The heart wants to feel.
The heart wants to hold.
The heart takes past Subway,
past Stop and Shop,
past Beal’s,
and calls it “coming home.”
The heart wants a trail
away from “alone,”
so the heart turns a sale
into a well-worn milestone
towards hard-won soft furniture,
fought-for fast food,
defended end table that
holds paperbacks and back U.S. News.
The mind turns an itch
into a bruise,
and the hands start to twitch
when they’re feeling ill-used.

And you’re almost back now,
you can see by the signs;
from the bank you tell the temperature
and then the time,
and the billboard reads some headlines.
The head wants to turn,
to avert both its eyes,
but the mind wants to learn
of some truth that might be
inside reported crimes.

So they found a lieutenant
who killed a village of kids.
After finishing off the wives,
he wiped off his knife
and that’s what he did.
And they’re not claiming that
there’s any excusing it;
that was thirty years back,
and they just get paid for the facts
the way they got them in.

Now he’s rising and not denying.
His hands are shaking, but he’s not crying.
And he’s saying “How did I climb
out of a life so boring into that moment?
Please stop ignoring the heart inside,
oh you readers at home!
While you gasp at my bloody crimes,
please take the time
to make your heart my home:
where I’m forgiven by time,
where I’m cushioned by hope,
where I’m numbed by long drives,
where I’m talked off or doped.
Does the heart wants to atone?

Oh, I believe that it’s so,
because if I could climb back through time,
I’d restore their lives and then give back my own:
tens of times now its size
on a far distant road
in a far distant time
where every night I’m still crying,
entirely alone.”

But the news today always fades away as you drive by,
until at dinnertime when you look into her eyes,
lit by evening sun - that, as usual, comes
from above that straight, unbroken line,
the horizon
- its rising
is a given,
just like your living.

Your heart’s warm and kind.
Your mind is your own.
Our blood-spattered criminal
is inscrutable;
don’t worry, he won’t
rise up behind your eyes
and take wild control.
He’s not of this time,
he fell out of a hole.


Lyrics submitted by Totoro

The War Criminal Rises and Speaks song meanings
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20 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentGreat song. I too love the last sarcastic lines of the lines "don't worry he won't rise up behind your eyes and take wild control." I snicker everytime.
    Jyanon April 03, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI really like how he describes how people are internally by saying "the heart wants to hold" "the brain turns an itch" "The hands start to twitch"

    and then in the sarcastic verse, its "your heart is kind and warm" "your mind is your own"

    everyone is the first description, but thinks that they are the second.

    U-235on December 23, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI'm likely the only one, but the verse:

    "So they found a lieutenant
    who killed a village of kids.
    After finishing off the wives,
    he wiped off his knife
    and that’s what he did."

    which Dreamward so eloquently discussed, seems to me a reference to the My Lai massacre. Lieutenant Calley led US troops and committed atrocities against the residents, and I was wondering if Calley and his fairly recent mea culpa have anything to do with the song. The "35 years" line seems to back up the Vietnam connection.
    RepentantRakeon January 21, 2010   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationThis has always been my interpolation of the song:

    The beginning is a man coming home from work, driving or taking the bus, I'm not too sure. It's describing sort of the American dream of working and having a home of your own and and a comfortable life with nice furniture and access to good food whenever you want. Then it goes on to talk about fighting the comfort, the man struggle to look at what the article is saying but his mind is curious so he eventually gives in.
    Then he is reading about the war criminal from the criminals perspective, but the passion of this part is both the passion of the criminal in the article, and the man reading it (he gets lost in it). And then at the end of the climax the reader snaps out of it back into his life again, and even though he was so emotionally involved in what he just read, now his mind is focused on getting back home to his wife, and his is starting to become calm again.
    Then I see the next part as him being back home with his wife and telling her about the article. And the part "the horizon- its risingis a given,just like your living." means to me that we just kind of expect our lives to go on, just like we expect the sun to rise every morning.
    The last part to me means that he is reflection on the article (possibly in bed) and he's worried that he might become like this man or that something like this might happen to the people he loves, but the song is saying that's ridiculous to think that something will happen to you just because you read about it. It's like watching a horror movie and thinking that everything you saw will now happen to you. In this case it happened a very long time ago, the man is now old and has changed, so it doesn't make any sense for him to come after you, he doesn't even know you.
    joshuach154on July 24, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentLike "Westfall", this is about evil and judgement. It's about how people who do horrible things are still people, still deserve love and respect.. Even if they've done something horrible. I think the last few lins are sarcastic, about passing false judgement, like, "Oh don't worry, it could NEVER EVER happen to you, You KNOW you're just WAY too kind, you could NEVER lose control."

    Keep it in mind the next time you want to hate someone.
    Trinoraon November 05, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI agree. I really love this song, I think it's one of their best.
    nervous ticon December 27, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love the dramatic climactic verse of the war criminal's monologue, then how it suddenly drops off and goes back to reality, of the speaker just catching sight of the headles in the paper.
    Way_AEon April 29, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWow, this is my favorite song right now. Amazing!
    soCtraon May 09, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentdefinitely my favorite okkervil river song
    barbshishon January 14, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"of some truth that might be
    inside reported crimes."

    I'm not totally sure, but I think that's actually 'some truth it might find'?
    Meinoson December 29, 2007   Link

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