Glen Campbell singing, "Galveston, oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying." It's just a matter of time, I'm afraid, before the sentimental and false bravado of songs like "Arlington" gives way to similar themes as Americans discover once again that the real wages of war are sorrow, not glory.

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