Bill Wolff: Welcome back to Protest Anthems, the podcast about all things music, social justice, and protest. In this episode Gabi will be talking about the song Promises & Pills by an American reggae band called SOJA. In this song, the band puts forth the social injustice veterans have been suffering from for decades. Coming back home and reintegrating into society is a difficult task, and more so suffering with a mental illness like PTSD. In this song SOJA addresses how the Veteran Affairs treats this disease with Promises & Pills, while the suicide rates among veterans continues to increase in the United States.

Robert Siegel [NPR:  A Growing Number Of Veterans Struggles To Quit Powerful Painkillers]: Americans in the military are prescribed narcotic painkillers three times as often as civilians. This year, the VA is treating about 650,000 veterans by giving them opiates. Abuse of prescription drugs is also higher among troops. 

Melissa Block [NPR: Veterans Kick The Prescription Pill Habit, Against Doctors’ Orders]: Troops coming home from war are prescribed drugs at a staggering rate. Hundreds of thousands of veterans are on opiates for pain, and yesterday we heard about the risk of addiction. Those opiates are among many drugs that vets are taking for everything from pain to PTSD. 1 in 3 vets polled say they’re on 10 different medications. [intro of song]

Narrator [myself while song is in the background]: The song we are going to talk about today is called Promises and Pills from the album Amid the Noise and Haste by an American reggae band called SOJA. [pause] Promises & Pills even though it is a reggae song, it contains another genre: rap. We will notice both aspects of these genres as we listen. They are both recognized for challenging the status quo, rebelling against authorities and putting forth social injustices. [pause] 

Narrator [myself while song is in the background]: It is important to note that reggae emerged as a form of political protest towards the UK which had colonized Jamaica for hundreds of years, in the late 1960’s Jamaicans decided to independicize themselves. It is said that reggae “bore the weight of increasingly politicized lyrics that addressed social and economic injustice”. 

Narrator [myself while song is in the background]: Here is a clip of what reggae means to Jimmy Cliff, a Jamaican reggae singer and songwriter famous for introducing this genre to international markets. 

Tape from YouTube:  Jason Bentley interviews Jimmy Cliff – On the roots of Jamaican Reggae music and meeting Leslie Kong

“Reggae music is still here as the voice of people everywhere. Wherever there is tyranny and injustice, reggae music is there standing up for the right and as the true light. Reggae music is gonna make me feel good, reggae music make me feel alright”

Narrator [myself]: We can also see how this genre of music stands up for injustices happening in the world in the  music of the father of reggae, Bob Marley. 

Soundbite: Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley 

Soundbite: Promises and Pills by SOJA

Narrator [myself]: Similar to Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and other reggae musicians, SOJA with Promises and Pills refers to a social injustice veterans suffer from after combat. They come back home with mental illnesses like PTSD and many of them, sadly, commit suicide. 

Soundbite: Promises and Pills by SOJA

Tape from YouTube: Veteran suicide rates continue to climb 

“Suicide rates rise across the general US population, rising even much faster with respect to the veteran population. The CDC says that over 42,00 people committed suicide in 2014, of those 20 suicides a day were veterans”

Narrator [myself]: Some of the reasons veterans commit suicide are the mental illnesses they suffer like depression, past-traumas,  and PTSD from images of combat. 

Quil Lawrence [NPR: Veterans Kick The Prescription Pill Habit, Against Doctors’ Orders] [Promises & Pills in background]: For a lot of people, PTSD is knowing that if you sleep, you return to the worst place you have ever been at the worst possible moment.

Will [NPR: Veterans Kick The Prescription Pill Habit, Against Doctors’ Orders] [Promises & Pills in background]: I always see his face. And in my dreams it’s the same thing, but I always walk over to him and instead of this Afghani kid that’s laying there, it’s my little brother.

Narrator [myself]: “I was still mentally and nervously organized for war; shells used to come bursting on my bed at mid-night even when Nancy was sharing it with me; strangers in day-time would assume the faces of friends who had been killed…” This is an excerpt from the book PTSD: A Short History written by Allan Horwitz, a history and psychology professor from John Hopkins University. In this book he explains the history of PTSD in veterans, rooting it back to World War I.  

Narrator [myself]: Interesting to notice how a veteran from WW1 talks about his trauma after combat. Back then, veterans suffered from shell shock, nowadays it is called PTSD. Crazy to think that this is something that veterans have suffered from for decades, and the cure for them is prescription pills that create dependency on the user. 

Tape from YouTube: “Drugged” Vets at war with opioids and the VA’s culpability 

“But the VA’s failures don’t stop there. In addition to getting tens of thousands vets hooked on synthetic heroin, The VA has consistently failed to help them deal with their addiction” 

Narrator [myself]: Tucker Carlson in 2017 during the Trump administration in a moment when he is not being partisan interviews a former VA employee that  talks about the over prescription of pills to veterans.

Tape from YouTube: Drugged’: Vets at war with opioids and the VA’s culpability

“American veterans are twice as likely to die from accidental overdose as non veterans. Last year alone nearly 70,00 of them sought treatment for opioid use disorder at VA hospitals. Well it is an easy way to mask problems that people are having whether  is in the military or outside the military. It is easy for doctors to prescribe something that makes their patient feel better, even if it doesn’t take care of underlying issues that are there  ”

Narrator [myself]: And my wife is terrified by these details I can’t explain”’ his line is particularly important in Promises and Pills. The war comes back home with the veteran and the families also suffer during the process of  healing and  the reintegration into society of the warrior.  

Soundbites: Wives of veterans 

“One of my kids put it really well; they said: you know mom, dad was killed in Vietnam. It just took him 40 years to die”

“I’ve come to realize that as his wife and caregiver, I’m not able to fix him. His constant survival guilt and effects of war and his nightmare are always there, hunting him. 

“It is a matter of accepting who he is today, too”

[Promises & Pills in the background]

Narrator [myself while song is in the background]: As the song says: “Put a warrior in hell, now he’s finally back // With images in his brain of every damn attack //Every bomb, every friend that’s never coming home // Every innocent life taken, for reasons unknown // Then we abandon them, the same ones that did all the killing // We no longer deal with them, just their spouses and children” Veterans are prepared for war, but not the terrorism in their skull after coming home. This not only affects them, but their families as well. Soldiers do the killing for America and their reward is going back to a life they can no longer live. 

Tape from YouTube: Drugged’: SOJA – Promises and Pills (feat. Alfred The MC) [Live In Virginia]

“When I came back from Iraq, they blew my mind. It set me in such a tranquil state of mind. Help me recuperate to get back to civil life. They brought my heart and soul back, this reggae music. Promises & Pills it tells the truth”

Narrator [myself while song is in the background]: Finally, I wanted to finish this episode reminding everyone that reggae fights social justice, as well as promotes love, positivity and provides a sense of community for those who feel alone in their struggles. 

[End of Promises & Pills]




Allan V. Horwitz. (2018). PTSD : A Short History. Johns Hopkins University Press. Accessed March 2021