by Tim Shipman in Washington
But Steve Earle was against it all the way, right? Now, if only Congress would do the same......
Country music has thrived for years as the soundtrack to redneck America, supplying the Republican heartlands with a diet of knee-jerk jingoism that has included flag-waving anthems supporting the war on terror.
But as the US death toll rises in Iraq and public patience with the conflict - and with George W. Bush - diminishes, many anti-war songs are emerging from Nashville, Tennessee, home of the genre.
No one has moved further than Toby Keith and Darryl Worley, two of the biggest names in country music.
In 2002, Keith had a huge hit with Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue, which includes the lyric: “You’ll be sorry that you messed with the US of A, ’cause we’ll put a boot in your ass - it’s the American Way.”
Worley’s Have You Forgotten in 2003 justified the Iraq invasion as a response to the September 11 attacks. The military liked it so much he was presented with a flag that had flown over the Pentagon.
Now Keith says he is a lifelong Democrat and has claimed he never supported the war, while Worley has had a hit with I Just Came Back from a War, about a soldier returning from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Tim McGraw - the biggest contemporary country star - has a hit single with If You’re Reading This, about a dead soldier’s last letter home, and the Dixie Chicks, boycotted in 2003 after lead singer Natalie Maines told an audience in London: “We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas,” won five Grammy Awards this year.
The changing tone reflects a growing skepticism in heartlands that have disproportionately contributed the young soldiers who have been fighting and dying.Brian Hiatt, associate editor of Rolling Stone magazine, said: “Popular music is reflecting the culture, as it always does.”
Keith’s switch, however, has angered conservative country fans and anti-war activists alike. Jon Iwanski, a blogger in Chicago, said Keith had “damaged his credibility”, while opponents of the war accused the singer of opportunism