Coming Home from War and Metallica’s “Confusion”
By William Irwin
(originally published at Psychologytoday.com)
Life is war. It’s a common metaphor. In fact, I thought it was the theme of Metallica’s new song “Confusion” when I first heard it. The lyric that comes through most clearly is “My life, the war that never ends.”
Listening more carefully, though, I discovered that the song is more subtle. It’s not simply about the struggle to survive and succeed; it’s about returning home from war.
The plight of the warrior has been a recurrent theme in Metallica songs across their career. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1984) depicts the absurdity of death on the battlefield, “for a hill men would kill, why? They do not know.” The album Master of Puppets (1986) includes the song “Disposable Heroes,” whose title captures the crass view that some military leaders take of their young recruits: “Soldier boy, made of clay / Now an empty shell / Twenty-one, only son / But he served us well / Bred to kill, not to care / Do just as we say / Finished here / Greetings, Death / He’s yours to take away.” Inspired by the book and movie Johnny Got His Gun, “One” from the album …And Justice for All (1988) depicts the horror of a combat-wounded veteran who has lost his sight, speech, hearing, arms, and legs to a landmine. He wants his life support removed but can’t find a way to communicate his wish: “Fed through the tube that sticks in me / Just like a wartime novelty / Tied to machines that make me be / Cut this life off from me.” More jingoistically, “Don’t Tread on Me” from The Black Album (1991) celebrates the warrior’s spirit and code: “Liberty or death, what we so proudly hail / Once you provoke her, rattling of her tail / Never begins it, never, but once engaged / Never surrenders, showing the fangs of rage.”
“Confusion” from Metallica’s latest album, Hardwired … to Self-Destruct (2016), begins with a martial drumbeat and doom-laden accompaniment. But then just as we prepare to sink into a dirge we hear a triumphant riff emerge, promising perseverance and offering hope in the midst of despair. To find the hope we must face the reality, though: “Coming home from war / Pieces don’t fit anymore.” Reflecting on the state of our returning veterans, we need to consider carefully that a tour of duty does not end in the field, “Rapid is the road to sacrifice /Just takes longer to come home.” In a real sense, “War is never done.”
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