Response to War – Drive On

Johnny Cash \”Drive On\’

Opposition is an adjective that could be fairly applied to all war. In the case of the Vietnam war, however, the word “opposition” seems to be an all around theme. There was not only opposition on the battlefield, but there was also more opposition at home than seemingly any other war save, by technicality, the Civil War.  Protesters marched the streets in many of our nation’s capitals. There were rallies, concerts, sit-ins, walk-outs. War was everywhere. While the soldiers were overseas fighting for the civilians, the civilians were at home fighting for the soldiers, and between these two groups of people the difference in opinion and overall state of mind was so vast one wouldn’t believe that they were once brothers and friends.

As opposed to the protesters’ angry loud way of dealing with the war, the soldiers who were actually in Vietnam seemed to take on a much calmer, quieter viewpoint. It was something they had to do, so they made peace with it. The song, “Drive On,” by Johnny Cash, is a perfect example of how the young soldiers were forced to callous themselves to the brutalities lest they be killed themselves in a moment of mourning or weakness. The song is about a man’s tour of duty in Vietnam from which his buddy did not return. It alludes to America’s non-acceptance of the veterans upon their return as a product of misplaced anger about the war itself, and it speaks not only of the soiled acts that the soldiers saw and were forced to commit, but also of returning to a place where no one could possibly understand what they’d been through.

The men in Vietnam did the best they could in a bad situation. The song has, as most Cash songs do, a simple rhythm, a simple melody, and simple words that cut deep. Their delivery does not mirror their gravity. In this way “Drive On,” simply embodies the mindset of the American soldier in Vietnam. It was a mindset born of self preservation. They told themselves to “drive on. It don’t mean nothing.” (Cash) The soldiers made jokes about things that weren’t funny. They made light of heavy things. They just plain didn’t talk about things that were too heavy to make light of. They learned how to survive and maintain sanity not only in the jungle, but then later upon returning to a home that just couldn’t understand.

Drive On  Johnny Cash

Well I got a friend named Whiskey Sam
He was my boonierat buddy for a year in Nam.
He said I think my country got a little off track
Took ‘em twenty five years to welcome me back.

But it’s better than not coming back at all.
Many a good man I saw fall.
And even now, every time I dream
I hear the men and the monkeys in the jungle scream.

Drive on, it don’t mean nothin’
My children love me, but they don’t understand
And I got a woman who knows her man
Drive on. It don’t mean nothin’
It don’t mean nothin’, Drive on.

Well I remember one night, Tex and me.
Rappelled in on a hot L.Z.
We had our 16’s on rock and roll
And, with all that fire, I was scared and cold.

I was crazy, and I was wild
And I have seen the tiger smile.
I spit in a bamboo viper’s face
and I’d be dead, but by God’s grace.
Drive on

It don’t mean nothin’
My children love me, but they don’t understand
And I got a woman who knows her man
Drive on, it don’t mean nothin’
It don’t mean nothin’, Drive on.

I was a slow walk and a sad rain
And nobody tried to be John Wayne.
I came home, but Tex did not
And I can’t talk about the hit he got.

But I got a little limp now, when I walk
And I got a little tremolo when I talk
But my letter read from Whiskey Sam
You’re a walkin’ talkin’ miracle from Vietnam.
Drive On.

It don’t mean nothin’
My children love me, but they don’t understand
And I got woman who knows her man.
Drive on, It don’t mean nothin’
It don’t mean nothin’, Drive on.

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