Brothers in Arms

A friend of mine recently posted a video of Mark Knopfler singing his Dire Straits hit “Brothers in Arms.”  It was a beautiful version of the song, back by a full orchestra.  It called to mind quite a few songs from that period – the mid 1980s – that spoke out, or sung out, against war.  One that comes to mind is Def Leppards “Dogs of War,” which feature audio samples from speeches given by then President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  It seemed to me at the time that those songs represented a return in popular music to the social conscience that was so prevalent in popular music during the 1960s, and I welcomed it.  Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.

In America we have been at war now for ten years, the longest war in American history.   These wars have proven, like every war before them since World War II, to be ultimately futile.  Countless lives have been lost on both – or, rather, all – sides, and countless money wasted that could have been better spent.  Still, no end is in sight.  The Pentagon has a vested interest in a war every so often to instill fear in the people and attempt to justify its disproportional budget in a world where starvation and disease could be virtually eliminated if it weren’t for the defense budget.  What does the defense budget do except protect the wealth of the wealthiest?  Actually, it does a lot!  It has crippled the American public educational system, crippled our infrastructure, and allowed managed care insurance to ruin our health care.  What it doesn’t do is contribute positively to life of anyone in the world except defense contractors.

Remember when they actually taught the Revolutionary War in grade school?  We learned that the Americans defeated the British at least in part because the British fought a gentleman’s war, marching in neat little lines while the American revolutionaries wore street clothes and hid behind trees.  In our last several wars, American soldiers have worn uniforms while our opponents wore street clothes and hid not just behind trees but sometimes they hid in plain sight.  It seems the tables have been turned, and nobody at the Pentagon is smart enough to figure it out.

Ultimately, no war can be won.  Even World War II only created the illusion of victory, because to attempt to create a lasting peace the supposed victors had to rebuild Europe and, even then, a Cold War ensued that lasted well into the aforementioned 1980s.   Leaving aside for a moment all the very good arguments from pacifists and proponents of non-violence, we should be able to agree that war doesn’t solve anything just from the historical record alone!  But Mark Knopfler said it so much better than I ever could:

These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Some day you’ll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you’ll no longer burn
To be brothers in arms

Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I’ve witnessed your suffering
As the battles raged higher
And though they hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms

There’s so many different words
So many different songs
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones

Now the sun’s gone to hell
And the moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We’re fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

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