This is the song that has been misunderstood ever since its release in 1984. It had been appropriated by Republican politicians such as Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan, and Donald Trump. The reason being that Springsteen’s music fits within the Americana and country rock genres and the main stanza “Born in the USA” being repeated continuously is enough to rally the audience.

Of course, these are surface-level aesthetics that Republicans rely on, and not on the deeper issue with the song. The lyrics of the rest of the song tell a completely different story from that main stanza.

It follows the life of a Vietnam veteran who has been given a rough patch ever since he was a boy. After dealing with abuse and committing a crime, he is drafted into the military and sent to Vietnam, where he loses his brother there. After returning, he has to deal with poverty, incarceration, and homelessness.

As can be expected, it follows the plight of the working class man who comes from a “…dead man’s town.” As expected, economically and geographically he is already in a complete disadvantage and will face many obstacles throughout his life. Living the rest of his life, comparable to him to a beaten dog, also means “…covering up” or sucking up any physical abuse.

He further expounds, throughout the song, his own disposability by an indifferent government and job market. Instead of paying his debt to society in any way for his “…hometown jam,” he is drafted and sent to Vietnam. After returning home, he tries to find work in the refinery, but is not hired, which not even the V.A. would help him with. After serving time in prison, he spends ten years driving in nomadic poverty with “…nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go.”

The subject of the song also discusses the Sisyphean war against the Viet Cong when talking about his brother. He lost his life, while the Viet Cong managed to continue ruling Vietnam. The only thing that he left behind was a picture of himself that the subject gave to the woman he loved in Saigon.

War leaves behind a lot of people to recuperate with the losses they have been dealt. The Saigon woman had to deal with the loss of her lover, and the subject lost his own brother. In the aftermath of war, the only action that is needed is to recuperate and adapt, which proves to be difficult for the subject.

War is not something to be easily glorified or romanticized, since it always comes with a heavy price and it might result in a Pyrrhic victory at best. Unfortunately, people–whether lower class or politicians–who have never enlisted are very distant from the experiences and the costs needed to continue these wars. Normally, genres that are within the geographical and musical circumference of the Heartland tend to have a patriotic undertone which includes extolling the troops no matter what war they are sent in. A notable example being a number of country musician Toby Keith’s songs, with Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue being one. Besides Born in the USA, there are not a lot of songs–at least not that I can think of–which strip away the Cold War era hero-worship of the military and exposes the realities of veterans in America. Some of which include the high suicide rate, the confrontation with the division and hatred that war propaganda can create and enable, the wives who cheat on them while they were away, etc.

Just like with Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” the genre of the song is meant to be a subversion. Even the fact that the subject called himself a “long-gone daddy” and a “cool-rockin’ daddy” are meant to add to the irony behind the genre of the song. The fact that this song is highly favored by Republicans reveals how much this song’s genre reflects patriotism. Except, the themes of the song hold the United States–specifically the job market and the government–in utter contempt. The heartland rock element is meant to subvert patriotic romanticization of war by discussing the actual realities of a lost cause war and the veterans it leaves behind.


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