The recent “leak” of a draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade has been making the rounds, in case you haven’t noticed. Well, I have a few things to say about that.
Let me first preface this with a simple statement: I’m a man, so I’ll never be pregnant. Yes, I know that chain of cause and effect is controversial these days, and some out there (including a certain cousin of mine) might argue otherwise, but facts are facts. It’s biologically impossible for me to ever bear children. So take my opinion with that particular grain of salt. Also bear in mind that I speak only for myself, not the people I hope to represent in District 27 this November.
By every other standard in our society, a human life begins at birth. We celebrate birthdays, not conception days. The age of consent and majority are based on time since birth—premature babies don’t have to wait to vote or drink. Every right and responsibility enshrined in our nation’s founding documents starts counting from the moment you’re born, and not one second before.
Biologically speaking, there’s a good reason for this. A fetus is not a human being. It’s not a baby. It is, at best, a proto-human. The whole point of pregnancy is to provide a chance for an embryo to develop into something that can survive on its own. That’s just how mammals work.
Does that mean I think women should get abortions? No. Becoming a mother means you are fulfilling your greatest and most fundamental purpose in life: creating another. You are throwing away something special, indeed magical, the same as if you willingly sterilized yourself. You’re not killing a baby, in my view, but you are killing a part of yourself.
Setting aside the moral quandary of abortion for a moment, we need to remember that there are serious legal matters surrounding this issue. These often get neglected in the emotional battle of choice, yet they are far more important from the perspective of a healthy, functioning society.
Most importantly, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, that doesn’t instantly mean abortion is banned everywhere. Instead, it returns to being a state issue, as it was fifty years ago. Each state can make its own decision, passing its own laws. Yes, red states will most likely enforce restrictive laws based on their misguided attempts at morality, but blue states like California will do the same thing from the other side. (In fact, that’s already happening. Some states are seriously considering legalizing “abortions” after birth, which really is infanticide.)
In a way, that’s a good thing. The Tenth Amendment is pretty clear on this matter: any power not explicitly granted to the federal government is within the states’ purview. As there is no freedom of abortion mentioned in the Constitution, nor an enumerated power to regulate it, the American thing to do is to let the states, and thus the people, decide for themselves. (Incidentally, the original Roe decision hinged on privacy, of all things. In my non-legal opinion, that should be its downfall, because the Supreme Court has made it clear in recent decades that it cares nothing for the idea of an inalienable right to privacy.)
Of course, this patchwork process will have knock-on effects. One, a black market will arise in red states, either to shuttle young women to the nearest pro-choice state, or to smuggle in drugs that induce abortion, such as misoprostol. Two, it may stop or slow the progressive infestation of those states, pushing the US back to a “Great Sorting” demography.
What the ruling and subsequent legal changes won’t do, however, is stop abortions altogether. They’ll still happen until we treat the root causes that lead to them. Unwanted pregnancies happen for many reasons, so we need to look at those as the ultimate problem.
No birth control or contraceptive is perfect; we’ve known that basically forever. Abstinence is neither enforceable or desirable. Sterilization is inhumane and anti-human. The best way to start cutting down on abortions, then, is to provide better sex education. Young men and women need to understand the risks involved, as well as the steps they can take to mitigate those risks.
Media also takes some blame. The over-sexualization of every part of entertainment obviously causes problems, but so to does the way in which women’s sexual liberation has been perverted. Having a hundred partners before you’re 30 doesn’t prove that you’re some sex goddess. No, it shows that you’re barely even a woman, because you have a childlike view of life as a game in which the most points wins. That’s not something to be rewarded on Instagram or on Netflix.
Worst of all, the erosion of the family unit takes away one of the major bulwarks against the perceived necessity of abortion. If a woman can’t depend on having parents, a husband, siblings, and in-laws who will help her raise a child, then it’s no wonder she chooses not to have that child in the first place. Our current spiraling inflation makes this even worse: too many people, especially in left-leaning urban centers, can’t raise a family on a single income, so they’ll think they have no choice but to abort.
When you look at it that way, you can see that the availability of abortion is not the true problem. It’s not the social disease conservatives would have you believe it to be. No, it’s a symptom of a more serious illness. We live in a country, a society, where the fashionable modes and choices all make abortion a more desirable option than reproduction. Change that first. Put the family at the center of your attention. Live your life in such a way that there is never an unwanted pregnancy, because the best chances of getting pregnant always come when you are prepared for the responsibilities that are to come. Then, it won’t matter what the Supreme Court says.
The news everyone has been talking about this past week was Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. People on the left are apoplectic, people on the right overjoyed, and both of them are utterly wrong. No one, it seems, even remembers what free speech actually means, much less why it’s worth defending. So let’s back up just for a moment and set the record straight.
