The General

Album: Bang Bang (2000)
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  • This song tells a story about a brilliant and battle-torn general who has a dream in which he realizes the futility of war. He then attempts to persuade his men that they do not have to participate in the battle, but that he would fulfill the job he had sworn to do. He wants them to leave and live a full life, but none of his men will leave him. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jim - Pittsburgh, PA
  • Dispatch's vocalist and guitarist, Chad Urmston, told us that this song is even more relevant now than it was in 1998: "It's more relevant today than it was when I wrote it. I've always been fascinated by war and been lucky enough not to have the hands in experience. But I can understand that it must be hell and that there's also a deep sense of brother/sisterhood that is unique to that experience." (Here's our full Chad Urmston interview.)
  • Urmston told us this song was inspired by "a summer of playing Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand" constantly."
  • In The Best of Dispatch, Chad Urmston explains: "This was our anti-war song. Although it was primarily based on the Civil War, the message was not confined to that particular conflict. We were too young to be directly involved in the Gulf War; nevertheless, the sense of a troubled history rings loud in the heads of young men who grow up listening to grandfathers or fathers recount war stories. The crowd response to this song always blew us away. Some said it had a 'Castles Made of Sand' feel - any reference to Hendrix we took gladly. We recorded the song up in the northeast kingdom on borrowed instruments. Our hazy-eyed hairball engineer swayed like a derelict wrecking ball over the console like a played-out carnie with nothing to show for a lifetime of swindling. His down-to-the-filter cigarette wandered listlessly with a skeletal droop of ash as he leaned on his crippled office chair teasing gravity. He ended up giving in to his heavy eyes and passing out on the couch with his feet up, still holding the cigarette as Brad and I took turns pressing the 'record' and 'locate' buttons." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Tim - Pittsburgh, PA

Comments: 36

  • Paul from Rowlett, TxThe General see's the futility in war, but he has a duty. A leader not only is responsible to win the war, but also take care of the Soldier's under him/her. As an Army Officer I can assure you there are competing feelings especially when the war may be "unjust". You have a duty to perform, but also have a moral obligation to uphold as well. It may seem to be a strange dichotomy, but it is very real. So, that being said here is what I believe the interpretation to be:
    The General is wrestling with the morality of the battle/war he is about to undertake. He finds that the war is not just, but he has sworn an oath. He tells his Soldiers "This fight is not worht fighting...Go now you are forgiven." He is forgiving them, because there is a strange guilt that is felt when a Soldier misses out on action that is occuring. Its called Surviors guilt.
    The General then see's his army carry out his order to disband, as evident in the line "Till one by one they stepped back and not a word was said" The next line is the crux, "And the old general was left with his own words echoing in his head" The general was left with only his words, not any Soldiers. "He then prepared to fight" The last lines echoing, "Go now you are forgiven" That is for himself. He forgiving himself for all the wrong he has done in his life. but as Billy from Cape May states he basically goes to battle to die.
  • Tyler from Philly, Pathis song is obiviously about the men staying thats why he keeps repeating it at the end of the song becasue the general wants them to go
  • Tyson from Annapolis, Md, MdBang Bang, in my opinion, is written to parallel the novel Lord Of The Flies. There are several comparisons between the lyrics and the book, especially in the first half of the song. A man that had been there for years represents the dead body they find at the top of the mountain, the conch shell played a huge role in the peace and order among the kids, and a lot of mention about "fear", which the book tends to base itself on.
  • Brian from Rochester, NyThis could be way off but from the first time I heard this song I thought immediately of Constantine - the Roman emperor who converted to Christianity after a dream on the "eve of a great battle." Although Christianity and organized religion have lead to billions of deaths and countless wars, the Christianity of Constantine's time taught love and compassion for one another, especially your enemies - a theme consistant with Dispatch's message and this song. Anybody out there with me?
  • Tyler from Wilmington, DeI believe that The General has a central message of peace. In many instances, we have seen Dispatch makes stabs at the fact that they are against war. The General isn't just a stab at war; it is trying to ban it forever. Songs are meant to inspire people and I'm sure whoever is writing on this site was inspired by this song. So however you interpret it, realize that Dispatch did not write the song for people to argue about it on a blog, but rather to change lives and send the message that respecting others could lead to some good here on earth.
  • William from Kalamazoo, MiThe most important line in the song is

    "I have seen the others and I have discovered that this fight is not worth fighting"

    The reason general reaches the truth that the fight is not worth it is he sees the humanity of his oppenents. Whatever gain the army would receive from victory is not worth killing for, the lives of both the men and the enemies are to valuable.

