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"That's the one the vets had me come sing," McMurtry says. I caught up with him the day after he had gone to Crawford to drop off a camcorder and a tent for Cindy Sheehan's supporters outside of Dubya's ranch. A couple of days before that, he had been asked to play at the Veterans for Peace convention in Irving. McMurtry says the media's coverage of both of these events has been suspect -- most sources fail to mention that many of the anti-war protesters at these events are vets as well.
In Irving, McMurtry met 25-year-old combat veteran Mike Hoffman, the co-founder of IVAW (Iraq Veterans against the War). McMurtry said Hoffman has lived pretty much every aspect of "We Can't Make It Here," which is less a song about the war itself than it is about the shattered lives of the people who are fighting it. "He grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and his dad worked at Bethlehem Steel his whole life and had a host of health problems from breathing that shit," he says. "So he doesn't work anymore. Mike didn't have the grades to get in to college after high school. Bethlehem wasn't hiring and Mack Truck -- the only other big factory in town -- closed down after NAFTA when they moved all their production to Mexico. So he went into the Marines. He said it was like rolling the dice or spinning the roulette wheel -- you hoped you could get in and out before the next war and get some skills.
"And he missed that by two days. Two days before he was gonna get out, the sergeant called him in and told him that a stop-loss order had been issued and nobody was going home and everybody was gonna go to Iraq. So he goes, and then when he gets back home, the whole world comes apart. Bethlehem declares bankruptcy, his dad lost his pension and all his benefits that he had put his life in. All of a sudden they are faced with things like, 'Do we pay the mortgage or pay for the medicine?' So his life imitates my art in a big way."
So perhaps it's no big surprise to learn that Hoffman is a big fan of the song. "Yeah, I did kinda live that song, and I think a lot of people at the Veterans for Peace conference had gone through what he was talking about in it. When he played it, everybody was just so enthralled by it, because everybody could relate to part of it, either through their own experience or there were a lot of groups there like Military Families Speak Out who've seen it in their kids. Or people who've seen it in their friends. It really brought all of that together."
And what did he think of the America Salutes Your Freedom Walk? What does this real-life "high-tech GI Joe" think of "I Raq and Roll?"
"Yeah, Clint Black. Don't even..." The scorn in Hoffman's voice is almost palpable. "Yeah. All that 'Shock'n Y'all' and 'I Raq and Roll' just made me sick. You know, I kinda lump that stuff in with all that other stuff that's going on -- like that new Fox show Over There. For me, that stuff is almost like war profiteering. These people are making money off the fact that me and my friends are getting shot at and killed over there. It drives me nuts! There's this whole new form of war profiteering -- today, it's not just people making money off selling the government bullets and bombs, it's people making money off the war itself through 'artistic' things. I've got an e-mail account absolutely full of people asking me to help with a reality show about returning war veterans. It just makes me absolutely sick to see these things."
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