Greenwood wrote God Bless the USA in response to the shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007. The flight was a scheduled from New York City to Seoul via Anchorage, Alaska on September 1, 1983. The airliner was shot down by a Soviet inceptor in the Sea of Japan. All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed, including Larry McDonald, a U.S. Representative from Georgia. The incident was one of the most tense moments of the Cold War.
Greenwood said, ”I wanted to write it my whole life….we just need to be more united.” Greenwood wrote that it more or less “wrote itself”, and that the lyrics flowed naturally from the music as a reflection of his pride to be American.
In the song, the unnamed man symbolizes the heart of a patriot. He sings about how, if he were to lose everything and had to start over again, he would have his family and freedom; cornerstones of America.
He mentioned the four cities; New York City, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Houston, because they were symbolic of the four corners of the United States. Motortown is the oil industry mentioned which was poetically written as the bridge.
When he played it on stage around in the fall of ’83, it was placed in the middle of the show as a brand-new song. He states, “Wow, it was like the audience jumped up, and they were applauding … I did it for about two weeks like that, and then I had to put it at the end of the show as an encore; I couldn’t follow it.”