The Joshua Tree

In God's Country

  1. Bono said that when he wrote this song he couldn't decide if it was for Ireland or the United States. However the song seems to be about the latter. "In God's Country" seems to be another U2 song about the bad side of America (one of the working titles of The Joshua Tree was "The Two Americas"). In the first verse Bono talks about rivers running dry and needing new dreams. What he's saying there is that the old ways of politics don't work, America needs new ways to solve its problems. In an interview Bono once complained that the only books political parties read these days are the ones on how to get elected. This creates a system where no one tries anything new. If you look at how close the Democrats and Republicans are right now in the U.S. in terms of ideology, you'll see Bono's point. The "desert rose/ Dress torn in ribbons/ And in bows" Bono sees might represent the earth itself, or perhaps the human victims of U.S.-style capitalism. The chorus may refer to anesthetized ignorance (Sleep comes like a drug) and corrupt religon (Sad eyes crooked crosses) as representing the true nature of America or "God's Country". Bono then goes on to refer to the Statue of Liberty (She is liberty, And she comes to rescue me). But only to poke holes in that symbol of American virtue. He says that while America may preach of hope and faith, it is only done for "Her vanity" - to look like a pious nation in spite of the Reagan-sponsered wars in Central America among other things. Bono continues by exposing the true motives of the U.S. - greed. While hope and faith are nice to talk about, the politicians still think "The greatest gift is gold". The last verse seems to refer once again to the statue of liberty. The naked flame could be her torch. The sons of Cain could be a universal reference to outcasts (refugees, the poor, take your pick), and Bono says he will stand in solidarity with them against what he perceives to be an opressive regime. This song was probably largely inspired by Bono's experiences in Central America where he witnessed the other side of the U.S. rear its ugly head. Ultimately, I think "In God's Country" was a great protest song which got lost on all the people who only heard that catchy guitar and bass riff.

    Dan Gouge gouge@ican.net (contributed before the 20:th of February 1998)

  2. I read a short story by Flannery O'Connor ("The Life You Save May Be Your Own") that reminded me very much of In God's Country. The story is about a man named Tom Shiftlet who seems like the "only hope left" for a mother and her mentally handicapped daughter, but betrays them for their money ("she is liberty and she comes to rescue me"). The theme of senseless cruelty and indifference would seem to fit into one of the visions of America that U2 is trying to express on this album. One of the key points (and symbols) in the story is when Shiflet stretches out his arms to the setting sun; because he is crippled and is missing part of an arm, his figure forms a "crooked cross"- the traditional symbol of hope bent asunder. At the end, an ominous thundercloud follows Shiftlet as he drives away, perhaps a reminder that God is still present and watching over his country. I know Bono was supposedly very interested in O'Connor's portraits of America at the time he was writing the Joshua Tree lyrics.

    Ellen Davis daviem01@hotmail.com (contributed before the 20:th of February 1998)