First, we have the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That’s pretty self-explanatory even if you aren’t steeped in the culture of 18th-century America. But a lot of commenters get hung up on those first five words. “Congress shall make no law.” Well, that just means that free speech is only a government thing, and that private companies can do whatever they want, right?
The First Amendment, like the rest of the Bill of Rights, was meant to limit the powers of the federal government. It did not grant us the right to free speech, because a granted right is no right at all. What was given may be taken away at any time, as we saw in Canada a few months ago.
The American Bill of Rights instead recognizes that these rights are inherent in being human. They’re inalienable. Only a tyrant can even try to take them from us.
Thus, we already have the right to free speech, government or no government. Since the First Amendment is part of a social contract between We The People and those we have chosen to represent us, it makes sense that its text would specify who shall make no law. That doesn’t make it the last word on the matter. On the contrary, it’s just the first and most important.
We are born with the absolute, natural right to speak our minds. That was one of the key ideas of the Enlightenment. Modern so-called liberalism, however, believes that rights are contingent upon others’ feelings. You can’t speak your mind, they argue, because it might upset someone you’ve never met. And that has led us down the rabbit hole of being forced to deny basic scientific facts (there are two biological sexes, natural immunity protects us from viruses, etc.) if we want to participate in public discussion.
But isn’t Twitter a private company that can moderate however they want? That’s the next argument from the thought police, and it is indeed correct from a legal standpoint. That doesn’t make it right from a moral one, however. And it is indeed morally wrong.
Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and similar socially-oriented sites have, in effect, become public spaces. Their sheer size and their cartel-like hold over the internet cause them to attract meaningful discussion and debate, even as their business and engagement models try their best to prevent it. By advertising themselves as open to all, then gaining an audience comprised of the majority of American adults, these sites have lost any claim to being “private” in the social sense.
Somewhere like Twitter, in other words, is—rather, should be—the modern-day equivalent of the public square. Because we can’t very well gather a hundred million Americans into a national park, we need a place where all of us can use our inalienable rights, and social media sites should be honored to take on that role. Instead of crowding out rational or traditionalist voices, they should embrace them while providing a place for honest debate.
As for the “company” part of the Left’s objections, remember that every website is owned by someone. With few exceptions outside the .gov space, that someone is a private entity, whether a person, group, or corporation. On top of that, almost all American ISPs are private companies. The backbone routers are privately owned. The domain registrars are private. The root DNS servers are mostly private. How far down the stack do you allow censorship to go? (Interestingly, net neutrality was a liberal cause a few years ago, yet few of them ever made the leap from keeping ISPs content-neutral to doing the same for platforms.)
Finally, while Twitter and others are legally allowed to fight against free speech, the obligations to society they have gained by their position as market controllers have, in effect, made them governments of their own. They represent communities, after all. They have the power to imprison, banish, or execute. Should they not, then, have the same responsibilities as any other government, up to and including a respect for the natural rights of their citizens?
To end, I’d also like to remark on the limits of free speech, because those are much, much farther away than most on either side of the political spectrum care to admit.
The First Amendment is traditionally taken as having only a few limits. Notably, “true threats” are not protected; though the legal definition is, like all legal definitions, hopelessly opaque, the gist is that a true threat is one for which a reasonable person would assume that there is a definite risk. It’s understandable why that isn’t protected. The rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are just as inalienable, so direct threats to them can’t be allowed in a just society.
Likewise, direct calls to break a law or to defraud violate the principles of the social contract. The first is a little too strict, in my opinion, as it can also prevent the “petition for a redress of grievances” mentioned at the end of the First Amendment. But at least it makes logical sense.
Last of the major exceptions to free speech protection is the very nebulous category of obscenity. This, of course, should be done away with entirely. While there are some ideas so obscene they should not be spoken aloud, there are none which are so obscene that they should not be allowed to be spoken. The category is too broad, too ill-defined, to justify its continued inclusion.
Note, however, what isn’t on this short list, what does still have protection as free speech. “Hate speech” isn’t forbidden. Doxxing isn’t forbidden. Referring to a man as a man, rather than whatever he believes himself to be, does not meet the criteria to lose protection under the First Amendment. Neither does pointing out that a cold virus doesn’t justify a total lockdown, or that an election’s results were fraudulent, or any of the hundreds of other things for which Twitter’s thought police issued suspensions.
A social platform that, whether intentionally or not, has taken on the role of a public marketplace of ideas must allow those ideas to be traded. The First Amendment is a statement that government may not take away something we were born possessing, but we need the same protection for our speech when these pseudo-governmental corporations are the ones controlling every access point.
(To head off any potential objections, “just start your own Twitter” is not a valid argument. Gab and Parler tried that and found themselves barred from cloud providers, hosting providers, payment processors, and more. The fediverse operates mostly under the radar, but its larger instances still have to worry about being cut off economically.)
