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Episode 04 Dogs of War

March 12, 2011

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Words and Music–Richard Allen
Produced by David Barratt at the Abattoir of Good Taste

Vocal and Guitar–William Thaumatrope
All Other Instruments–David Barratt

NARRATIVE

I used to be a pacifist growing up; a response I developed to bullying. I found that by refusing to fight and turning the other cheek my antagonist would eventually give up the fight with disgust and leave me relatively unscathed. I liked to think that this response had a higher motivation–Christian humility and turning the other cheek–but really it was a product of fear and cowardice that I rationalized into something noble. Had I had the requisite confidence and access to a gym I am sure I would have pursued other avenues, and I certainly wished that the bullies had been punished. This is by no means to diminish the significance of passive resistance as a political weapon of the weak against the powerful. Whatever the personal flaws of both Gandhi and King, their example and their achievements are immensely important. However, passive resistance is scarcely adequate as universal response to violence because it is not effective against a determined aggressor, in particular, if the opponent wants to take your life. Even Gandhi himself recognized this when he belatedly endorsed the fight against fascism.

Living in New York at the time of 9/11 and for sometime beforehand, my response to this nihilistic act that took so many lives and traumatized so many more was that I believed that those responsible should be hunted down and captured. And I do not think the conspiracy theories are credible–why is it that some individuals are attracted to the least likely explanation of an event? However, support for confronting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan quickly turned to dismay at the misguided execution of the war there, and the fatal contamination of goals caused by the invasion of Iraq. Now there is no exit scenario that will remotely count as a victory, and those willing to take arms against the US and its allies have dramatically increased in number. History has shown, however, that wars rarely occur between democracies and, though the lure of autocracies whether inspired by the left or the right remains powerful for the weak, I believe one should take great hope from the unfinished revolutions that swept across Eastern Europe at the end of the last century and are now beginning to transform the Arab world.

Like many I cannot really imagine what is like to fight in a war. One listens to the stories of the wartime generation, of what it was like to fight in World War Two, but it’s really one of those how-can you-understand-it-if-you-didn’t-live-through-it kind of experiences. The routine experience of negative emotions enhanced by fatigue–boredom, fear, isolation, anxiety and the like—are meant to be held in check by the soldierly virtues of discipline, loyalty, courage, steadfastness, and bravery cultivated through the strict regime of training. But of course this only works up to the point at which the individual soldier reaches his or her threshold and experiences trauma and psychic meltdown. It should be noted that much of modern psychology is derived from the effort to understand and treat the effects of trauma from the trenches of World War One.

If the psychic costs of war and the likelihood of falling victim to them could be readily summarized to the would-be soldier, how many human beings would sign up? Patriotism or loyalty to one’s country, a maligned virtue, has always inspired soldiers to fight, but equally, mercenary guns for hire and the poor in need of money and food have swelled the ranks of armies. But if a democracy undertakes to go to war, shouldn’t the costs be born by all able-bodied citizens? Our attitude towards, and conduct of, warfare would be less cavalier and more responsible if it were.

LYRIC

Tracers burn the darkened sky
The smell of death as bullets fly
Don’t work your mind, soldier new
Just do the stuff you’re trained to do

You set your sights on distant hill
That’s probably your first real kill
What decides ‘tween death and life
A clean machine with lazer eyes

The dogs of war they’re baying loud
It’s dirty work they do us proud
What’s this surreality show
Only politicians know

It’s clean and easy till it’s not.
When someone in your crew gets shot
Silent death erases pain
Your life will never be the same

Crawling time eats at your soul
Not to mention freezing cold
Use your down time on the screen
Don’t tell the family what you’ve seen

The dogs of war they’re baying loud
It’s dirty work they do us proud
What’s this surreality show
Only politicians know

If you’re lucky you’ll get home
Have some time to call your own
But nothing’s normal any more
For men and women from the war

The dogs of war they’re baying loud
It’s dirty work they do us proud
What’s this surreality show
Only politicians know

The dogs of war they’re baying loud
It’s dirty work they do us proud
What’s this surreality show
Only politicians know

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From → Thaumatropemusic

2 Comments
  1. Geoff permalink

    Hi WT
    I like the backing music especially the Intro. It can be hardly be anything else but an anti-war song. The lyrics too sum up very neatly the ideas you elaborate in the commentary – the (sur) reality of modern war, its mediation as entertainment/infotainment, and the after-life of the combattant, should he/she get home – this latter element is rarely recognised in such songs, in my experience. And I couldn’t agree more abut Iraq. And now we have newboys Sarkozy and Cameron (who?) trying to get involved in Libya!

  2. Hector permalink

    Thank you for the songs. I enjoy them and I look forward to the next episode. I also enjoy your narratives, which contextualize each song.

    I especially like the music of Dogs of War, but I have some concerns about the lyrics. I am not sure whether I am right so please take this posting as a tentative and sympathetic response from someone who enjoys your music and will continue to listen to it.

    It feels as if you are portraying a very generic idea of the war, an outsider’s idea of what it is like to be a soldier. For instance, statements like “You set your sights on distant hill…” or “Crawling time eats at your soul” are the sort of thing anyone could have written without actually having been to a battlefield or talked to those who have been there. I am not a soldier myself, so I am not sure what it is like to fight a war, but the words feel too generic.

    Anonther way of putting the point is this: I wonder about the point of view embedded in the song. Why choose the point of view of a soldier? Why do you want to speak on behalf of another person (the “you” in “the stuff you are trained to do”? I would agree that the effort to describe another’s experience is an important part of (some forms of) creative work, but I am not sure that there is a real understanding here.

    A small comment: I also wonder about the chorus, and particularly about the last sentence, “Only politicians know”. Why highlight politicians for blame (as opposed to, say, corporate forces or the military hierarchy?) I would certainly blame the politicians, but the line feels a little cliched…

    I hope this posting does not sound too negative. I enjoy listening to the song, and I will keep on listening to it. I just wanted to share an immediate (and perhaps not fully thought-out) response.

    Thanks again for your work.

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