Proud to Be an American While Hating the Song with that Lyric

Abu Muqawama‘s Charlie unleashes a diatribe against Lee Greenwood and, especially, the “miserable, treacly song” for which he is most known. Noting that the old warriors at a weekend Special Forces gathering “stood for it like it was the National Anthem,” she asks, “Is this some sort of Army thing? Does graduating from the Q course leave you totally devoid of a sense of irony? And at what point did Lee enter the pantheon of sacred songwriters?”

A fair question.

I never attended the Q Course and wouldn’t have graduated had I done so. But my Army experience, which began with a cadetship the same year “God Bless the USA” hit the charts, is that the Powers That Be apparently thought that song highly motivational, as they played it every damn chance they could. As an 18-year-old embarking on something serious, it had its desired effect. By the time I turned 20, it made me want to wretch. By my mid-20s, it made me want to do more than merely manage violence.

Then again, I wasn’t a career soldier. Most of my comrades-in-arms who stayed with it, many of whom are about to retire at the rank of lieutenant colonel, are simply decidedly less cynical than I am. Those old Green Berets have a highly developed sense of irony. But it’s quite different from the one Charlie and I have.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LaurenceB says:

    Over the weekend I attended a homecoming for a soldier where both “Proud to be an American”, and the much more nauseating “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” were performed a la karaoke.

    Even “Achy Breaky Heart” was less painful than that.

  2. Jo says:

    My husband’s head about explodes when he hears this song. He was stationed in Germany when it came out and he said it was playing everywhere. I too am sick of it – not the message because that is powerful – its like we’re all hung over from a night out on the town and all that’s available for breakfast is more of the same!

  3. Triumph says:

    By the time I turned 20, it made me want to wretch.

    You probably don’t wear an American Flag lapel pin either! Commie!

  4. Bithead says:

    I actually thought “IOU” was his best. Played it at weddings, for years.

  5. Boyd says:

    Maybe it is a careerist thing. I was about 3/4 of the way through my Navy career when the song came out. Then and now, it always has a powerful impact on me whenever I hear it.

  6. Dantheman says:

    I don’t think it is a military thing. In the early 90’s, I worked for a law firm in the Philly suburbs where the first named partner was also the head of the county Republicans. As a result, I was sometimes asked to fill up his table at the fundraising dinners. That song was generally sung in lieu of the national anthem, with the attendees standing for it.

  7. Jim Henley says:
  8. James Joyner says:


    Alas, you had first mover advantage, getting your anti-Greenwood post in before OTB was even a glimmer in my eye.

    The earliest anti-Greenwood reference I could find here was July 30, 2003. That’s not terrible, given that the since only launched that January. I attacked with somewhat more vigor last April.

  9. Fence says:

    James, spare me the Googling. What about Lee Greenwood makes it ironic? I couldn’t even told you he was the one who sung it, I know nothing about him. But living next to a large military base in the Deep South at the time, I practically thought it WAS the national anthem.

  10. James Joyner says:

    What about Lee Greenwood makes it ironic?

    It’s incredibly hokey, corny, and pabulum-filled. Probably not ironic, though, in any traditional sense.

  11. Bithead says:

    I await with interest, suggestions on how to address the subject matter in that song without sounding “hokey, corny, and pabulum-filled”.

  12. Fence says:

    Oh, I thought you were going to tell me he was gay, anti-war commie or something. Now I don’t really get this thread. Obviously his flag pin is just bigger than yours.

  13. Fence says:

    Oh, and I could not help but note, in the crowds you are talking about, there is nothing traditional about irony, and nothing ironic about tradition. If you question this song in the wrong place, everyone there will know you are an “elitist” and that they are therefore better than you.

  14. Eneils Bailey says:

    “Then again, I wasn’t a career soldier.”

    Me neither, I served my country during the Viet Nam era, I am an older fart. It did not change my mind on what this country stood for.

    Did you ever think about becoming a career American?

    Yeah, I know it’s not fashionable, or enduring to you and your friends, but, maybe sometimes you should reflect on your blessings.

    I wake up every morning, run to the bathroom, if I see myself looking back in the mirror, I thank God and for the start of another day of living in America.
    I know that sounds a bit pukey to you and friends, but it serves me well.

  15. Eneils Bailey says:


    I almost always shed a tear or two when I hear that song.

    Evokes memories of the past, that seem to be be far away, and a long time ago, and always on my mind.

    Thanks for making the post. I consider the song to be a tribute to the current day American Soldier.

    It’s not, that in this age and time, that you find a lot of entertainers, that are willing to profess patriotism in the public arena for fear of losing favor in the public arena.