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In Defense Of "Citizen/Soldier"

Over the holiday break, you may have seen the National Guard's newest recruiting tool--a three minute long music video featuring post-grunge alt rock band 3 Doors Down.

"The longest and arguably most cinematically advanced ad in the movie theater genre" intersperses close-ups of lead singer Brad Arnold making love to the microphone with shots of soldiers reconstructing blasted landscapes, carrying injured children, and dodging bullets--then asks you to join the National Guard. The spot, "Citizen/Soldier," will play before previews on about 65 percent of movie screens nationwide before it "closes" this month.

"Citizen/Soldier" is, maybe unsurprisingly, getting a lot of flak. It is a lousy song by a cheesy band, so cultural elites are already predisposed to dislike it. Beyond that, my initial reaction to the political content was similar to that of New York Magazine's culture blog: "great... 3 Doors Down wants to send you to Iraq."

But the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced the video is getting a bad rap. It's certainly less disingenuous than your average army ad: It makes war look like hell. And it doesn't ply the socially disadvantaged with offers of money and education.

Some of the scenes look like they come directly from Black Hawk Down--a film that emphasizes the horrors of war, if there ever was one. (In fact, the "Citizen Soldiers" are real personnel filmed in California). All this music video has to offer is blood, toil, tears, sweat, and endless deployments to countries torn by sectarian strife. If, after such an unvarnished pitch, a kid still wants to sign up and fight, well, that's a pretty legitimate choice.

Sure, it's tempting to argue that 3 Doors Down are acting like flacks for the Bush administration. But you can oppose the administration's policies and still support National Guard recruitment. Keeping the military staffed and functioning is an apolitical enterprise--lord knows, many Democrats want to enlarge the army--and an essential one, without which Americans and our troops already in the field would be in even greater danger.

As unholy as "Citizen/Soldier"'s mixture of Hollywood, nationalism, and MTV may seem, military recruitment is a necessary function performed by nearly every society, in every age. So why not apply our civilization's latest advances to the task, including the music video?

--Barron YoungSmith