War (what is it good for)

music and war are a fruitful and long-term combination. not only has war inspired many songwriters in their lyrics (both pro and anti), and also in their sound, by imitating the sounds of the battlefield with the rolling of drums and the sound of trumpets. music has also been used as a means to raise the moral of the troups or to intimidate the enemy. a good filmic example of that practice is the scene in apocalypse now, where the ‘ritt der walkuren’ by wagner is played at maximum volume from a helicopter.

some existing songs have received a war association later. like ‘yankee doodle’, played in the american civil war by a regiment having problems in the battle, after their captain ordered them to play something, because ‘that’s the only thing you’re good for’. another well-known song is ‘la cucaracha’, an old song, used with a different text in the mexican revolution to ridicule a lazy general addicted to drinking and smoking. the refrain goes something like ‘the cockroach, he can’t walk anymore, because he has run out of marihuana to smoke’. if wonder if the fans of the local football club know that, when they sing this song after their heroes have scored a goal….

some national hymns have also played an important role in battles, when sung by soldiers, like the dutch ‘wilhelmus’ or the french ‘marseillaise’. one of the oldest known warsongs is ‘la guerre’ by clement janequin, written in 1515. some of the best know classical compositions dealing with war are ‘missa in tempore belli’ by haydn, beethovens ‘wellingtons sieg’, ‘ouverture 1812’ by tsjaikovski, the ‘7th symphony’ by shostakovich and brittens ‘war requiem’.

the classic song from WWI is ‘it’s a long way to tipperary’, while WWII is forever remembered by the evergreen ‘lili marleen’.
vietnam was the time of youth protest and (anti-war) rock music, so no wonder that rock music plays a central role in films and series like ‘tour of duty’ and ‘good morning, vietnam’.
i’m not sure if the war in iraq has contributed a lot to the music history, but time will tell.
war, what is it good for? well, at least for a lot of good music.

np: von thronstahl – bellum, sacrum bellum