The Boston-based roots rock band Dispatch on Tuesday rereleased its popular anti-war anthem, “The General,” after recording it in Russian in hopes, the band said, that Russian soldiers might hear the song and its message and “question their role” in the Ukrainian invasion.
The song, originally released in 1998, tells the story of a “decorated general with a heart of gold” who has a dream about the opposing soldiers (and their affected mothers) on the eve of battle and wakes up to tell his men about a change of heart.
“He said, ‘I have seen the others, and I have discovered that this fight is not worth fighting,’ ” the band sings in the chorus. “ ‘And I’ve seen their mothers, and I will no other to follow me where I’m going.’
“ ‘So take your shower, shine your shoes, you got no time to lose; you are young and you must be living,’ ” the original chorus continues. “ ‘Go now, you are forgiven.’ ”
Chadwick Stokes and Brad Corrigan, two of the founding members of the band, said in a statement that they realized how relevant the lyrics were to the war in Ukraine. Stokes then recorded the whole song in Russian, working with Olga Berg, who acted as a translator and language coach.
“I would say, ‘There’s too many syllables in this line; I just can’t fit it in,’ ” Stokes said in a video interview. “And in other places, I’d say, ‘I need more syllables for it to work.’ It was a lot of jigsaw puzzling.”
The duo also tweaked much of the wording, as literary translations are rarely direct. “I’ve seen their mothers,” in English, for example, became “I’ve seen the eyes of their mothers.” In the second line, the “stories” that the general told were replaced with a Russian expression that roughly translates to “wealth of stories.”
Berg, who was born in Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine, is working with several nonprofit organizations to support Ukraine, including the Polish Institute for Emergency Medicine.
“This song, it’s an effort toward unity, toward humanity,” Berg said in the same interview. “We all speak the same language, we all have mothers, we all have children, and we want them to stay alive.”
All proceeds from streaming the song will go toward the Leleka Foundation, which provides first aid kits for fighters and emergency medical responders in Ukraine. Founded in 2014 after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, the foundation says it has now raised almost $2 million since the war began in February.
Dispatch, formed in 1996, has crafted eight studio albums and five live albums. On hiatus since 2002, the band reunited in 2011 for a national tour. This summer, Dispatch will tour North America with the rock band O.A.R.
The idea for the Russian version came from social media comments, including one on a Ukrainian flag graphic that Dispatch posted to the band’s Instagram account.
“Please make a Russian language version of The General!” the comment read.
“If anyone wants to translate and make it work,” Dispatch responded, “let’s do it!”
From there, Stokes found Berg, a friend of a friend. First, Berg — who has worked as an interpreter for the State Department and NASA — translated a version that rhymed, which the duo later scrapped. They worked together for a couple of weeks, drilling daily, often over WhatsApp.
Then last week, Stokes told Berg that he planned on recording the song the next day. Berg balked: The translation wasn’t ready. The gist was there, but it certainly wasn’t verbatim. Stokes pressed for the session to go ahead as planned — it felt urgent, he said, because every day “there’s tragedy on top of tragedy happening.”
So at midnight, the translator sat (virtually) with the singer and walked him, line by line, through the pronunciation. Stokes studied it that night and the next morning. In the studio, behind the camera, he set up poster boards with the phonetic spelling written on them.
“I think the urgency is that the informational space on Russia has been closing very rapidly,” Berg said. “While at the beginning of the war we had an opening, that opening is continuously closing. And so we kind of left a whole nation to steep in the stew of Putin propaganda.”
The lyrics in the original version of “The General” do not reference any particular conflict. The sentiments they evoke were still powerful, though, to one listener who commented on the YouTube video of the original song two months ago as the invasion of Ukraine loomed.
“With an impending war in Eastern Europe, my thoughts wandered to this song,” reads the comment. “May those Russian soldiers come to a similar realization as this song and may peace follow soon after.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.