Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on
America, several patriotic songs have appeared on the country music
Alongside Cyndi Thomson's "What I Really Meant to
Say," country fans are hearing a newly recorded song by Aaron
, a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Faith
and a group-sing of "America the Beautiful" featuring Toby
, the Oak
, among others.
This latest wave of nationalistic
fervor from the country side will come as no surprise to longtime
observers of the genre. Country artists and country songwriters have
a long tradition of weighing in when the U.S. finds itself at
The Early Years
Commercial country music was born
in the early 1920s, in the aftermath of World War I, 1914-1918.
Reflecting a nation determined to return to peacetime normalcy,
country recordings of the 1920s and 1930s had little to say about
war in general or America's past wars.
For every song
recorded about the Spanish American War ("Filipino Baby," "The
Battleship Maine" among the handful) or the Great War ("The Kaiser
and Uncle Sam," "The Rainbow Division" and even one side of Jimmie
' first recording, "Soldier's Sweetheart," which recalls
"that awful German war"), there were several about the great
conflict fought two generations earlier on American soil, the War
Between the States ("Memories of the South Before the War," "Dixie"
and many others), usually told from the Southern point of view.
World War II
In 1939-1941, America for the second
time in a generation found itself surrounded by a world at war. The
fight to stay neutral failed when Japan attacked the U.S. fleet in
Pearl Harbor. That "date which will live in infamy" was recounted by
in "Cowards Over Pearl Harbor."
songwriter and recording artist Carson
, always fond of the event ballad, became almost the muse
of the Second World War, penning and recording such efforts as "Here
We Go to Tokio, Said Barnacle Bill the Sailor," "We're Gonna Have to
Slap the Dirty Little Jap" and the double-sided "Hitler's Letter to
Hirohito" and "Hirohito's Letter to Hitler."
patriotic hit of the war's first year was by another New York-based
recording artist, Elton Britt. The unforgettable "There's a
Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere," told the mythical tale of a
crippled mountain boy who wants to "help to bring the Axis down a
Largely a Southern regional music before World War II,
country music entered the national consciousness as never before, as
Southerners sent to the far-flung battlefronts and those migrating
to domestic war industry jobs in Detroit, Chicago, California and
elsewhere took their music with them.
Many songs celebrated
the war effort, and plenty more no doubt would have but for the
timing and duration of the long musicians' union strike: a ban on
new recordings began Aug. 1, 1942, (eight months into the war) and
lasted for some major recording companies over two
When the strike finally ended, the war was still being
fought, and country artists had lost none of their patriotic fervor,
as evidenced by Tex
's "There's a Gold Star in Her Window," Eddy
's "Mother's Prayer" and "Did You See My Daddy Over
's "Soldier's Last Letter," Gene
's (himself a pilot in the Asian theater) "At Mail Call
Today" and Bob
' "White Cross on Okinawa" and "Stars and Stripes on Iwo
Anti-communism was the theme as America
found itself fighting communist aggression in Korea (1950-1953).
Lulu Belle and Scotty added big government, inflation and taking the
Fifth Amendment as domestic co-evils to the foreign Communist menace
in the wonderful "I'm No Communist" in 1952. Little
and others sang "They Locked God Outside the Iron
Curtain," and Terry Preston (Ferlin Husky) was just as intent on his
own kind of lockout, "Let's Keep the Communists Out."
River Dave McEnery, ever the topical balladeer, reworked T.
's 1948 hit "Deck of Cards" into "The Red Deck of
Cards," a description of Communist attempts at brainwashing, while
Eddie Hill's "I've Changed My Mind" told of a brainwashed American
prisoner of war who came to his senses and came home.
special conditions of Korea found ample expression in country songs
of the period. Tubb sang of "A Heartsick Soldier on Heartbreak
Ridge" and hit big with Arthur Q. Smith's beautiful "Missing in
Action." Britt and Bill
each recorded "Rotation Blues," with Britt adding his
description of "Korean Mud." The
, though not yet the stars they would become,
sang from experience of going "From Mother's Arms to Korea." Jimmie
Osborne celebrated the 1953 armistice (optimistically, some would
say) with "Thank God for Victory in Korea."
America's next war found G.I.'s in the
jungles of Vietnam. American involvement there would be longer
(1965-1973) and costlier than in Korea, and the war proved far more
divisive at home for a variety of reasons. Dozens of record labels,
major and independent, released literally hundreds of songs and
recitations about the war in Vietnam.
