Monday, November 11, 2013
Track of the Week: The Kinks, "Some Mother's Son"
World War I was the event that first sparked my interest in history. It was the combination of checking out an illustrated history of it from the library in the third grade with Snoopy battling the Red Baron in It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown that gave me the bug. When I started my graduate studies, I was certain that I would be doing a dissertation topic related to the war's political and cultural fall-out. Somehow along the way I realized that the nineteenth century had more interesting facets that had not yet been picked over by better and more renowned scholars than I.
Despite that, my abiding interest in World War I has never left me. Something about its murderous absurdity and inherently elegaic quality won't let go of me. Even though plenty of my friends and family are veterans, I cannot think of November 11th as anything other than Armistice Day. As a teenager I wrote stories from the perspective of trench soldiers (yeah, I didn't get a date until I was 18), and relished constructing one scene where a German soldier arose from the muddy trench on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, looked at his English counterparts on the other side of No Man's Land, and wondered why they had been trying so hard to kill each other.
All wars are tragic because young people must die to advance the political aims of old men. "Some Mother's Son" by The Kinks gets to the heart of this tragedy perhaps better than any other. Coming on their historical concept album Arthur, it tells the simple tale of a nameless soldier of the Great War losing his life, and his mother losing a son. It's all summed up in a heart-breakingly simple line, "some mother's son ain't coming home today." At the end of the day, that's the raw reality of war, and no number of parades, jet plane flyovers, or American flag pins on the lapels of television personalities can change that. I certainly appreciate the sacrifices made by our veterans; my own grandfather lost a kidney during World War II which likely shortened his life. That said, I can't stand war being bathed in pieties and showered with glory on this Veteran's Day when too many mothers' sons from our recent conflicts won't be coming home today.