Philosophy of History and A Partial Analysis of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA”

If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life

Think of the tragedy that would have to happen for everything to disappear (?) tomorrow. This also takes for granted the social construction of laboring for an employer. The use of “I’d” also connotes individuality alone and ignores the collective role society and government play in order for any of us to do anything. Public schools, roads, and many other things, funded and regulated with tax dollars, make it possible for society to function. The opening philosophy of history in God Bless The USA says that individuals alone make accomplishments and that they work for all of their life in order to acquire things.

It’s also worth acknowledging the male voice singing the song and what this suggests about the “proper” roles for people according to their sex. 

And I had to start again with just my children and my wife

Here we have the full embodiment of patriarchy. Man with his children and his wife. I’m curious about why all other parties are omitted. Other family members, friends, and once again, the government vis-à-vis social safety nets. “He” would certainly not be starting again with only his wife and children. 

I’d thank my lucky stars to be livin’ here today

I don’t exactly understand why “lucky stars” is used. I’m surprised Lee Greenwood didn’t have the words as “thank my God above” or something similar. “Lucky stars” would seem to suggest a very different theology than found in the overall song God Bless The USA.

‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can’t take that away

From an academic perspective, the flag itself, of course, does not automatically stand for anything. It means different things to different people. To some people, especially minorities, the flag is a symbol of violence and suppression, not freedom.

I am also interested in the lyrics “they can’t take that away.” Given its Cold War-era origins, “they” is probably the Soviet Union and/or communists. And here again, though, we have an interesting philosophy of history, one that says the United States will be a constant in history/the future. Such a view is arrogant and ahistorical. 

And I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free

Here we have a version of freedom clocked in Whiteness, Maleness, Heterosexuality, Wealth, etc., etc. At the very time this song came out, freedom was deliberately not given to countless peoples in the United States. And these words suggest that freedom is only available in the United States. On another note “at least” suggest a minimum – why be satisfied for “freedom” alone? 

And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me

Such a contradictory philosophy of history is particularly interesting: The United States’s founding texts argue that “freedom” are rights of birth, and this song says that men die to provide that right. This line ignores the women who also participated in wars. It again ignores that this “freedom” people “died” for was not provided to all people. As I have written about elsewhere, it ignores the basic complexities of war – that soldiers firing at one another could easily be friends if it weren’t for governments and geopolitics.

From another perspective, the narrator of the song does not own any sense of “control” in his life. His attributions are all external, uncontrollable, and (mostly) stable.

From yet another perspective, that of historical memory, we can look at “I won’t forget.” Why is that in particular important to remember? Will this person remember other manifestations of the past? What will be erased from memory? 

And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today

The contents of the song strongly suggest that Greenwood/the narrator of the song would not step up next to “me”/”you” or people who are minorities in some way or another. This line also suggests an unquestioned defense of the United States. 

‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land

“Loving” a land–an imagined community–is odd. 

God bless the USA

The line moves the song fully into the realm of civil religion.  

Collectively, God Bless The USA embodies a philosophy of history that combines unquestioned U.S. nationalism and Christianity, that emphasizes and recognizes the (White male) individual alone, that contributes to the erasure of minorities, and that ultimately does not allow for the real complexity of time and place and the ever-changing nature of everything. The song has a very limited historical memory, one deliberately manipulated and misleading. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda