The song deals with the effects of the Vietnam War on Americans that can be depicted after going through the wordings of the song. The song is often misinterpreted as a patriotic song as the starting lines and the body of song resembles so. The song was initially written in 1981. It served as a title song for the film maker Paul Schrader. The song became so popular that Springsteen used it for his multi-platinum album. During his concerts, the crowd used to enjoy a lot with national flags.
The song was treated as a patriotic song. People were generally not focusing on the wordings in the song. The song tries to show up the cultural diversity been faced by the people who had experienced Vietnam War. It is a tribute to Springsteen’s friends who were involved in the war. Some of them did not come back. These people tried to get fitted in Vietnam, but they found themselves unsuccessful. When they came back, they faced too much of hardships.
The song’s narrative traces the victims’ working-class origins, induction into the armed forces, and disaffected return back to the States. An anguished lyrical interlude is even more jolting, describing the fate of the writer’s brother (in some recordings or live shows, the word brother is replaced with buddy): “I had a brother at Khe Sanh 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 talking about the country that he was born into, raised in, touted as the greatest in the world. He is talking about it in context to the Vietnam War. The character in the song has a brother and a lover of his brother, both whom are killed during this meaningless conflict. “Down in the shadow of the penitentiary Out by the gas fires of the refinery I’m ten years burning down the road Nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go” The above lines show that these vets are living dead-end lives with little or no positive change in their future.
Even the line where he talks about the woman and his brother “They’re long gone”, shows that some people really did not pay any attention to the people returning from Vietnam. The North Vietnamese Army was involved in the Battle of Khe Sanh, not the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (the Viet Cong) heard in the song lyrics. Eventually the Americans prevailed and broke the siege, only to withdraw from the outpost a couple of months later.
Khe Sanh thus became one of the media symbols of the futility of the whole war effort in the States. Some of the scholars writing in the journal American Quarterly explored the song as a grievance for the embattled working-class identity. Deeply analyzing the unspoken feel behind the song, it can be noted that the anthem chorus contrasts with the desperate narrative, a tension which informs an understanding of the song’s overall meaning: the nationalist chorus continuously overwhelms the desperation and sacrifice passed on in the verses.
The imagery of the Vietnam War could be read as metaphor for the social and economic siege of American blue-collar communities at large, and that lyrics discussing economic devastation are likely symbolic for the effect of blind nationalism upon the working-class. The song as a whole, express grief on the destabilization of the economics and politics protecting the industrial working class in the 1970s and early 1980s, leaving only “a deafening but hollow national pride. In attaining the hollow national pride, the miseries of War affected people were neglected. The writer clearly describes his frustration regarding the negligence given to a particular culture. He says about non-acceptance of the culture by their own people. He is not saying that the group he is addressing is not capable of meeting challenges of the culture, but the culture was not accepting those people in their ethnic group. Ultimately those people were left alone in their own society and the society didn’t bother about them.