I don’t have a Twitter account. I don’t have a Facebook account. I’ve never uploaded a video to Youtube or even visited Snapchat. Why? Because I value my freedom more than the convenience these sites offer. If I can’t speak my mind, then I am not free. I’m a slave to those who control my words. If Elon Musk understands that, and he makes the appropriate changes so that his new acquisition respects the natural rights of its citizens above and beyond the extent required as a private company, then I’ll consider supporting him. But it’ll take more than words to get to that point.
Reasonable people understood that the “pandemic” of the Wuhan coronavirus, if it ever reached pandemic levels in the first place, ended around two years ago. Now, however, even the unreasonable people are starting to come to the same conclusion. This week, a federal judge in Florida overturned the ridiculous airline mask mandates, allowing anyone on a plane to breathe free once more. (Now try letting them have liquids!) Everywhere you look, the petty tyrants are desperately trying to hang on to whatever shreds of power they have left in the face of an increasing awake populace.
After an ugly two years, it’s finally looking beautiful again.
That said, there are still those out there who support mandating masks and experimental mRNA gene therapy. If you’re one of them, I want you to admit it, acknowledge it, and own it. After the torture you’ve put us through, you deserve to be proud of what you’re standing for.
Tell every toddler who now has a learning disability or speech impediment.
Tell every woman who has been sterilized and lost her chance at starting a family.
Tell every cancer patient who had to miss the screening that would find their tumor before it was too late.
Tell every grieving man who didn’t get to visit his mother on her deathbed, or hold a proper funeral afterwards.
Tell every couple who had to put off their wedding plans, or who broke up because those plans were never realized.
Tell every unemployed person who lost a job for refusing to go along with your insanity.
Tell everyone who spent weeks or months in the hospital instead of taking a few ivermectin at home and getting better.
Shout it to the world that you don’t care what reason and logic say. You’re still going to harass, coerce, and browbeat until everyone is as full of self-loathing as you must be. And then, when you’ve done that, look at all those faces. Those uncovered faces staring at you with nothing but hatred.
Because we know who you are. We know what you’ve done to us, to our lives. Though the “pandemic” is over, we will not forget.
Earlier, I was reading a post that struck me as so completely at odds with my view of reality that I felt I had to say something. Since I’m not allowed to make comments at that site (they have a ToS that infringes far too much on the basic right of free expression for my liking), I’ll do it here.
To start, the tone of the post goes beyond breathless, and is difficult to describe without resorting to sexual metaphors. The author is known to be a total Valve fanboy, yes, but this is overboard even for him. In my opinion, it’s the culmination of years of increasing worship of a certain corporation, and that’s honestly sad to see from someone who claims to be a supporter of Linux, an operating system whose very nature is to be free of corporate chains. (Sure, we don’t always live up to that. Gnome and systemd are perfect examples. But even they have their detractors, myself included.)
However, it’s not merely the open admiration of one of the most anti-consumer companies around that is the problem. No, my true concern is that gaming on Linux is dying everywhere. I fully expect 2022 not to be the Year of Linux Gaming, but the end of it, at least for me.
Going out of business
The biggest factor, as I see it, is that it is getting harder and harder to buy PC games at all. With the effective death of physical copies, our only recourse is downloads, and these come with a host of problems. Worst of all, choices for the Linux user have been narrowed to three, all of which are horrible.
GOG is a great storefront. I’ve used them for years, and my only complaint in terms of actually buying from them is that my credit union absolutely hates the idea that I’d spend my money on a Polish website using a payment processor based in Cyprus. If you want to actually buy a game, they’re still the best option by leaps and bounds, because they remain (mostly) committed to their pro-freedom stance of only selling DRM-free games. But that commitment doesn’t extend to supporting DRM-free operating systems, and GOG’s parent company is actively hostile to Linux as a gaming platform. With their expected downsizing later this year, it’s clear that the writing is on the wall.
Steam is the 800-lb gorilla of the PC gaming space, of course, and it’s hard to overstate their anti-consumer policies. They don’t sell games; you’re merely leasing them, and your ability to play what you’ve purchased always exists only at Valve’s whim. They’ve been successfully sued in multiple countries for violations of basic consumer rights. You have no option but to use their DRM-encrusted marketplace to get your games, even if a few of them graciously allow you to run them in “offline mode”, where your every movement isn’t tracked. Literally the only positive Steam has is its library, because they are in the same monopoly position for gaming that Windows occupied in the OS realm for two decades.
