Bruce Springsteen and American National Pride

Bruce Springsteen is a famous figure of national pride in the USA, but there’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding one of his most famous songs, “Born in the USA.” Many believe that this song is a song celebrating the US because of its repeating chorus. Reagan even applauded Springsteen and his songs as a symbol of American hope during his re-election in 1984.

In fact, the song brings to light the problems that many American veterans faced post-Vietnam war. The song includes lyrics such as:

“Got in a little hometown jam so they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man”

“Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now”

Springsteen is in fact explaining the hardships of the American veteran, who is forced to fight in a war he neither understands nor agrees with, only to come back to face joblessness. Some soldiers find love abroad and vice-versa, only to lose them to war. Springsteen emphasizes the American citizen’s confusion over the events of the Vietnam War in the lines

“Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there he’s all gone”

The war of Khe Sahn was not in fact fought against the Viet Cong, but against factions of the North Vietnamese Army. This song is sung from the perspective of a US veteran, yet he misremembers who his brother fought in the battle that killed him. Springsteen cleverly masks struggles US soldiers in war abroad under a hopeful, cheerful tune that makes his words into a national anthem.


One thought on “Bruce Springsteen and American National Pride”

  1. “Born in the U.S.A.” didn’t always sound as upbeat as you might imagine. Bruce’s first demo recording of the song was considerably darker, featuring an entirely different melody than the version we know today. Listening to the brooding atmosphere of the demo, it is much harder to mistake this for a jingoist anthem.

    I think the whole misunderstanding regarding this song speaks to the unique capacities and limitations of “protest songs” in American popular music. When songwriters adorn biting critiques of American international policy with upbeat melodies, they stand to connect with much larger audiences than would otherwise be possible. At the same time, in making these songs so catchy that people avoid their lyrics, it is possible that messages don’t get across in a way that the songwriter would like.



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