This isn’t the first time we’ve swapped out a song. In the case of our US constitution song for instance, we felt the original track wasn’t up to our musical and lyrical standards. We’re replacing ODWM for different reasons: because a few of our lines were being interpreted in ways that we didn’t intend. Two lines in particular were often misunderstood.
The first misunderstood line was: “We’re talking about some Old Dead White Men.”
The title ODWM stands for Old Dead White Men. Some people have felt that this phrase is disparaging to the founding fathers. This was not our intention. We intended the phrase Old Dead White Men to be a comment on the fact that when we study the first years of our republic, we often focus on the political actions of the presidents or those who had a political voice (land-owning white men). This historical approach marginalizes those who didn’t have a political voice: women, American Indians and blacks. If you were a woman, a black person, an American Indian, you really didn’t have a chance to wield political power until much later in our country’s history. Glancing at the portraits of the presidents or founding fathers is a quick reminder that the title ODWM may seem scandalous, but is also factually correct.
But this is not clear enough from the song. It’s too easy to listen to the song and feel that we were dismissing the accomplishments of the founding fathers because of their age, gender and ethnicity. We were not. But our failure to clarify this point in the song itself is a large reason why we’re replacing it.
The second misunderstood line was: “Like Adolph Hitler, [Andrew Jackson] had a final solution.”
This line makes a clumsy and cliched comparison between Andrew Jackson and Hitler. Interestingly, conservative TV/radio host Glenn Beck defended this portion of the song when he was questioned about it. He said that: “It’s accurate. When you look at Andrew Jackson, what he did to the Indians is an abomination.” Historian Kenneth C. Davis has drawn a comparison between the wording of “Indian removal” and “final solution.” Both are passive, innocuous-seeming terms for what were brutal, genocidal campaigns.
But to seemingly equate the type of genocide waged by Hitler with the Indian wars and forced marches under Jackson is factually inaccurate and sloppy. Academics still debate whether or not the treatment of American Indians by European colonists can be characterized as genocide. No one has that debate regarding Hitler. This overly-simple comparison is the other reason we’re replacing the song.
In place of ODWM, we’re adding two new units. One new song is dedicated to Indian removal and written from the perspective of a Cherokee at that time, and the other is written from the perspective of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton as they argue over the size of the federal government. Our goal is not to brush the ugly parts of American history under the rug, but instead to teach American history in a way that is thought-provoking, interesting and accurate.