Analysis of Artistic Response to War Featuring Green Day’s “21 Guns”

Analysis of Artistic Response to War
Featuring Green Day’s “21 Guns”

Presented by
Kimber Harris

Dr. Kathryn Warren
ENGL 2329: American Literature
February 1, 2013

Green Day – 21 Guns (song with lyrics)

Green Day – 21 Guns lyrics

Do you know what’s worth fighting for?
When it’s not worth dying for?
Does it take your breath away
And you feel yourself suffocating?
Does the pain weigh out the pride?
And you look for a place to hide?
Did someone break your heart inside?
You’re in ruins

One, 21 guns
Lay down your arms,
give up the fight
One, 21 guns
Throw up your arms into the sky,
you and I

When you’re at the end of the road
And you’ve lost all sens of control
And your thoughts have taken their toll
When your mind breaks the spirit of your soul
Your faith walks on broken glass
And the hangover doesn’t pass
Nothing’s ever built to last
You’re in ruins

One, 21 guns
Lay down your arms,
give up the fight
One, 21 guns
Throw up your arms into the sky,
you and I

Did you try to live on your own
When you burned down the house and home?
Did you stand too close to the fire
Like a liar looking for forgiveness from a stone?
When it’s time to live and let die
And you can’t get another try
Something inside this heart has died
You’re in ruins

One, 21 guns
Lay down your arms,
give up the fight
One, 21 guns
Throw up your arms into the sky,
One, 21 guns
Lay down your arms,
give up the fight
One, 21 guns
Throw up your arms into the sky,
you and I

Written in 2008 by Billie Joe Armstrong, front man for the American rock band Green Day, “21 Guns” is an anti-war rock ballad named for the 21-gun salute traditionally fired to honor fallen soldiers. The song is composed of three verses, each one followed by the chorus. The lyrics seem to be speaking directly to soldiers in battle, questioning whether the consequences of the war are worthwhile and urging them to stop fighting.

The verses of the song seem to be speaking to the soldier as he moves along his journey, first as a new soldier, then as a battle hardened warrior, and finally as a veteran. Verse one of the song is comprised totally of questions that pose moral and philosophical queries while also acknowledging the fears of a new recruit facing the front lines. The second verse speaks to the jaded warrior who has been detrimentally affected by the toils of war and has had their faith tested along the way. The final verse is directed at the veteran soldier who has returned, to a possibly broken, home. The powerfully tragic lyrics, “Did you stand too close to the fire, Like a liar looking for forgiveness from a stone? When it’s time to live and let die, And you can’t get another try…” remind the veteran of the pain and guilt of surviving their fallen brothers. The chorus seems to be the answer to the conundrum of each of the preceding verses, the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. The opening of the chorus states that even one 21-gun salute, even one fallen soldier, is an unacceptable loss and continues on to demand that the soldier put down their weapons, stop fighting and raise their arms in surrender, not necessarily to the enemy, but surrender to peace instead of war.

Green Day used their celebrity status and musical popularity as a platform to successfully broadcast their song as an anti-war message. The song was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Song in 2010 and got high rankings on all of the US Billboard Charts.

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