The Killer

Album: American Soldier (2009)

Songfacts®:

  • American Soldier details the physical and emotional effects of combat experience. Vocalist Geoff Tate explained this song on AnybodyListening.net: "Shoot or die? What are you going to do? On the battlefield, you have to make that decision and you have to react quickly. Fundamentally, I think the song is about judgment - making the call and standing by your actions. This song wasn't inspired by any one interview; it was a combination of all of them. All the battle veterans I interviewed had the same perspective: kill or be killed.

    The other idea represented in this song was how do non-military people relate to what the soldier experiences in battle. One soldier said that on his return from the Gulf War, his mother wouldn't even talk to him because she thought that what he did as a soldier was disgusting; it went against her religion. She felt so strongly about it that she couldn't even look him in the face. There's a line in the song that other people have written before, and I have used in other songs, 'You can't begin to imagine where I've been until you've walked in my shoes.' It's a very true statement and one that maybe we should all contemplate."
  • The song is an ironic examination of what it means to be a killer, with the lyrics running as a sort of internal monologue of a soldier put in a situation where he has to either kill or be killed. Rather than painting this character and ruthless and murderous, the song casts him as somebody desperate, confused, and utterly unsure of himself, as seen in the refrain: "who will be the killer? who will win?" Whether or not he will kill his enemy to save his own life is left ambiguous.

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