BROOKE GLADSTONE: If the Second World War is recalled through a veil of radio static, the second Gulf War will be remembered through the green stain of night vision goggles. But there's been another technical revolution that permits not just war coverage but war songs to come straight from the battlefields. In fact, Sergeant Neal Saunders recorded and mixed, live from Iraq, a rap album in a makeshift studio while on deployment in Baghdad while fighting in Iraq. Fifteen tracks of music chronicle the inner life of Sergeant Saunders and five fellow soldier-musicians with the First Cavalry Division deployed from Fort Hood in March of 2004. When we spoke to Saunders last summer, he told us the group called itself "Fourth Quarter" because it seemed that that's where they were at in the game of life. [HIP-HOP MUSIC CLIP, "LIVE FROM IRAQ," PLAYS]
NEAL SAUNDERS [IN CLIP]: "Welcome to the Fourth Quarter. It's live from Iraq! Everyday it's like we gamble here. This is no joke. This is live from Iraq, where we praying we make it home- " [CLIP UP AND UNDER]
NEAL SAUNDERS: The whole album in a sense is chronological from, you know, you have "The Deployment" and that's we're on our way there. Then you have "Live from Iraq." That's as soon as we've experienced, you know, what this war thing in Iraq is truly about. And then from there it goes into "The Mentality." [HIP-HOP MUSIC: "THE MENTALITY" PLAYS, GOES UP AND UNDER] We'd all been doing music for a while but when it came time for us to deploy, we thought like the music thing was going to be put off for a whole year. And, [LAUGHS] you know, that changed as soon as we pulled into Iraq. You know, so much started happening, so much was going on and we were just like, you know, if we ever considered ourselves artists, how could we not write about the most influential moment in our life? And that's pretty much how the whole album came about.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Would you say that Live from Iraq is in any way a message album? Does it come down on one side of the debate or the other on whether we should be there fighting to begin with?
NEAL SAUNDERS: No. It really doesn't. You know, we didn't take sides. The fact is that we're there and now it's a matter of life or death to us. What it does say and the side that it does take is on that side of the soldiers. It seems like a lot of people don't understand that, you know, just like a surgeon does surgery, soldiers fight. So I guess [LAUGHS] the one issue that I'm really taking up is the fact that you have soldiers out there and you're not letting them do what they've been trained to do.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What weren't they trained for that they're asked to do over there?
NEAL SAUNDERS: I don't think I was ever trained for any type of a peacekeeping operation. I never walked down to a target during any gunnery and like gave it a chicken or - [OVERTALK]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
NEAL SAUNDERS: - you know, pulled a lamb off the back of a truck, then say hey, here you go. What we train to do is we take ammunition and we put holes through things. That's just what soldiers do. And that's where you get the songs like "Behind the Screens" and "24 Hours," you know, where we're talking about we feel like our hands have been tied.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let's talk about "24 Hours." It's an incredibly powerful track. It's basically an explosion of frustration that seems to be directed at the Iraqis, all the Iraqis; everyone who lives there is guilty. (MUSIC: "24 HOURS," GOES UP AND UNDER)
NEAL SAUNDERS: You know, what they're used to is an iron first. Whoever tells them and stands by what they said is the person that they're going to listen to. So it makes it hard for us to go out there and accomplish anything because we simply can't be out there 24/7. So when they plant an IED in the street and it's right in front of somebody's shop, you know, they're not going to tell us who put it there, even though more than likely they saw who put it there, because they have to live the remainder of that day, you know, scared that this guy's going to come back if they tell us anything. So it's like we give them money, we feed them, and then we still get shot at. And the rest of the country there is like, wow, you mean these people can like be engaged in fire fights all the time and we're still getting food and being taken care of as if nothing's happening? These people have to be the stupidest people in the world.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But it's not the same people necessarily who are firing at you who you're feeding. They're different people.