    He then tells the men to go and enjoy their lives "you are young and you must be living" He tries to explain to them how valuable their lives are to them, but they might not have been able to understand.

    The song does say "One by one they stepped back" so I would like to believe the men all left, because that would mean they understood what the General was telling them how their life was worth more than the fight they'd been about to fight.

    Shannon from manchester and Brian from Lancaster, I just wanted to say, I respectfully disagree, I think if the men left it does not "ruin" the song. I think if the men leave then they are respecting the wisdom of the general and they understood the value of life. Obeying the order of the general, to eave, is the most loyal thing they could have done, because they were fufilling his wish to prevent the battle and save their lives.

    But the song is vague, it may be deliberately unclear, maybe we aren't supposed to know for sure what happened to the men or the general.
  • John from Newton, MaThe thing about songs (and any form of art for that matter) is that it's open to interpretation, it doesn't necessarily have to mean the same thing from person to person. It could be that the soldiers don't leave the general, it could be that they don't, it could be that the general is remorseful for the slaughter he is about to lead, and it could be that he is really a purple dragon in disguise asking people to not come to his house because he will eat them. It can mean whatever you want it to. That's the beauty of music.
  • David from Arlington, VaIf Casey from Dalton, GA reads this, I thought I'd clear up a few things about Robert E. Lee. He was asked by the Union to join the North, but his sons had already joined the Confederate army. He couldn't fight against his sons, so that was the main factor in his decision. He did also live in arlington, so that did have an impact on his decision, but not as much. Also, at the beginning of the war, slavery was a very minor issue in the big picture of the war. General Lee in fact had slaves of his own. Slavery only became a major issue after the Emancipation Proclamation near the end of the war.
  • Joe from Fort Meade, MdCan't wait for the MSG show these guys are doing this summer. Sold out three shows in 90 friggin minutes...Not many acts can say that.

    As for the song I think it's pretty apparent that the Army left. I would like to think that The General had the fight of his life and took down quite a few with him on his way out but that's not important. I too picture this taking place during the Civil War era though I never made the association with General Lee.

    Great song, great band.
  • Catherine from San Antonio, Txoh dear. this song has nothing to do with jesus. at all. it's one of those few brilliant songs that says exactly what it means...dispatch is good at just putting it out there. this song really is just about a war scarred general. though i do think that his men left him because "the old general was left with his own words echoing in his head" implying that he was alone. whatevs. long live dispatch
  • Abbas from Richmond Hill, Canada"it was a grey morning and they all
    wondered how they would fare
    till the old general told them to go home"

    It seems to me they wondered no longer and went. It really doesn't seem to me like they could have stayed. Fantastic song.
  • Craig from Caldwell, NjI think that the connection to jesus can be supported by many pieces of this song from the simple obvious connections to the more abstract ones. For instance in the very begining the general is described "likened him to all the stories he told", well at an elementary level isn't that what jesus was, a story teller who traveled through villages. Then a little after this one of the most obvious connections of the song is mentioned when it says that "he grew a beard as soon as he could", one of jesus' most destinct characterisitics was the beard on his face. later the general "tossed in his sleep and wrestled with its meaning", the general is having nightmares of bad things to come on the eve of a battle, much like how jesus passes out in prayer on a mountain and recieves messages from angels before his crucifiction. In this sense "the great battle" that the general is preparing for represents the crucifiction of jesus. When the general sends his men home it is reminiscent of when jesus tells none of his apostles to follow him as he goes to be cruscified. Then in both the song, and bible story the men refuse to leave and tyr to stay, but in both cases the men eventually step down, in the song it states "they stepped back and not a word was said", and in the bible peter goes on to deny christ infamously 3 times. Finally as the song fades out with christ's most famous message is left ringing in our ears "go now you are forgiven".
  • Kirk from Glace Bay, CanadaI think people miss the point of this song if they feel that the soldiers stayed.

