OK, here we go...
I love this song; I think it’s a great achievement, especially for Moz, who is in the technical “latter half” of his career. Surprisingly, most of the phases work together: I appreciate the contrast between the louder, more vicious first section’s instrumentation and the second and third section’s quiet, to illustrate the change in viewpoints.
As I believe I have explained elsewhere, I personally don’t find the lyrics to be condenscending. Spiteful, perhaps, but not towards those who’s position he inhabits in the song’s first section. He takes the viewpoint of a (presumably young) individual who has been indoctrinated by propaganda and myths of “traditional” heroics on the battlefield: the use of the name “John” perhaps signifying the fact that these plotted delusions can sink into anyone’s heads.
By the end of his short life, John has realised the futility of this conflict, seeing the damage it has inflicted upon himself and his family: “that wasn’t the job I loved” suggests that John was invested in the work, but this may be suspension of disbelief in the face of a conflict that doesn’t “live up to expectations”.
The closing sections are just gorgeous, musically, with Jesse plucking out a Vini Reilly or even Marr-esque sequence. This is overplayed with devastating words from John’s parents: “funny how the war goes on, without our John”.
The final section slows this fingerpicking sequence down, placing the laughs of someone: an officer, perhaps, bringing the focus on the song back to class and the difference it makes on your “roles” in society or war. He’s laughing - he threw his troops into the fire but stayed a safe distance away himself, as always.
All in all, a powerful song, to say the least.
Very well put. I never took it as him being spiteful against the people who fall for the system. It's the system itself he's denouncing.
The Smiths comparison is very apt for the end section, the piano always reminds me of Asleep / the coda on some versions of Suffer Little Children respectively and the Decibelle demo of the latter has similar laughter and the reading of the children's names at the end (starting ~5:20).