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May 12, 2007

Great Moments In Total Obliviousness

In George Tenet's new book, he tells the story of the hunt for Aimal Kasi. Kasi was a Pakistani man who shot and killed several people at the CIA entrance in 1993. He escaped back to Pakistan, but four years later the CIA captured him.

Kasi was returned to the US, and Tenet describes a celebration at the CIA:

...there was an outpouring of respect, pride, and gratitude, not to mention hugs and tears. As the crowd filed out at the end of the ceremony, Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" boomed out of the auditorium's speaker system.

Huh. That's a bit weird, given that "Born in the USA" is a obviously a harsh criticism of US foreign policy and America generally. I wonder if Tenet has any awareness of this at all? Let's look at the next sentence of the book—maybe he'll address it there!

After his capture, Kasi said he had conducted the shootings because he was upset with US [foreign] policy...

Uh, I guess not.

EARLIER: George Will famously wrote in 1984 that "Born in the USA" was a "grand, cheerful affirmation" of America. Eric Alterman later commented that it's "a 'grand, cheerful affirmation' of American life in much the same way that Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago is a grand, cheerful affirmation of the Stalinist penal code."

Posted at May 12, 2007 05:13 PM | TrackBack

Thank you for the grand, cheerful reminder of what an intellectually dishonest tool George Will is.

Posted by: Dan Coyle at May 12, 2007 07:09 PM

It's not like "Born in the USA" was the first song from the protest camp to be abused by the Neocons. Didn't the same happen to Woody Guthrie's "This Land"?

Posted by: En Ming Hee at May 13, 2007 06:10 AM

Didn't the same happen to Woody Guthrie's "This Land"?

I'm the proud owner of a live Springsteen album (yes, it's actually made of vinyl) where he plays "This land is your land, this land is my land", but before he plays the song, he gives the audience some of its history - how it's an "angry, angry song" written by Woodie Guthrie in response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."

Some day, when the next generation's Springsteen or Guthrie puts out a cover of "Born in the USA", s/he will have to include a similar history lesson.

Posted by: SteveB at May 13, 2007 11:32 AM

Sometimes - maybe even most of the time, especially for songs that one listens to on the radio, as opposed to singing oneself in school, church, synagogue, or ethical culture weekly meeting - the words don't make much of an impact on the consciousness of the audience.

Take, for example, that cheerful ditty by James Taylor, his first big hit, wasn't it? - "Fire and Rain" - it's about a girl he met when they were both in the nuthouse (McLean Hospital, near Boston) who killed herself. I recall reading that studies on people who leave such places on their own power, but "against medical advice", as Mr. Taylor did, actually have better outcomes than those who wait until the shrinks give them permission. How about that.

History lessons - as Gandhi might have said, when asked his opinion about human history, "Yes, learning about it would be a good idea." How about Mother's Day, for example? Invented by the manufacturers of greeting cards and candy? Not so much, actually. I leave discovering its hidden origins to the enterprise of any reader who (a) doesn't know it, and (b) is interested in putting into action pseudoGandhi's alleged advice.

But to say a word in favor of Irving Berlin (who was really born in Russia, despite his name - which is NOT his birth name, by the way) - I find a verse from that song which ticked Woody off to be very inspiring, and apropos here in the 21st century, as it was in the 20th century, where I spent most of my life (so far, at least - and I'd have to outlive Irving to be a 21st century man in that sense)

God Bless America, Land that I love,

Stand beside her, and guide her,

Through the Night with the Light from Above.

Speaking metaphorically, of course.

Happy Mother's Day to everyone who is a mother, or had one.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at May 13, 2007 12:12 PM

In Woody's first draft of "This Land is Your Land," his retort to "God Bless America" was more explicit: instead of "This land was made for you and me," the verse ended "God Blessed America for Me." Take that, Irving!

Apparently satisfied with getting this off his chest, Woody forgot about the song for several more years. When he rediscovered it in his notebook, he changed the verse ending from that petulant jab to the grand and beautiful assertion of the American promise which we know now.

Of course, anybody who knows all of the verses to the song understands that the editorial change did nothing to compromise the song's radical spirit.

Posted by: Martin Brandt at May 15, 2007 10:16 PM