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“Rooster” and the Vietnam War Essay

How does the human body respond to music? The best part about being a human is the fact that music itself has the power to move a person or a group of people. Music can make people cry, give them goose bumps, anger them, make them happy, and play with many other emotions. The experience one may get when plugging in their headphones and listening to “Rooster” by Alice In Chains for the first time is a bone chilling, spine tingling one. “Rooster” is a song that depicts the many horrors of the Vietnam War extremely well. Many people were killed, young and old, much money was spent on this war, and much violence spread back in the USA with years of protest and anti-war movements that defined the 1960’s in America.

On the Twenty-Ninth of June, 1965, 10 years into the intense fighting and bloodshed that is the Vietnam War, 4,000 Paratroopers of the United States of America’s Army’s 101st Airborne Division, also known as the Screaming Eagles, arrived in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. (101st Division Arrives) In 1967, the rest of the Screaming Eagles met up with what was left of the original 4,000 troops, and in 1969, President Nixon started to take troops out of Vietnam under the radar, but he left the 101st Division completely (101st Division Arrives). A Shau Valley was a very important focal point for the North Vietnamese Army, so in 1970, the Screaming Eagles were tasked with re-taking control of that Valley.

While the Screaming Eagles were preparing for the fight, the North Vietnamese Army was setting traps for the Americans. When the fighting started, it was the outnumbered 101st Airborne Division, versus the Prepared, plethora of North Vietnamese Soldiers at the battle of Fire Support Base Ripcord, one of the deadliest battles of the entire war. In just under a month, a whopping 75 American Soldiers were killed in the fire, some being young kids just drafted, not even a month out of High School (101st Division Arrives). This led to many people to become outraged with the American government.

The Vietnam War was a very costly war in both money, and lives. By November 1967, there were almost 400,000 American troops in Vietnam with over 15,000 dead and almost 110,000 injured (Vietnam War Protests). 40,000 young boys were drafted per month into this war, some who had even just graduated High School or College. War costs were $25 Million per year, meaning that taxes were extremely high and people absolutely did not think it was worth it to waste so much money while simultaneously, watching their sons, husbands, and fathers taken away and die as “heroes”. Many college students started protests and pickets on their campuses, which quickly spread to protests everywhere in the country. It did not matter who you were, democrat, republican, communist, man, woman, old, young, so many people opposed this war and decided to show it via protest.

On the Twenty-first of October, 1967, one of the biggest protests of the 1960’s happened; 100,000 protesters, one fifth of the amount of US soldiers in Vietnam at the time, got together at the Lincoln Memorial and almost one third of them marched to the Pentagon later that night (Vietnam War Protests). After hundreds of arrested protesters, the protest ended, but that did not stop the fiery passion that burned in the hearts of millions of Americans. Protests grew immensely after Martin Luther King Jr. publicized his opposition to the war and the fact that a huge fraction of the casualties of the war were African American soldiers, which not only fueled the fire of the Anti-War protests, but the Civil Rights protests of the same time as well (Vietnam War Protests). The most powerful part of the resistance to the war was the fact that Vietnam War Veterans, many in wheelchairs, crutches, some even partially brain-dead, joined the many protesters on their side. Many of these veterans had to go on living their lives, years later, never being able to share these experiences with their families due to fear of reliving old memories, some are still like that. One family who was very familiar with that feeling is the Cantrell Family of Tacoma, Pierce, Washington.

Jerry Cantrell, the lead guitarist, and co-lead vocalist of the band Alice In Chains, wrote lyrics for the song “Rooster” by Alice In Chains. The song is about Cantrell’s father, Jerry Cantrell Senior’s experience in the Vietnam War. Cantrell Sr. was a prison guard in the 101st Airborne Division. The song really hit home with Cantrell Sr because his war experiences were something that the father and son never really talked about with each other (Truman). Cantrell wrote the song as somewhat of a healing process for his father. Due to the intense experiences that the people of the 101st Airborne Division had to face as one of the longest groups of people in the war, and the many deaths of friends that he had to face and learn to cope with, you can imagine why one would want to keep from talking about it. When Cantrell asked his father about it once, Cantrell Sr. replied “That’s dead, son, let it lie.” (Truman).

When “Rooster” came out on the Fifteenth of March, 1993, many people had curiosities of, well, what exactly the “Rooster” exactly was. Some thought that it was from the nickname that the 101st Airborne Division was given by the North Vietnamese Army, which was “Chicken Men” (Clark). The Nickname Screaming Eagles came from the patches that the Screaming Eagles wore on the sleeve of their uniforms, which depicted eagles that seemed to be yelling (Clark). However, most of the North Vietnamese Army had never seen an eagle, and some have never even heard of one, because in Vietnam, there are no eagles (Clark). The North Vietnamese Army thought they were chickens on the sleeve patches, hence, “Chicken Men”(Clark).

Another theory was that the men of the 101st division held machine guns, which was referenced in the second verse, first line of the song, and the muzzle flare of the gun resembled the tail of a Rooster (Clark). It was later confirmed that the “Rooster” was nothing more than a childhood nickname that Cantrell Sr. had (Clark). “Rooster” is an intense, rough, and scary, grungy-metal song, that when you listen to it, just scares you half to death. The lyrics, just add to the horrific feeling. The verses of the song show the thoughts of The Rooster as he is fighting the war. In the first verse, he is walking around thinking that he’s not dead yet, but he’s sweating and his eyes are stinging. He is scared. “Army Green was no safe bet” means that The Rooster realized that it does not matter what side of the war you’re on, war is never safe. And all of a sudden, a shot is fired but he does not know where it is from. The second verse is more tear jerking then the first.

The Rooster has received pictures of his son from his wife, which makes him think about all of the friends that he’s lost and how they never made it back to see their families, so he prays to God that he will make it home safe and sound. The chorus of the song shows how they keep trying to kill the Rooster, but he will not be killed that easily, because he wants to make it home and live. The music video of the song starts out with a clip of an interview of Cantrell Sr and right off the bat, are words that send a chill down your spine before the music even starts. The entire music video depicts the horrors of war on both sides of the spectrum. The song just simply spells out torture, horror, and most importantly, death.

Songs are written in our society for many reasons, be it to educate people about events from the past to prevent them from happening in the future, or to help unite people with common past experiences. “Rooster” by Alice In Chains is a song that clearly expresses how horrible war can be and how we should prevent it at all cost. Songs are the most powerful things in the world. Just one simple melody, or line of lyrics, can make you go through a whole rainbow of emotions that are healing, destroying, good and bad. Some songs can move a whole group of people, an entire community, a state, a country or even the whole world. No matter what generation you are from, no matter what political party you follow, no matter what race, age, gender, or religion you are, music can and will move you at some point in your life.


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