With God on Our Side

Dinner went well, and was delicious. The family seemed genuinely glad to see the youngest brother, if he did look a little underfed and worn out than when he left. A few questions were asked, mostly about how Dan was doing out east. Pleasantries was the order for the evening, extending beyond the odd please and thank you and dishes being passed.
“You know, Dan sends us letters when he asks for his cheese,” Mom mentioned as she poured Will another glass of milk, “said you had a thing for one of the bartenders back east.”
“Not really,” Will grumbled, obviously sore at the subject, “she’s getting married in a month, and she’s got to quit the bar. She was doing it to pay for school, and now that she’s done her husband-to-be doesn’t want her there anymore…doesn’t like her around the clientèle…”
“Oh,” Mom was suddenly very awkward, “Dan made it sound as if…”
“He wanted to hope. But I just can’t do that, not right now. My life isn’t right. I can’t support myself, let alone anyone else…there’s too much going on…”
Everyone at the table could sense the same tangible tension that had been there for years, ever since Roger went off to war. With Will here as well, it was almost as if the air was saturated with the larger problem, the problem two of the family’s sons seemed unable to escape, that hung over proceedings like a pall. Will decided he’d had enough. Enough of pretending that things were fine when they weren’t. Enough of sneaking back and forth across the border. Enough of dodging this way and that, trying to find work or, in some cases, just a meal. Enough of this conflict and bloodshed. As the family sat around the living room, watching Free State television stations that hadn’t been blocked out, when Will turned to Roger.
“Is Mom’s Epiphone still here?”
Roger looked shocked, “You learned how to play?”
“Nah, I was hoping you’d play something for me. You know ‘Patriot Game?'”
“The Behan thing?”
“Yeah, just some chords underneath.”
“I suppose so, lemme go get the guitar. Ma, is it still?”
“Yes, honey,” Mom said, a slight twinkle in her eye. The family had always been musical, and most of it had started with her old acoustic. Roger re-emerged, tuning and pucking a few strings, sitting down beside Will. Will gave him a tempo and he began playing the opening chords of the Dominic Behan tune. Will smiled as the music permeated the pall overhead, losing everyone in the music.
“Ma, you’ll probably know this one. I don’t know about everyone else…but I’m gonna change a few lyrics, I’ve been thinkin’ about it for a while…”

Oh our name it is nothin’
Our age it means less
The country we come from
Is called the Midwest
We were taught and brought up here
The laws to abide
And that land that we live in
Has God on our side.

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.

Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I’s made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side.

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side.

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side.

I’ve learned to hate Nationals
All through this war’s life
I mangled my body
To stay from the fight
I promised my family
My own I won’t fight
Now I’m useless and crippled
But is God on my side?

We know they got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them they’re forced to
Then fire them they must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side.

In a many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

My brother’s a genius
A War Hero too,
In the face of his bravery,
There’s nothing to do.
But to be called a coward,
To run and to hide,
And I hope my decision
Had God on its side.

So now as I’m singin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop this damn war.

The final chords died out, and sun bade its late summer goodbye on the Russell house, casting all into the warm embrace of night.

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