    The General has a dream. He sees the would-be victums of the fight they are about to have as well as their mothers suffering from the results of their deaths, one can assume. He comes to the conclusion that fighting has now become moraly wrong to him, or at least pointless for whatever reason, and he does not want to have the soldiers forced to fight as they have before on his orders. Because he is a General he has sworn an oath to fight regardless of opinion, so that is what he has to do. They have to follow he orders, so he releases them of his orders and allows them to do as they please. One by One they step back from the front line and he marches to the fight by himself, or at least with a significantly reduced army. From there I suppose we are left to wonder if he met with death or surrendered etc.
  • Isaac from Bridgeport, CtI think the beauty of this song is that, while the men can and do leave, the General can't. "The General said he would do his own duty but he would send it no further / The men could do as they please," tells me that, while the General can order his men to do what he wishes them to, he can't join them because he has his own orders. I don't see this as a religious thing, either; it doesn't readily adapt to Jesus, at least not by the interpretation Brian offered. The General isn't telling his men to fight without him, he's telling them not to fight. The General isn't sacrificing himself, nor is he committing suicide, as Billy from NJ suggested - he's simply following his orders and doing his duty.
  • Craig from Atlanta, GaI think this song is great. Personally, i am pretty sure the men left him, and the general is forgiving his army, not for abonding him, but for what they have done in the army (people they have killed) and he tells them that they can live. For the people that dont think the army left, i can see where you are coming from, because i thought that once too. It would not give more meaning to this particular story because the general wants them to leave because of sympathy for the enemy, not fear of the enemy. If the general told them to leave because "the others" were too difficult to fight, making the fight not worth fighting, and they still stayed, then yes, it would give the song more meaning. Perhaps the song should have been done that way. But he tells them to leave because he does not want them to keep killing, and fighting is not worth it, and they obey, because they know he is right and that he forgives them.
  • Shannon from Greenlawn, NyIf the army did not leaving him the whole point of the song would be ruined. Proud soldiers prepared to fight are being told to go home. The initial reaction upon hearing this would be shock. So they stood there 'not knowing
    what to do with the contradicting orders'. The general pondered over the meaning of his dream which would be that regardless of which line you are behind in war everyone is the same. If you look the person you are going to kill in the face and see their family, especially mother, not many people would want to murder them. Then making the war not worth fighting. The general believes they should leave and live their life off the battlefuield. The soldiers stepped back which is to back off. Staying would of course show loyalty and patriotism, but he never mentions either. It would promote the exact opposite of what the dream ment which was sympathy for the other side, killing them would my contradictory. It just wouldnt make sense for an anti-war song to be pro-war.
  • Rick from Santa Clarita, CaCasey-I completely agree with you. This song has always reminded me of Robert E. Lee. I'm a big fan of his life.
  • Casey from Dalton, GaThis is probably irrelevant, but what they say about the general reminds me a little of Robert E. Lee; the beard, the decorations, how his men loved him, how he said he'd do his own duty but extend it no further (in the Civil War, he'd only joined the South because of Virginia, but he didn't agree with slavery). Just a thought.
  • Scooter from Philadelphia, PaI still think people are missing the point of the song. The general sayss "i have seen the others...I have seen their mothers." He is saying that in war the enemy also has mothers, and families for that matter. Although they are the enemy they still have the same worries about death, which is why was is "not worth fighting". It is also a metaphor for all wars saying that to die is pointless, people should live their lives, and forgive their enemies.
  • Andrea from Saratoga, Cai agree that the men left the general, but i disagree that it would have been better if they stayed. They left for a reason, the song is written like this for a reason. It's beautiful because the men have a second chance in life because the general realized the truths about war and its effects.
  • Michael from Guilford, Ctthe key line in the song is And the old general was LEFT with his own words, echoing in his head his men had left him and he still had the urge to fight i agree with robert it would have had more meaning is his men stayed but i truly believe they left him
