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Friday, December 14, 2012

Day 14 - "Belleau Wood" by Garth Brooks - 25 Days of Christmas Angst

There are beautiful woods and forests all around us.
Take some time this holiday season to appreciate
nature's beauty. This photo is from a 2010 Christmas Day hike
through the state natural area on the Wisconsin River near
Wisconsin Dells, WI.
I realize now that we are more than a decade past the Garth Brooks hype I am supposed to admit that my love of his music is something to be a little embarrassed about.

He is, after all, largely responsible for the pop-hit/top40/hip hop infiltration into country music. 

I cannot, however, fulfill this expectation.  Perhaps at this point it is mostly out of nostalgia, but I like his music.  And I will also not apologize for including his song, "Belleau Wood," on this list.

You can see a short film that uses the song as inspriation and background here:  http://youtu.be/bFd3eWiXYQs.  Or, if you prefer, you can hear Andy Griffith reading the lyrics here:  http://youtu.be/67pRyI3SM4g

I was under the false impression that this song was about World War Two.  Really it is about a Christmas truce that was called in 1914, during World War One.

Belleau Wood (literally "the beautiful wood") is in France near the Marne River.  In all of the articles I could not find a specific connection between Belleau Wood and the 1914 Christmas truce.  There is, however, a battle referred to as the First Battle of the Marne that was happening in September of 1914.  I suspect that Brooks and his co-writer might have used the name "Belleau Wood" because it sounds nice and the literal translation is fitting with the message of the song.

Preview the remaining days of angst or review the previous days here:   

Many people make too much out of this song.  Common sentiments about this song go like this, "Isn't it great?  It shows that we can get along."  There is a stanza in this song that supports this sentiment:

Then I thought that I was dreaming
For right there in my sight
Stood the German soldier
Neath the falling flakes of white,
And he raised his hand and smiled at me
As if he seemed to say,
"Here's hoping we both live to see
Us find a better way."

But the song doesn't end there.  Part of the reason I like this song is that Brooks doesn't pull any punches:

Then the devil's clock struck midnight,
And the skies lit up again.
And the battlefield where heaven stood
Was blown to hell again.

It is unclear how many men died in the First Battle of the Marne and how many died in the 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood.  The answer is likely a few thousand in each battle.  By the end of World War One, there were 16 million dead.  That ranks it as only number six in terms of total deaths in all know wars and human caused disasters.

I'll ask an old question:  "What is all the fighting for?"  There isn't a simple answer, and I wouldn't trust anyone who tried to tell me there was one.  This song doesn't pretend to answer that question either. 

What Brooks is singing about is the fact that a few thousands guys decided to take a break from killing each other for one night.  They might have even shaken hands and exchanged gifts as some of the stories of the Christmas truce go.  But then the next day they went right back to killing each other.

The only prescription the song gives is this:  "No. heaven's not beyond the clouds, / It's for us to find here."  I fear that we are a long time from when that "heaven on earth" exists for everyone, everyday. 

Belleau Wood
performed by Garth Brooks 
co-written by Joe Henry

Oh the snow flakes fell in silence
Over Belleau Wood that night
For a Christmas truce had been declared
By both sides of the fight.
And as we laid there in our trenches
The silence broke in two
By a German soldier singing
A song that we all knew.

Though I did not know the language
The song was "Silent Night."
Then I heard my buddy whisper
"All is calm, all is bright."
Then the fear and doubt surrounded me
Cause I'd die if I was wrong,
But I stood up in my trench
And I began to sing along.

Then across the frozen battlefield
Another's voice joined in
Until one by one each man became
A singer of the hymn.

Then I thought that I was dreaming
For right there in my sight
Stood the German soldier
Neath the falling flakes of white,
And he raised his hand and smiled at me
As if he seemed to say,
"Here's hoping we both live to see
Us find a better way."

Then the devil's clock struck midnight,
And the skies lit up again.
And the battlefield where heaven stood
Was blown to hell again.

But for just one fleeting moment
The answer seemed so clear:
Heaven's not beyond the clouds
Its just beyond the fear.

No. heaven's not beyond the clouds,
It's for us to find here.

Resources:
Lyrics
http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Belleau-Wood-lyrics-Garth-Brooks/9C7F27D86940733A482568790011A841

"List of Wars and Anthropogenic Disasters by Death Toll"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_and_anthropogenic_disasters_by_death_toll

"First Battle of the Marne"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Battle_of_the_Marne

"Christmas Truce"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_truce

"The Truce of Christmas, 1914"
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/25/weekinreview/25word.ready.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

"Battle of Belleau Wood"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Belleau_Wood

"The Christmas Truce"
http://www.firstworldwar.com/features/christmastruce.htm

"Christmas Truce"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_truce

25 Days Of Christmas Angst
Day Song Download/Purchase Info
14 "Belleau Wood" by Garth Brooks Buy the CD:
A song about the Christmas truce of 1914. One night of peace followed by so many days of death.  There is no digital download of this one unless you go through iTunes.
13 "The 12 Days of Christmas" by Burl Ives Buy the full album:

Buy the song:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
Christmas is so great let's have 12 days of it!
12 "My Favorite Things" by Lorrie Morgan Buy the full album:

Buy the song:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
This song is not just for easing your fears of a thunderstorm. Lorrie Morgan proves it deserves to be considered a Christmas song.
11 "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" by Judy Garland (from Meet Me In St. Louis) Buy the full album:

Buy the song:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
The saddest Christmas song of all time?
10 "Christmas, Why Can't I Find You" from How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) Buy the full album:

Buy the song:

Buy the DVD Blu-Ray Combo:

Amazon Instant Streaming:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
I think this song, more than any other, expresses the feelings that cause all of the angst. As we grow up or grow older and change it seems the world changes more.

Click this link to preview the remaining days of angst or review the previous days:  http://www.carneylentz.com/p/25-days-of-christmas-angst.html
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