James Otto – “Soldiers and Jesus”

When you write about country music for a living, giving a song called “Soldiers and Jesus” an unfavorable review is a special type of masochism. Inevitably, after today I’ll be repeatedly asked the following question: “Which do you hate more, Malec? Soldiers or Jesus?”

Would it do any good to say that I don’t hate either?

Co-written by Chris Wallin, “Soldiers and Jesus”—the second release from Otto’s upcoming album—draws a parallel between the sacrifices made by the two parties mentioned in the title, eventually coming to the conclusion that “God only knows where we’d be without soldiers and Jesus.”

That’s a nice enough sentiment, and if the song ended there my life would be a lot easier and less hate-mail filled. I could paste the code for a “Thumbs Up” down at the bottom of this review, then go on about my day, thankful, free and blessed. After all, Otto’s sensitive balladeering here marks one of his best performances. That’s saying something, because the man can flat-out sing.

The trouble is, as usual, this supposedly apolitical country song can’t keep from threading politics into its message. That wouldn’t be a problem (why should it keep its politics out of its music?), except for the fact it disingenuously implies it’s apolitical (thanks to a throwaway line about how there’s “a left side, a right side and then there’s the truth”).

That, and because the political points this song makes (as usual) perpetuate false knowledge that’s meant to reinforce a specific narrative. That narrative, in turn, fuels a specific agenda.

“It seems like the news likes to run ‘em both down,” Otto sings at the opening of the second verse.

Of course, that sentiment is drawn directly from the line of criticism that preaches about the “mainstream media’s liberal bias.” You know, it’s the same line of criticism that implied you were un-American if you protested the war in Iraq or criticized the president after 9/11.

Whether or not you believe the media has a liberal bias, can any of you reading this give me an example of a time when “the news” has run down soldiers? What about Jesus?

I’m not talking about, “Oh, well, just listen to CNN and you’ll hear it.” I’m asking for specific examples.

Criticizing a war, or questioning the merits of a war, does not equate to “running down” soldiers. And as for Jesus, God only knows what Otto and Wallin are scratching at with that one. The news likes to run down Jesus? The news likes to run down religion?

Frankly, it’s irresponsible for any media outlet to be an accessory to the dissemination of a message that encourages and reinforces a rejection of critical thinking. Few people who hear this song are going to stop and ask, “What’s that statement based on?”

We should ask that question, rather than just going along with it because it sounds like something we can agree with. We should demand to know how “the news” “runs down” soldiers or Jesus. We should demand examples. It is not the hallmark of a thinking society to simply accept such statements as fact.

If we don’t question the truth and accuracy of statements such as these, we’re all fools who are prone to manipulation by propaganda.

I like this song. I truly think that the core of it is touching tribute to our men and women serving in the armed forces. But that core is buried inside a political message that deserves scrutiny.

In that sense, Otto and Wallin are right about one thing—it’s not about left or right. It’s about reality and rhetoric.

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