Itch.io is the third-party candidate…except for the part where they fit snugly into one of the major parties’ platforms. Don’t get me wrong. They have some great ideas, like adjustable revenue sharing and simple browser downloads. They’re genuinely more open than GOG or Steam. But their downfall, like so many otherwise decent platforms, comes from embracing woke ideology. Itch was very vocal in their disdain for Valve’s minor step towards free speech in 2020. Their biggest bundle to date raised money in support of a terrorist organization, and their biggest category for games is still half-finished visual novels intended for the alphabet soup crowd. As great as their innovations may be, Itch will never be a place that deserves any right-thinking American’s business, and the next great game surely won’t come from there.
Of the minor players in this arena, there’s not much to say. Most are nothing more than Steam resellers. Even Humble Bundle, once a great source of interesting and fun games, has gone that route, adding a dose of Itch’s ideological idiocy on top of that. Epic’s store is anti-Linux, and partially owned by the CCP; while Microsoft’s only suffers from the first of those problems, it’s obviously a very big one. EA and Ubisoft aren’t worth your time even on consoles. The rest are niche options like DLsite, not general-purpose gaming storefronts.
The Steam Deck technically isn’t vaporware, I’ll admit. In reality, though, it’s hardly an option for most people. For one thing, nobody can even buy one at the moment. Even if you could, however, you have to do it through Steam. That should already be a no-go for anyone who actually cares about using Linux. Then, you add in the closed hardware—the controller only works if Steam is running, for example—and what are you left with? Not “the power of a PC in the palm of your hand” or whatever, but little more than a modern-day Game Gear that doesn’t need cartridges. (By the way, it runs Arch. Well, except that it doesn’t. It runs SteamOS 3.0, which just happens to use Arch underneath. You know, instead of something sensible and Debian-based.)
Despite all its flaws, this is our best option for a Linux gaming handheld, and purpose-built systems of any other kind don’t look much better. Android games are a disaster, as anyone who has looked at the Play Store’s trending lists can tell you. And it doesn’t get better as you go up in size. In 2022, Linux on laptops is still the same throw of the dice that it was in 2002. System76, the cream of the crop in Linux-using hardware, has a failure rate of 100% this year in my household; my brother has now been waiting a month for his warranty repair, and that’s after I needed almost three weeks for my replacement. The desktop is mostly safe, but video drivers offer you the choice of a rock or a hard place. Do you take Nvidia’s proprietary drivers that can drop support at a moment’s notice, or AMD’s open drivers that will never receive the same level of support from game devs?
The last hope
Now, there are still bright spots in the gaming landscape, although they’re few and far between. Open-source games are slowly getting better on the whole. (As one example, I’ve recently become engrossed in Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead.) Some of them are original, some are derivative. Some, like OpenTTD, are reimplementations of games so old that they’re from my childhood. One thing you can be sure of, no matter which one you’re playing, is that you’ll never have to worry about a faceless corporation telling you to stop.
Even if you can’t get the full source, there are still a few great games being made by developers who genuinely care about their fanbase, and are willing to do the selling themselves. Rimworld is a good example here; yes, you can buy it on Steam if you’re so inclined, but why not go straight to the maker? While it certainly would be better if these games were free and open, they’re far better than the DRM-filled dystopian alternative.
If all else fails, there’s always emulation. While we could argue about the “dangers of piracy” all you want (speaking as a content creator, it’s a net plus for everyone involved, except marketing and other middlemen), the simple fact is that every “retro” game is readily available, and readily playable on any remotely modern PC. These are the games we grew up with, the ones that trigger the strongest feelings of nostalgia in us, and they’re valuable for that alone. But then you add in the knowledge that you’ll never need a day-1 patch, never have to worry about being banned because you said a bad word, never have to listen to the devs crying about social justice and other make-believe nonsense, and you realize that gaming back then was just plain better, even if the games themselves usually weren’t.
As a Linux user, that’s really where I stand. I see 2022 as the beginning of the end for my preferred kind of gaming: single-player, offline, playing games that can’t be taken away from me, and that treat me like an adult instead of a toddler to be groomed. There aren’t a lot of those left, and it’s becoming harder and harder to find them.
If GOG stops supporting my operating system, I’ll still buy from them on occasion, but only after I’m absolutely certain that the games run under Wine or some similar emulator. Lutris, Bottles, and apps of that sort are helpful in this endeavor, and I believe all but the most hardcore Linux fans should have at least one of them ready to go.
If the last gaming holdout against the creeping plague of “you’ll own nothing and be happy” shuts down completely, on the other hand, I realize I don’t have a lot of options. I already don’t care about AAA titles, so the only ones who lose in that situation are the indies who will no longer have a chance to get my money.
I’ll still have old games, though. And I don’t just mean the SNES-era classics. I’m talking about games that are a few years old, but remain very much playable. Think Stardew Valley, for instance, or Sunless Skies. I bought those on GOG, so I know my downloaded copies will work as long as I keep them. While I know I can only speak for myself, I believe they’re enough to last me the rest of my life.
