Today I read both commentaries for this song (one for the song and one for the enhanced video on The Angel and the Gambler single). They differ from my sense of the song in ways I find thought-provoking, and accordingly I decided to say a few words about the thoughts they provoked. The song commentary is quite short -- a brief description of the music accompanied by this quote from Bruce: "(This song) was written about the people that fought in the Gulf War. It's a song about how shitty war is, and how shitty war is that it's started by politicians and has to be finished by ordinary people that don't really want to kill anybody." Note that the song was written not by Bruce, but by Steve. I'll come back to that momentarily. Meanwhile, the commentary on the video includes this bit: "The video itself looks a little bit like pro-war propaganda, condoning the useless bloodshed and misery that was the First Gulf War. It most probably wasn't the intention of Iron Maiden to pose as supporters of such a ridiculous conflict, whose aim was merely to protect the oil fields of Kuwait, but the images do not seem to correspond the original depth of the lyrics." Okay. Here's my story. I bought Fear of the Dark the day it came out in 1992. It was my second year in college. I had already been bitterly disappointed by the Whitesnake-ish-ness of the No Prayer album, so this album was either going to restore my faith in Iron Maiden or drive me away for good. Unfortunately it did the latter (well, for almost 10 years, anyway). Afraid to Shoot Strangers was a big part of this. The Gulf War was "over," although obviously the U.S. military presence in the Gulf, periodic bombings, and the brutal sanctions regime were not. Like many Americans (and obviously others), I was still pissed about the war, and especially about the shallow jingoism of many of my fellow Americans who supported it. In my first year at college (90-91) we had these big sheets of paper on the walls of our dormitory where people could write (anonymously) their thoughts about the war while it was going on. Every day I would see that someone had written "kill the towelheads" or "sand niggers" -- i.e., people who supported the war out of ignorant, racist, nationalistic, oversimplified machismo more than anything else. People sported shirts saying "these colors don't run" and whatnot, suggesting that anyone who disagreed with (the first) President Bush's war was un-American (or worse). This is the context in which I heard "Afraid to Shoot Strangers." It seems obvious, given the timing, that the song was written as Steve's direct response to the Gulf War and the debate over it. And it seemed obvious at the time that he was arguing in favor of the war: [!--quoteo--][div class=\'quotetop\']QUOTE[/div][div class=\'quotemain\'][!--quotec--]God let us go now and finish what's to be done Thy Kingdom come, thy shall be done... on Earth Trying to justify to ourselves the reasons to go Should we live and let live, forget or forgive? But how can we let them go on this way? The reign of terror corruption must end And we know deep down there's no other way No trust, no reasoning, no more to say [/quote] From the point of view of someone opposed to the war, this is patronizing. Opposition to the war did not then (nor does it now) equate to "live and let live, forget and forgive." But then it gets worse; the song ends of course with the refrain of the title, "afraid to shoot strangers." To me the only sense this makes is as a characterization of opponents of the war -- such people are afraid to do what even God knows is "to be done." They are cowards. Listening to this song in 1992, I was livid -- Steve and the boys were joining the chorus of ugly Americans around me who insisted that going to war was a simple matter of having the balls to "kill the towelheads." At least with the song the racist overtones weren't there, although the "strangers" bit always made me uncomfortable. Why use the word "strangers"? Should the fact that they are "strange" to us make them easier to shoot? So fast forward to the present. Having sold my Fear of the Dark CD a few weeks after I bought it, I have never been able to bring myself to re-purchase it. I still can't stand that song, and I still read/hear it as a defense of the Gulf War -- as an argument that the soldier's ordeal is worth it for the greater cause -- and as an indictment of those who protested the war. (I do see that the song does express some sympathy with the soldier, and this at least is to its credit.) Reading the commentaries today, I find that my understanding of the song is not necessarily the consensus view. I think Bruce's quote in the song commentary is intriguing... it sounds more along the lines of how I would like to be able to interpret the song. I suspect that Bruce and Steve do not necessarily see eye-to-eye politically, and that the quote is Bruce's way of rationalizing the song, of making it palatable for him as a singer to make the requisite emotional investment in it. (I'd be curious to hear how he interprets Age of Innocence.) I don't think Bruce speaks for Steve, or what was in Steve's heart at the time the song was written; the lyrics themselves speak too clearly otherwise. I'm also intrigued by the comments on the video, which I haven't myself seen. According to the account, the video images echo pro-war propaganda, which would be consistent with my first reaction to the song, but not Bruce's remarks on it. Whose viewpoint is expressed in the video, then? I suspect it's Steve's. The most interesting thing in all this, to me, is how each person adapts a text to suit his or her own worldview. The writer of the commentaries has obviously internalized the message of ATSS as an anti-war message, or at least a "war is hell" message, which obviously suits his temperament (judging by his comments on the Gulf War itself). He even goes so far as to assume that the pro-war message was "probably not the intention of Iron Maiden," which I think is mistaken but which I understand as a natural reflex. And Bruce too appears to have re-imagined the song in a way that makes more sense to him. I was never able to do this for ATSS, but I have done it for other Iron Maiden songs, and other musical and nonmusical works. Anyway, thanks for your attention. I'd be curious to know if anyone else has understood this song the same way as me, or if I'm really as peculiar as it sometimes appears.