The first major hit
came from Johnny Wright, whose version of Tom
's "Hello Viet Nam" (1965) topped the country chart. Kris
penned "Viet Nam Blues" for Dave Dudley, in which
the speaker is sickened by an encounter with an antiwar protester.
, also in the war's second year, shamed protesters as
"these men who'd rather live as slaves" in "The Minute Men Are
Turning in Their Graves."
Nagging questions about America's
war aims in Vietnam are reflected in the country songs of the time.
As early as 1966, Charlie Moore and Bill Napier sang "Is This a
Useless War?," and the same year Dave Dudley's recording of "What
We're Fighting For" found a ready audience. Perennial war
commentator Tubb recorded Red River Dave's answer to the war aims
question in its first year (1965), "It's for God, Country and You,
Mom (That's Why I'm Fighting in Viet Nam)." This triad has been
invoked in every American war -- witness Artemus Ward's complaint
from the days of the Civil War: "the song writers air doin' the
Mother bisness rayther too muchly."
Few doubted the heroism
and bravery of the men serving in Vietnam, and one of them, Barry
Sadler, immortalized his own service branch with the biggest hit to
come out of the war, "The Ballad of the Green Berets." Country
music's hero of this war would not be a general like MacArthur in
Korea, but a lieutenant -- court-martialed for his part in the My
Lai Massacre -- William Calley, who was lionized in more than one
country recitation at the time of his 1971 conviction.Loretta
sounded one of the first negative notes in her poignant
"Dear Uncle Sam" (1966), in which she informs her government "You
don't need him like I do." Her mentors and benefactors, the Wilburn
, later weighed in with "Little Johnny From Down the
Street" (who "died in a foreign land all alone") and "The War Keeps
's immortal anthems, "Okie From Muskogee" and "The
Fightin' Side of Me" from 1969-1970, were more anti-protester and
pro-America than in any sense pro-Vietnam War. Walter Bailes and the
Sullivans were among those who tired of the indecisive fighting, and
they voiced these sentiments in the beautiful but unheralded "Bring
the Boys Home." President Nixon did just that between 1969-1973.
Middle Eastern Crises
The Iranian hostage crisis
(1979-1981) never flared into actual war but generated a great deal
more country music commentary than would the Gulf War 10 years
later. Among the memorable tunes: "Take Your Oil and Shove It," "A
Message to Khomieni" and "Ring the Bells of Freedom." The prolonged
crisis, which ended with the release of American hostages on the day
Ronald Reagan was inaugurated (Jan. 20, 1981), spawned a patriotic
furor that was perhaps best captured on the Charlie
's memorable "In America."
enemy, Iraq, became America's enemy when Saddam Hussein invaded
Kuwaiti oil fields in 1990. Hank
's "Don't Give Us a Reason" pointedly warned Hussein
of an American response. Tippin's "You've Got to Stand for
Something" was one of the few chart hits dealing with the brief
conflict, along with Bill
's reworking of the aforementioned T. Texas Tyler's
"Deck of Cards." Donna Fargo recorded "Soldier Boy," and Jerry
Martin's "Letter to Saddam Hussein" peaked after the war was
Operation Enduring Freedom
In the early days
following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Tippin has
recorded a new version of "You've Got to Stand for Something." He
also has hauled out a song he wrote with Kenny Beard and Casey
Beathard 2½ years ago, "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle
Fly, " and will release it Oct. 2 as a commercial single with all
proceeds going to the American Red Cross.Martina
has stepped up in a variety of situations to sing "The
Star-Spangled Banner" and a chorus of her hit "Independence Day,"
given new meaning in light of events. Greenwood's "God Bless the
USA" is at No. 16 on the country and pop charts, and Greenwood has
jetted around the country to sing his song at memorials and large
gatherings. Faith Hill, the Dixie
all performed Sept. 21 in the nationally televised
special America: A Tribute to Heroes
songwriters -- no doubt stirred by the violent attacks, the loss of
life, the swelling of pride in country and anxiety about what might
come in the future - are probably setting about the task of turning
their feelings into songs.
"This song is an opportunity to
speak to people," Tippin says of his new recording. "I hope it will
be an inspiration to the soldiers, the men and women about to be
[soldiers] and the Americans at home. And I hope it will help our