It didn’t have to be this way. But the Linux community made a deal with the devil, and doing that is only ever going to leave you burned. Alas, Steam is something akin to a cult, and its true believers will never realize the harm they’ve caused.
Music has the power to stir the soul. A song can change our mood, can push our emotions to new heights. Never is that more true than during those times where we are already emotional, whether from joy, grief, or somewhere in between. I’m often moved to tears by music, and I feel that everyone should admit, at least to themselves, that it’s possible for them to feel the same.
Over the past few years, I have shared some of my favorite songs, albums, and musical stories on this site. On this dark night (I write this shortly before 1 AM) I would like to do so again, but this time for a different purpose. I don’t intend for you to listen to these four songs because I said so. No, I’m telling you that a day will come when they will be played for me, and I won’t be there to listen. Whether the time until that day is best measured in months or decades, I can’t say. I know that they have summoned some of the strongest emotions I’ve ever felt, so I want them to be heard at the one time I’m certain people will be emotional because of me.
These are in no particular order. I know they also don’t exactly go together, but I’m a complex man. I have many facets. Not all of them meet at straight edges.
Avantasia – “Cry Just A Little” (Youtube link)
One of my favorite bands, and one of my favorite stories told through music. I’ve talked about The Scarecrow before, and I devoted considerable space to this song. But that’s because it deserves every word of praise I can give. It’s hard to do a metal ballad right. It’s even harder when that ballad also has to tell the story of a man rejected by society and willing to sacrifice his very soul for one shot at the life and love he dreams of.
The nameless protagonist begs not to be loved—he believes himself unworthy of that—but simply to be acknowledged. Why don’t you at least lie and say that you care, or that you even know I’m there? Believe me, I’ve been there many times. I don’t believe in the existence of demons or devils, unless you count the evil men and women of the world. There have been times, though, that I wished I did, if only to make the same offer of myself.
It’s not about love or fame or wealth. It’s about being remembered. It’s about having someone who cares enough to remember you. Too many people don’t have that, and I often wonder if I’ll number among them when the time comes.
Breaking Benjamin – “Dear Agony (Aurora Version)” (Youtube link)
I specify the Aurora version of this song solely because of Lacey Sturm’s angelic vocals. “Hauntingly beautiful” is a phrase I use too often, but it’s very appropriate here.
Again, I’ve mentioned this song before on here. I’ve used it as a post title, added in the lyrics, and referenced it multiple times. I’ve dreamed myself and the woman I love singing it together. That’s how much it has affected me in the scant two years since its release.
I live each day in pain. I have for years. I don’t always let it show. Even my closest loved ones never know the true extent of it, because I learned long ago that few people want to hear about depression, and even fewer want to help in a way that relieves the agony for one precious moment.
A song about fighting with each breath until the pain finally does stop, until you reach that final moment where you know you’ll never have to feel again, that speaks to me. Coming from an evangelical family, I often heard my elders say of the dead, “At least he’s not hurting anymore.” As a child, I never truly understood that. As an adult, I certainly do.
Anders Osborne – “Higher Ground” (Youtube link)
To speak further of pain, this song might be that feeling personified. The last time I listened to it was in January 2014, the night my cousin died. To this day, I can still recall the anguish of that cold, dark evening. I couldn’t bear to look at him, so I stayed with my grandmother. I locked myself in her bedroom, threw my headphones on, queued up Black Eye Galaxy, and just cried.
The singer was dealing with addiction (probably heroin, considering “Black Tar” is the name of another track); that’s what the whole album is about. But the message of this closing track is universal. We all want to find that higher ground, that way of rising above the aches and pains of earthly living. For those of us who aren’t religious, it’s much harder. We lack the comfort and certainty that come with faith. We can’t be sure, and that’s scary.
Once again, I have to refer to my family. As far as I can tell, none of them have ever had to struggle with that kind of doubt, and that means it’s something I can’t share with them. I can’t talk about it to those I’ve known the longest, because we’re so far apart on the matter that we just talk past each other. And that only feeds into my perception of being alone. In this case, I really am.
Allman Brothers Band – “Will The Circle Be Unbroken (Live)” (Youtube link)
Despite what you might think, this is technically not a religious song; it was originally written for a secular purpose, and the religious trappings were added later.
I’m a Southern man. Always have been, always will be. And this is a Southern anthem, part of that collective unconscious we share as a culture. Especially when it’s performed by one of the culture’s greatest acts.
Really, what else is left to say? I love who I am, where I live, the people I’m able to call neighbors. There’s no other part of the country or the world that I’d rather make my home. While I can’t share in every part of what it means to be a Southerner, this is a common ground, a place in the middle where I’m willing to meet. And it encompasses all of the themes I’ve been trying to speak here. The pain, the grief, and the hope of something better for someone, if not myself.