NEAL SAUNDERS: You know, it's - you probably get a good feeling when you think that, but that's not the truth. We've dropped off aid before, right? And then you'll see the insurgent males, they'll come around and they'll tell everybody to back off of the food. They'll take all of it, they'll go leave, and then 20 minutes later, [MAKING SOUNDS] brrrr, zhew! - RPGs, AK 47s going off, ambush right there. After they got what they want, they're going to ambush you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You said that you don't take a side, in the album, and it certainly is democratic in that, with the exception of your fellow soldiers, everyone is a target of your anger - your commanding officers, peaceniks back home, your girlfriends, and especially the Iraqis that you're fighting. There's one song called "Behind the Screens"; it seems to be about the war planners, the ones who make the decisions.
NEAL SAUNDERS: Yeah. That song touches about every bad decision [LAUGHS] that was ever made. You probably remember when the one soldier brought up the question about the 1114s, which is the "up-armored" Humvee that they have over there. Correct?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right. He asked Donald Rumsfeld at a town meeting with the soldiers why they had to reinforce their own vehicles with scrap metal from local landfills.
NEAL SAUNDERS: Yeah, exactly. You know, the simple fact of the matter is you can go to any base in the Green Zone and there'll be one 2004 Tahoe for every American contractor that's there, you know, all with leather all, you know, with alloy rims. And you're wondering wow, you know, there's money to attract these people to the effort here in Iraq but there's no money to get a soldier an 1114? [MUSIC: "4TH 25," UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Did your commanding officers know about this project?
NEAL SAUNDERS: [LAUGHS] That's a good question. I think they knew that we were recording something.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But they looked the other way?
NEAL SAUNDERS: I don't even think they looked the other way. I just think that they misunderstood the seriousness of the album. I think they thought it was going to be just a traditional rap album, you know, where we're talking about going to the club and women. And the stereotypical role of a rapper I guess is what they thought we were going to play. But they just didn't understand the seriousness that we were taking.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In "Reality Check" you seem to have some pretty strong words for rappers back home. You basically accuse them of being fakers, of claiming to know what it's like to be a soldier but really having no idea.
NEAL SAUNDERS: Yeah, they don't have an idea. It's - I mean, I understand that, you know, America's probably not the safest place in the world. You know, you can't go out all times of the night. But [LAUGHS] in comparison it's just Americans have it so good. Seeing the difference between what these guys that call them "soldiers" on their albums, you know, go through compared to what your average soldier is going through on a daily basis over there, it's just not the same. And you have not reserved the right to call yourself a soldier, by any stretch of the imagination. [MUSIC: "REALITY CHECK"]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Rap, most of the time, sounds kind of angry to me. This record sounds absolutely enraged. And it seems that much of it is spent in trying to justify the decisions that you make and the choices you feel you don't have.
NEAL SAUNDERS: Well, you obviously feel like you have a loss of any amount of control that a normal person should have on their life. The simple fact that, you know, the ROE stands as so - ROE is the Rules of Engagement - that if I am engaging an enemy that's returning fire on me, when he drops his weapon I have to stop shooting at him. And that's ridiculous! [MUSIC: "4TH 25"]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And so basically you're saying - you're asking us to do your dirty work, to follow rules that will have us killed - and you aren't going to feel guilty about killing civilians.
NEAL SAUNDERS: Well, as a soldier I'm not going to feel guilty about killing anybody because, like I said, it's a matter of life or death for every soldier that's out there in the dirt. And people back home may not understand that. You know, we're over there and our weapons are on safety. And we can tell where we're being fired at from but until we see somebody with a weapon, we can't shoot in that direction? And that's a lot of the anger that, that we have. A lot of soldiers have told me that before they listened to the album they couldn't open up, because they didn't know what to say. They thought maybe they were the only people that felt the way that they felt.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Just one last question, and this may be a weird question, given that the album is so dark. But do you have a favorite song?
NEAL SAUNDERS: I love all of 'em, all 15. And I also like - you know, the album isn't dark. The album is what it takes to make it out of there. The album was our light.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. Thank you very much.
NEAL SAUNDERS: Well, thank you for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Neal Saunders recorded his album, Live From Iraq while deployed in Baghdad in 2004. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, how globalization has changed and hasn't changed Hollywood, and a replay of an immortal movie scream.