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The Executioner's Song: Rebuttals

(This week, On Violence continues its second annual(ish) “Executioner’s Song: The On Violence Epic Song Battle!" Click here to read our introduction. Click here to check out the first one here.

Remember, vote for your favorite in the comments section below.)

Eric C’s Rebuttal:

Buffalo Soldier” is, in one very distinct way, miles above both "Belleau Wood" and “...And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”: it is the most playable. And I mean playable in the sense that when you want to put something on, you’ll play “Buffalo Soldier” ten times more than the other songs.

Great art is accessible. For music, this means pleasant, on key, beautiful. You could play “Buffalo Soldier” and people can dance to it. Or lie on the beach and listen to it. Or listen to it in the car. On this musical level, it is amazing.

But what about the other songs? “...And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is a great song, no doubt, but practically unlistenable--the singer doesn’t sing so much as cough out consonants like a Pertussis victim. This guy wishes he could sing like Bob Dylan.

What about "Belleau Wood"? I’m not going to be one of those ignorant people who says all country is crap. But I don’t like twang, and "Belleau Wood" has a lot of twang.

On to content. “...And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” has numerous factual errors in it, which isn’t a deal breaker, but it kind of is. And there is something about the Christmas Truce that strikes me wrong. All of World War I was a big deadly mess, and the Christmas Truce illustrates the absurdity of the war. But the song, for me, doesn’t.

Matty P's Rebuttal:

It’s a privilege to participate in the second On Violence war song debate. Choosing "Belleau Wood" was absurdly difficult considering the wealth of musical inspiration on the subject matter. The 1960’s and 1970’s teem with war protest and condemnation. While these songs, songs like “No Shelter” by the Rolling Stones or Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, highlight the evils of war, they lack the ability to truly capture the cost to our humanity or convey a hope for, as Garth Brooks says, we “live to see a better way.”

As for “Buffalo Soldier” I cannot dispute the popularity of the song. However, this debate isn’t about popularity. Eric admits the lyrics are vague. Further, the connection to war is weak. While an excellent depiction of racial tensions, culture clash, and triumph over oppression, “Buffalo Soldier is clearly inferior when depicting and commenting on the nature of war.

While passionate, Eric’s hyperbolic argument seems limited to what is popular or, as he put it, “accessible”. Great art is not necessarily accessible, great art is evocative. Further, in stating “Buffalo Soldier” is the superior musically, he fails to state a qualifier. This statement is dubious at best, it may be popular, but not necessarily better.

Admittedly, I had not heard “...And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda prior to prepping for the debate. After listening to two versions, I was more than sufficiently depressed. It’s a dark tale of a wanderer turned soldier. The story itself is one of woe questioning the value of war and celebrating victory. While dancing on the edge of powerful emotions, the lyrics lack eloquence in telling the tale. Rather than descriptive, its straight forward. While it makes a good tale, “...And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is compromised by it’s bluntness.

Michael C’s Rebuttal:

First, a clarification: I love all of these songs, including the songs from our first debate too. (I hadn’t heard "Belleau Wood" before it was recommended last time, but it grew on me too.) I have taken the five songs from our two debates and made a mini-playlist called “On V Debates” for my IPod.

This debate isn’t about good versus bad, it is about greatness at varying degrees. And by many degrees, “...And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is better than its competitors.

I agree with Eric C that, musically, “Buffalo Soldier”'s kicks behind. It easily is the best song of the bunch aesthetically. But great music combines raw sonic pleasure with narrative energy. In that latter category, I just don’t think “Buffalo Soldier” tells a strong enough story to really capture the essence of war or warfare. And when you have to steal your chorus from a television show, well that just seems wrong.

"Belleau Wood", on the other hand, tells a great story. It sticks with you. The PBS documentary on World War I, The Great War, had a part on the story retold in Belleau Wood. I remember watching that section and still not believing it happened. In the field between the lines--a hell-torn warzone, with the remnants of mustard gas, artillery shells and bodies still littering the battlefield, where poking your head above a trench line meant a sniper bullet to the dome, with the stench of death permeating nostrils, clothes and minds--in the midst of all that, soldiers from two different nations, speaking two different languages, came together to celebrate Christmas. It doesn’t sound true, but it is, and it captures the height of human triumph.

Then the next day the men went back to the depths of human tragedy. "Belleau Wood" may capture the indomitable fortitude of the human condition, but it doesn’t capture the essence of war, the ugly side of war--the fighting, killing, death and destruction--that I talked about in a recent post. Because of that, it can’t be the best.

(Vote for your favorite below.)

six comments

I have a clarification: I hate the other two songs.


Well I horribly disagree, and I still vote for my song.


Wait, you “horribly disagree”? What does that even mean?


That you hate the other two songs. And the Band Played is still the best song.


No, I meant that the adverb “ horribly” makes no sense before disagree. It basically just means I disagree poorly.


I think we can all agree that Eric’s opinion is biased and that Michael is excessive in his adver use. As for which song is superior, I think my argument speaks for itself above.