We all need to let these things out from time to time. For me, music gives voice to the thoughts I find so hard to speak. I want that to be true for as long as I live, and even beyond.
I’m a metal fan, in case you haven’t noticed. I’m also a fan of stories, and that drew me into the power metal subgenre some two decades ago. Power metal is full of songs about fantasy; “Elvenpath” by Nightwish was my introduction to that, and Blind Guardian’s Nightfall In Middle-Earth remains one of my favorite concept albums of all time.
Sabaton is…a little different. They’re definitely worthy of being called power metal. They use the same style of music, the chord progressions and the riffs and whatnot. Their songs, however, aren’t based on Tolkien or Martin or another fantasy author (who’s going to be the first to write an album set in Sanderson’s Cosmere?), but real life. Specifically, the history of warfare.
Their latest album, The War To End All Wars, carries on as a direct sequel to 2019’s The Great War. As you might expect from the titles, those are both about World War I, and that already predisposes me to liking them. Since I started researching WWI for a school project in 6th grade, I’ve been fascinated by it. Its successor gets all the glory, all the notoriety, but why? This is the First World War we’re talking about here! It’s the birth of airplanes, tanks, trench warfare, and chemical weapons. It’s the last hurrah of cavalry charges and line infantry, and really the birth of “modern” warfare. So why don’t we talk about it more?
Some do. Indy Neidell’s The Great War web series explores the conflict in depth, while always reminding the viewer of the horrors of war in general and this war in particular. I wish I’d known about it when it first started, because it was exactly what I was looking for all those years. And Sabaton clearly thought so, too: they partnered with Neidell to make Sabaton History, which goes into detail about the stories behind their songs.
So let’s talk about those songs. We’ll take it from the top.
Though the signs were there for years, World War I officially kicked off with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914. The opening track of the album (as long as you got the proper version) is mostly a spoken-word telling of that historic event by narrator Bethan Dixon Bate, with the band’s refrain interspersed.
“Sarajevo” sets the stage, not the tone. The format reminds me of classical drama, with its narrator/chorus counterpoint in the opening act. The tension rises throughout the track, as Bate speaks of the web of alliances and the failed diplomacy that led to the Battle of the Frontiers and plunged the entire world into a deadly, devastating war for the next four years. From here on out, we’re on the battlefield.
Sabaton doesn’t judge. They’ve taken some flak for that in the past, as certain people believe they “idolize” Nazis simply because they don’t always portray them as unspeakably evil. But there are no good guys in war; heroes and legends can come from anywhere. The eponymous Stormtroopers were harbingers of things to come, a preview of the blitzkrieg tactics used by Germany a quarter of a century later, and there’s nothing wrong with telling that tale.
The first actual metal track on the album is very, very metal. Hard and heavy, with the sound that tells you, “This is a Sabaton song.” Which is great. That’s who I’m listening to, after all. The problem is, the song itself feels a little generic to me. It doesn’t have anything to distinguish it, and you could easily fit it into any of their other albums without even trying.
Except for the sinking of the Lusitania, Americans tend to forget that WWI was a naval war as much as a land war. The Dreadnought battleships that plied the waters of the North Sea get even less attention than the Western Front, and that’s a shame. They were just as innovative as the numerous technological debuts on land, and they changed the face of naval warfare in a way that’s still recognizable today.
As for “Dreadnought” the song, it suffers from the same problem as “Stormtroopers” before it. There’s nothing that singles it out as being part of The War To End All Wars. The music sounds far too much like a reuse of “Bismarck”, a promotional single from a few years ago. And something about Joakim Brodén’s voice sounds…strained. I don’t know if that’s from emotion, illness, or editing, but it’s stood out every time I’ve listened to the track.
The Unkillable Soldier
Here’s a case where Sabaton didn’t do the subject justice, but that’s because nobody ever could. Adrian Carton de Wiert was a legend. He was basically the Terminator a hundred years early. Shoot him in the eye, and he just laughs it off. Take him prisoner, and he’ll escape. And he was everywhere that mattered. If you want to make an action movie about WWI (and WWII, and the Boer War…) then he’s your guy.
The song’s great, too. It captures the madness of the war and the madness of its maddest of madmen. After two tracks that don’t really distinguish themselves, “The Unkillable Soldier” sounds fresh and powerful. (As an aside, it also has a video, where Carton de Wiert is played by the aforementioned Indy Neidell. That had to be an excuse to torture the poor historian.)
Soldier of Heaven
One of the great things about metal is the way it has room to take in other genres. Folk metal is an industry these days. A few metal artists incorporate rap in ways that make it bearable. Sabaton, though, occasionally tosses in what sounds like electropop elements. 2019’s “Attack of the Dead Men” did it, and “Soldier of Heaven” does in its intro. Take that little bit of discordance out, and you have an upbeat song that hides a truly chilling story.