  • Shannon from Manchester, Cti think that the men didnt leave because why would they go out of their way to say that "not a man moved their eyes are gazed straight ahead..." if they had left him. And moving a step back would mean they were united. Staying as one and all quiet so the general could think of what to do next. All the general could think about would be what he had told his men and that none of them had left him. He had pride. He forgives them for what they have done in the army because most of them will die.
  • Patrick from Boston, Magood song guys. it means alot and has great meaning. i also like Elias.good job.
  • Robert from Mountain Lakes, NjBrian from Lancaster-I understand how in the song, if the soldiers had stayed and fought, it would bring a bit more meaning to the song but, dude, give Billy a break. I definitely agree with Jack from DC. I love this song and the acoustic guitar riff. Peace.
  • Chris from Long Beach, CaWhen I first heard this song, it was at a service project program call Sierra Service Project, where a counselor sang it for us while accompanying himself on guitar. It seemed then, and it still seems now, that this song is religious in nature. The whole song to me seems like an extended metaphor for Jesus, or some other "savior"-type person. for the sake of simplicity, let's just say its Jesus. It seems to me that you could make the connection between Jesus and the General in that they were both respected during their times, and attracted a large following of dedicated "soldiers". In my mind, I see the general's choice to let his followers abandon him and fight the war alone is akin to Jesus's decision to sacrifice himself to save everyone who followed him. "Go now, you are forgiven." seems like Jesus forgiving us for abandoning him when he was crucified.
    This is just an interpretation I originally got from someone, and later thought about on my own. I'm not trying to make any religious statements here, so people of other religions shouldn't be offended. I'm just offering my own interpretation.
  • Jack from Nova, DcBrian from lancaster...I guess I don't understand why you are so sure that the men did NOT leave...I'm not saying I agree with Billy from Cape May...But I see his point. The lyrics at this part of the song go: "But not a man moved, their eyes gazed straight ahead, Till one by one they stepped back and not a word was said, And the old general was left with his own words, echoing in his head, He then prepared to fight" Now there are several key factors in this part of the song that make me think that the men actually did leave. First off, the word "till" used AFTER the phrase "But not a man moved." This word "till" is generally used to express a contrasting action, and the contrast here would be at first they stood fast, but then one by one they left. The next factor would be in the phrase "one by one they stepped back." The phrase "stepped back" used in association with a fight is not usually indicative of the person or people doing the "stepping back" then staying and fighting. In the next line, "the old general was *left* with his own words echoing in his head," I believe that when it say the general is "left" with his words, it means that is all the general is left with after his army leaves. This is then followed by the words "echoing in his head," the word "echoing" usually being assosciated with solitude. Finally the last factor is a subtle intimation made in the next line "*HE* then prepared to fight." Where before it has kept talking about the general's men, and his army, and their actions, here it just mentions the general, it only says the "He" prepared to fight. If all the men stayed and were going to fight, why not say this? Why would the band choose to say just "He." They could just have easily said "They" while maintaining the same sylable count. If that was unsatisfactory because the wished to keep subject coherency (the general was the subject of the last line), they could have said "His army then began to fight" or "He and his army then began to fight." And although this might not have kept the same number of sylables int he line, I believe that one of the unique things in this song is that it does not try to have a clear sylabic rhythm, but is rather inconsistent in an artistic way (refer to the line with "And it was a gray morning and they all wondered how they would fair" and "The general said he would do his own duty but he would extend it no further" where it is clear that there are superfluous sylables). Now I am not neccesarily saying that they didn't leave, or that they did, but I am **sincerely curious ** brian from lancaster why you are so sure they DID NOT leave with all that I have said apparent in the song? Any others with views on this issue please comment, I am anxious to hear opinions, because I believe under this lies the core meaning of the song, and I am unsure as to what they do...

