What Patriotism Asks of a Person
What makes a person patriotic? The backgrounds and beliefs of those involved and the context of their actions should be taken into consideration. There are two songs from Old Crow Medicine Show that focus on patriotic individuals and provide context worth a closer look. “Carry Me Back” and “Levi” from the album Carry Me Back may be about the experiences of two patriots in different wars but they tell a similar story.
There is one constant that runs through most wars, the availability and readiness of young soldiers willing to fight for the idea of patriotism. The Civil War is the first to address the idea of patriotism on the album Carry Me Back. The song “Carry Me Back” begins with the clear patriotic motivation of the song’s persona. He is a Confederate soldier willing and happy to fight for the South and his home state of Virginia. In fact, his brother has already left home to fight and the persona is eager to join him. This eagerness and patriotism fades as the war drags on and the persona experiences the horrors of war. The song ends with a young man who left home with the patriotic intentions to fight for Virginia praying that he be buried there. His patriotism has result in the ultimate sacrifice. This same story arch can be seen in “Levi.”
“Levi” is not as explicit in its presentation of patriotism, it is also one step removed in narration. “Levi” is told from a third person point of view, as opposed to the first person point of view of “Carry Me Back.” This third person point of view allows the listener to interject his/her own history and knowledge concerning the war in Iraq. Contemporary listeners know that there was a surge in feelings of patriotism after the events of 9-11. Although Levi’s motivation for enlisting isn’t clearly stated, feelings of patriotism and a desire to defend his country are likely reasons. The realities of war set in quickly for Levi, much like those for the persona of “Carry Me Back.” And like his counterpart (who is actually referenced in “Levi”) Levi dies in battle and will be buried in his home state.
“Carry Me Back” and “Levi” are about young men who decide to defend their country in a time of war. Their motivations for doing so are patriotic, but we should look at the songs in a larger context. The persona of “Carry Me Back” and Levi are patriots but were they fully aware of the horrors of war when they volunteered and what their patriotism may require? The evidence suggests they did not. A country needs its patriots, but a country should do all it can to educate its young soldiers on what sacrifices may be required of those patriots.
from Carry Me Back by Old Crow Medicine Show