White Friday (which fell on a Wednesday, oddly enough) saw thousands of soldiers perish in a series of avalanches. The forces of Austria-Hungary were camped atop Gran Poz, while Italians had massed in the Val Ciampi d’Arei. Heavy snow and frigid weather were major factors in the war already; a disastrous Ottoman advance into subzero temperatures served as one excuse for the decisions that led to the Armenian Genocide.
But avalanches are sudden. They strike without warning, and without care for nationality. On White Friday, they buried both Austrian and Italian forces. “Soldier of Heaven” speaks from the perspective of one soldier, presumably Austrian, who has scaled the mountain only to fall victim to the rushing snow. His body frozen in the avalanche, frozen in time, he waits for spring to come and release his body from its icy prison. Wow.
The perfect contrast, isn’t it? The Harlem Hellfighters were considered the dregs of the American army at the time. Composed mostly of black and Puerto Rican soldiers, the 369th had to earn its place in history, and earn they did. Forced to fight longer than most other regiments, they served as an example of many things, but drive is certainly at the top.
In a time of pandering to minorities, it’s refreshing to see someone who bucks the trend and looks at people as…well, people. This isn’t “The Lost Battalion” but black. There are echoes, however. Both songs have that same sort of desperation in their words, making you feel like you’re among the men, waiting as they are for the day you can leave the trenches and go home.
Race to the Sea
The Race to the Sea was one of the early events in WWI, the start of the trench warfare that was its lasting legacy. In Belgium, the first country to be invaded, King Albert I didn’t want to see his realm fall, so he took matters into his own hands. Literally. World War I was the last war among monarchs. King, kaiser, and tsar all had a part to play—never mind that the major players were cousins—but Albert was the only one who took the field.
The song “Race to the Sea” tells that story, and it does so in a way that lets the listener feel the pride Belgian forces must have felt at seeing their king fighting beside them. “For king and country” is relegated to history and fantasy these days, but the Battle of the Yser might be one of the last times men truly meant it. Sabaton turns it into an anthem here, an ode to the nationalism of bygone days.
Lady of the Dark
I knew about most of the stories on the album already. I hadn’t heard of the White Friday avalanches or Adrian Carto de Wiert, but the rest were new to me only in details. “Lady of the Dark” is altogether different, because it’s about a soldier from Serbia, and Serbia usually flies under my radar.
Milunka Savić, by contrast, flies under everyone’s radar, as she has for about a hundred years. Her brother was drafted into the Serbian Army, but she went in his place, dressing as a man until she was wounded in battle, then fighting openly as a woman and becoming one of the most decorated female soldiers of all time. But here’s the thing people today won’t understand: she got those awards and honors because of her deeds, not because of her sex. She wasn’t a token woman or a mascot, nor did she want to be either.
As with “Hellfighters” earlier, this is a case where Sabaton turns modern progressivism on its head. Yes, their song emphasizes that Savić was a woman, calling her “the girl in uniform” in the chorus, but it always comes back to the fact that she was fighting for her family. “Lady of the Dark” is one of the brightest lights in the darkness of this war-themed album, for both its message and its music.
The Valley of Death
Here’s another story I didn’t know before. The Battle of Doiran pitted Allied forces against those of Bulgaria. Most Americans today couldn’t find Bulgaria on a labeled map, so I’ll forgive you if you think this is a filler track. In actuality, it’s a last stand worthy of, well, The Last Stand. Bulgarian forces held out against a numerically and technologically superior force by virtue of their heavy defenses and the sheer will of their commander, who was later honored by his enemies.
One of the things I love most about Sabaton is the way they make you interested in a story almost no one has ever heard before. “Last Dying Breath” and “The Final Battle” are two good examples from earlier albums, and “The Valley of Death” adds to that list. It’s not a standout track in the musical sense. It’s a little piece of forgotten history, a gem that shines through.
In the last week of 1914, something strange and wonderful happened. All along the Western Front, men of the Allied and Central Powers threw down their guns, walked into No Man’s Land, and shook hands. They talked to their enemy, shared a drink, swapped stories, and told the war to wait. Why? Because it was Christmas.
The Christmas Truce, as it became known, was quite possibly the last widespread display of civility in war. Nowadays, we’re used to seeing bombed-out buildings and castrated Russian POWs, and we’re urged to forget that those people we’re fighting are humans just like us. In 1914, the propaganda hadn’t set in, and there was still a sense, even after four months of horror, that war was a gentleman’s pursuit.
Sabaton captures this perfectly. The track starts with a hauntingly beautiful intro that draws from “Carol of the Bells”, also the source of “Christmas Eve – Sarajevo 12/24” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the song that invented modern Christmas rock. Joakim’s vocals then begin to speak of a soldier in the trenches hearing the guns fall silent, seeing the men who had been trying to kill him instead offering their hands in friendship. “Today we’re all brothers,” he says. “Tonight we’re all friends.” That’s something we lost, and we’re poorer for it.