  • Brian from Lancaster, PaBilly from Cape May...your post should be taken down because all you are doing is ruining and confusing the interpretation of this brilliant song for people. The men didnt step back because they weren't going to fight. They stepped back because they were staying to fight. Thats why the words echoed in his head, because all of his men now knew that they were going into battle with a man who didnt believe in the fight. The song gives us no answer, just compelling arguments for both sides. We must determine what is right for ourselves. the song does seem to be weighted a bit toward the general's pov though. bam.
  • Thea from Litchfield , Ctahh wait the last comment was me too, i just read it and its really confusing. during Chad's stay in Zimbabwe, he met a man named Elias and his sons, Honest, and Manuel who lived in a part called Sector 17. They grew close during Chad's stay and promised to stay in touch. However, after Chad returned to the US he learned that he could not send mail to Elias and his family because of Import/Export laws. So he did not know how Elias was doing (if he was still alive). This is referred to in the part of the song htat says If you die will I get word that you're gone?
    will I hear it in passing conversation?
    will I stop short and fall to the ground?
    Distance is short when your hand carries what your eye found.

    the first part is in one of the languages spoken in Zimbabwe, and hte second part is in english (obviously). wellll i hope i helped. still please go to for more information and information on how you can help save Elias and his two sons.
  • Thea from Litchfield , Ct"elias" is about a man Chad, a member of dispatch, met during his stay in Zimbabwe, Africa.
    go to for more info

    Hope I could help
  • Fernando from Asuncion, ParaguayI guess we all agree is a great song. I was looking for any posts on Elias though, which seems quite less obvious and very meaningful as well. Anyways, I was also wondering about the band, is known in the states, but outside is mostly never heard of. The albums were released in a short time and for their music being as good as it is, especially in the lyrics makes me think these are just a bunch of guys who realized they were ready to do something great, did it, and now is over. I'd like to do some music as well just as something that i can get thru, not that i'd would stop listening or liking music, but just letting other people hear it and make sure is the best i can give as well.
  • Jeff from Boston, MaRead Killer Angles by Mike Shaara, its about a famous general, this song is based on that event right as the south was trying to take a hill where the north had an elevated posisiton and it was suicide and told his troopps it was suicdie, so go read KILLER ANGELS by MIKE SHAARA if you want the meaning...


  • Katie from Basking Ridge, NjI love this song, and this is honestly one of my favorite bands. I was disappointed, though, to find that the only song here was The General. Nevertheless i love this song, but as stated above this song is self-explanatory. I wanted to find the meaning behind Open UP, considering my friend and I both have what we think it means. Other songs that would be nice to find the meaniongs of would be Elias(my favorite), Two Coins, Flying Horses, Hey Hey, Headlights, the list goes on... No matter what though, anyway you look at it, Dispatch is an amazing band with amazing lyrics, spirit, and meaning to all their songs.
  • Ann from Louisville, KyI definately agree that the General is one of Dispatch's more comprehensible songs, but all of their songs are amazing. I would't mind an explanation for some of them such as lightening, bang bang, elias(maybe a translation), and prince of spades. Any thoughts anyone?
  • Grant from Baton Rouge, LaDispatch played their last concert ever at the end of the summer of 2004 in Mass. It was a free all day event. I really wish they would have done a short tour so that fans from other parts of the country could have attended. One of the most creative and harmonic bands of recent times. Just a great band to listen to.
  • Meg from Worcester, MaBrilliant song. Brilliant band. They just broke up, because they didn't feel musically creative, anymore. the General is one of their most-known songs...though I would have to say that Two Coins, Bullet Holes, Flying Horses, Elias, Hey Hey, and Bang Bang are higher up in my book than this song. I love it, though.
  • Billy from Cape May, NjEven though this is far from one of their best songs, Dispatch is an amazing band and this song is still great. I think the lyrics are pretty self-explanatory, though I found it sort of surprising that they wrote a song like this since this song is much less abstract than most of their other songs. I think there was a mistake in this description, as the men do eventually leave him after some hesitation("Till one by one they stepped back and not a word was said/And the old general was left with his own words echoing in his head.) I think the most meaningful part about this song though, is that the general himself stays to fight, because he realizes beyond fighting his life has no other meaning, and he has wasted his entire life, so he decides to basically kill himself.
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