Artistic Response to War

The war is something that hits rather close to home. My brother-in-law is currently deployed to Afghanistan and has been there since May of last year. He is coming home in 10 more weeks. While he has been away I have been living with my sister and baby niece. My niece was born in July and my brother-in-law has only seen her for a total of 3 days since her birth. I have witnessed the sadness, weariness, and frustration that this war has caused. For my artistic response I chose the song “Brother, Oh Brother” by American Aquarium.

Brother, Oh Brother by American Aquarium

I had never heard this song, but it came on the radio when I was on my way home the other day and it instantly made me think of “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien.

The story played out in this song resonates deeply. Early on it speaks f the heritage of war. When the artist sings about how his “daddy lived by the gun and his daddy did too” it really shows how war has been an undeniable part of history to the point that it is almost inherited. Even though, in reality, the war the soldier is fighting in this song is not the same war that his daddy or grandfather fought, it sort of is all the same. War is war is war. The soldier speaks to this when he says “so I have my daddy’s name stitched across my chest”; the name on the soldiers uniform and the name on his daddy’s were and are the same. You can really sense from the song that the soldier feels an enormous connection with his father, almost to the point that he can not distinguish himself as separate any longer. The soldier and his father and his grandfather are all one in the same.

As the song continues you feel the soldier become more and more weary. He is so spent that he can not even remember why he is there or what the war is about. The soldier repeats himself when he says “my hands are tired and my feet are sore.” When he says this the first time you can almost feel the ache that the soldier is feeling. But the second time the soldier repeats this phrase you feel that he is more apathetic. He is saying it as a fact, but not really something deeply painful. In between that repetition you find that the reason for this disconnect. While I am sure that the soldiers physical hands are tired and his feet are sore, this is used as a metaphor for the feelings that the soldier has. You see a weariness with the war, especially when the cause seems indiscernible. You also see that the soldier is sore, not only in the physical sense, but emotionally. There is real pain and anger that the soldier feels over the conflict. However, all the toil is making him apathetic. He just fights because he is a soldier and that is what he does.

The soldier feels as though he is running circles. He is not able any longer to determine what he is fighting for. Now he is fighting not the original cause, but the case of finding the answer to that question. But the harder he looks and the longer he tries, the more illusive the answer becomes. He is so confused about the purpose of the conflict that he even doubts his faith. The only thing he can possibly do is to look to the flag to guide him through the rest of his tour. The flag has become mighty, and great, and bigger than any other reason for fighting. It becomes that answer and the reason to keep on.

The song continues with the observation that everyone in the war is really the same. They all show up, aim, shoot, and get paid. It is a job. Regardless of the passions that prompted the war, it has become a hum drum, everyday conflict between young men who no longer understand or recognize the original intent of the war. The soldier says “my rifle is steady and my aim is true, no matter what side I pledge allegiance too.” I do not believe that the soldier is saying he does not care what side he is on, I believe this is his way of saying, that the soldiers are all the same, regardless of side. Our side is fighting for what they believe in, and their side is fighting for what they believe in. Isn’t that what war always is?

The soldier also delves into the spiritual aspect of the war and especially the spiritual conflict within himself. The soldiers mother was obviously influential in the spiritual upbringing of the soldier. I think this recognition is a really great compliment to the recognition the soldier gave to his father in the beginning of the song. The father fought physical wars and the mother spiritual. The war has really made the soldier question his fate. His mother no doubt taught him the ten commandments and the way to make it to heaven. But the soldier wonders if he even is a candidate for heaven anymore considering what he has done. I think that like the other verses of the song this is literal and metaphorical at the same time. The soldier says “where I’ll end up it’s hard to tell”, he most certianly feels as though he is in hell right now and is wondering if he will die here or ever make it home.

The soldier goes on to describe even further the conflict within himself as a result of the war. He has a heart for his country for sure, but in order to defend the honor of the land he loves he has to hand over his path to the devil. In the end of the song the soldier comes back to talking to his brother and you find out that since you are hearing this “letter” the soldier has undoubtably died. This ending leaves you longing for a resolution. What was the war for? Does the soldier ever find peace? Does he go to heven or hell? All the questions that the soldier poses are still open ended. The story is cut short and there is no resolution, much like the soldiers life.

Like the story “the things they carried” this song really looks into the mind and feelings of the soldiers overseas. The artist who created this song wanted to paint the war from the viewpoint of the soldier. I feel that is a viewpoint that is often overlooked and not valued enough. The war changes people and develops a self conflict that is often never resolved. As a nursing student I have worked in the psychiatric unit of a hospital and seen many soldiers with severe anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and depression. I think that these disorders are due to the physical nature of war but they also arise from the conflict within ones own self. I think this artist did a very poignant job of painting the feelings of the soldier. It is a reminder that war destroys not just nations, but individuals.

*On a side note, I actually really liked the fact that this music video was just an image of a flag. It really helps to anchor the weight of the song. Also, our american flag is really one of the most famous artistic expressions to war ever created. When Betsy Ross was secretly creating the flag inside her home she no doubt wove in a lot of feeling and emotion into those pieces of red, white, and blue fabric. That artistic expression has become the greatest icon of our nation and was the initial symbol of our nations independence.

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