“Christmas Truce” could have been the end of the album, and I’d be happy. But the troops didn’t come home by Christmas, as was initially promised. Instead, they stayed in the trenches another four years, until November 11, 1918. And the true end of the war didn’t come for almost a year after that, with Germany’s unconditional surrender at Versailles the following summer.
Our narrator returns for this outro track, speaking of the treaty and the events that led to it. She then turns an eye to the future. American forces return home. Russia has to handle the Communist Revolution that would almost destroy it. Borders are redrawn all over the world as the era of colonialism comes into its final act. (Forgotten in all this is the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire under the Sykes-Picot agreement, the direct cause of today’s troubles in the Middle East, but I digress.)
World War I was known as the war to end all wars. Today, that very phrase has become formulaic, and we interpret it as a claim of superiority. In its time, however, it was meant literally. The war was so destructive, and it reshaped the world so greatly, that it was believed to be the last of its kind. Yet it took barely two decades from Versailles to the Sudetenland, and those two events are directly correlated.
That’s the lesson to take from WWI. Not the intricacies of trench warfare or the geopolitical ramifications of three cousins fighting each other using millions of men (and the occasional woman disguised as one) as pawns. No, the strategies and tactics don’t matter in the long run. What matters is what we can learn from the events of the 1910s and what came after, how they compare to the things we’re seeing right now.
Nazism grew because of the privations forced upon the German people during the Weimar Republic; in America today, the people are beginning to suffer from the same hardships. The “eternal” Israel-Palestine conflict didn’t start until two peoples were forced together, and that never would have happened without the First World War. The tsar, leader of Russia for centuries and ruler of lands stretching from Kiev to Vladivostok, fell to Communist hordes, birthing one of the most deadly regimes of the 20th century.
History repeats itself, and we are witnessing that firsthand. While Sabaton may not be on the front lines in Mariupol, they’re watching the current war with interest, because who knows? It might be the spark that fuels a greater conflagration. Such things have happened before. The assassination of a noble plunged the entire world into war for four years, killing tens of millions. The treaty that ended this war subjugated a people and provided Hitler with the perfect foil. The two armies who destroyed his Third Reich then turned their sights—but not their weapons, thankfully—on each other, resulting in a series of proxy wars all over the world, the latest of which started a few short weeks ago.
I’ll give The War To End All Wars an 8 out of 10, but understand that this includes a bonus point for its timing. The world needs to hear this album, the stories within it. Even if you don’t like metal or history, it’s worth a listen. And then, when you’re reading the latest dispatches from Donbass, you’ll hear the echoes.
I actually got a comment. That doesn’t happen on PPC very often, because this site was never intended to be a place for commenting, and the anti-spam measures I’ve put into place tend to keep most casuals away. But some random person decided to leave a reply to my Patreon farewell from the other day, trying to “shame” me for not supporting the “right” side of the Russia-NATO proxy war currently entering its second month.
Cry harder, I say.
If the Ukrainians want my support, they can start by kicking Zelensky and NATO out of their country. They can give the people of the Crimea, and the sovereign Donetsk and Luhansk republics the same basic human right of self-determination they’re demanding. They can stop committing the war crimes that are documented for the world to see: kneecapping, blinding, and castrating POWs; arming civilians and creating irregular partisan militias; and so on.
Zelensky isn’t the root of the problem, because he’s a puppet whose strings are held by more powerful individuals. That said, he has had every opportunity to show resolve and end this war in a civilized manner. Instead, he continues to put his people in jeopardy out of some vain attempt at either saving face or starting World War III. And for what? Two pieces of land his country doesn’t want?
Vladimir Putin is not a good person, but his commanding officers deserve some praise for the remarkable restraint they have shown over the past month. Despite all attempts at incitement, Russian forces have done their best to avoid civilian casualties, a far cry from the brutality and barbarism of Ukraine’s prized Azov Battalion or the “shock and awe” tactics my own country has employed for the past two decades.
The Russian goal, as far as anyone outside Moscow can tell, is simply to claim what they believe is rightfully theirs: the regions that are ethnically Russian. Funny how most on the left seem to hate the very idea, yet they care nothing for the ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong who have been fighting for their freedom the past few years. They were silent when Spain wanted to imprison the leader of Catalonia, which held and passed a democratic referendum of independence.
If you “stand with Ukraine”, you aren’t standing for freedom. You aren’t standing for the rights of the civilians caught in the crossfire. You’re standing for one of the most corrupt regimes in Europe, a money-laundering front for some of the most crooked people in the entire world. You’re standing for globalism, socialism, and depravity.
I, for one, will not.