Pop songs have frequently taken on war as a subject. Most of them have addressed war in opposition to it. However, that is not a universal point of view. The songs are presented in alphabetical order by the artist and include a key lyric excerpt as well as a video link.
All but one of these songs were recorded in the 1980's or before. Anti-war protest music has become relatively rare in the pop mainstream. However, much music is still recorded and released that is adamantly anti-war. Check this list of current protest songs.
"One" is one of the most chilling statements about what warfare can do to individuals. The band bought the rights to the film Johnny Got His Gun specifically so they could use it to create the video for "One." It details the hell on earth of a wounded soldier who is left nearly immobile as well as deaf, dumb, and blind, but unable to die. The result was Metallica's first top 40 pop hit and an unforgettable music video.
"Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please God, wake me
Now the world is gone Im just one
Oh God,help me hold my breath as I wish for death"
Barry McGuire first gained fame as one of the lead vocalists for the folk-pop conglomeration New Christy Minstrels. This was his first hit as a solo act, and, although the subject matter ranges more widely, it caught the mood of the debate raging in the US over the Vietnam War and other significant social justice issues.
"The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’"
John Lennon and Yoko Ono spent a week in bed in late May and early June, 1969 in Toronto talking and singing about peace. This followed a similar event they conducted during their honeymoon earlier in the year in Amsterdam. On June 1, 1969 surrounded by news cameras and various celebrities, they sang and recorded this song. Among the celebrities included were Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers, and Dick Gregory.
"All we are saying is give peace a chance"
It took a British jazz musician/producer to educate much of the American public, particularly young people, about the full horror of the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Much of the film footage comes from American news broadcasts in an era in which the government still allowed true freedom of reporting from war zones. Contrast this with news coverage of the Iraq War.
"In 1965 Vietnam seemed like just another foreign war
But it wasn't
It was different in many ways, as so were those that did the fighting
In World War II the average age of the combat soldier was 26
In Vietnam he was 19"
By 1974 much of American public opinion had turned against prolonging the Vietnam War. The British band Paper Lace first recorded this song that details the story of a soldier dying heroically, but it ends with his fiancee throwing away the note bringing her the news. Paper Lace had a #1 hit with the song in the UK, but the American band Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods beat them to the American charts with the song.
"I heard his fiancee got a letter
That told how Billy died that day
The letter said that he was a hero
She should be proud he died that way
I heard she threw that letter away"
Barry Sadler served as a Green Beret medic and a US Army staff sergeant during the Vietnam War, but he was forced to return home after being seriously wounded. Robin Moore, author of the bestselling book The Green Berets, encouraged Sadler to record his songs, often strongly patriotic ones, about being a soldier. This song became the biggest pop hit of 1966. It was revered by those in support of the Vietnam War and reviled by those in opposition.
"Put silver wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret"
Rapper Eminem released this song with its accompanying video on October 24, 2004 to encourage young people to vote to defeat George W. Bush. While the song is a generalized attack on the Bush presidency, most of the specific complaints are related to the Iraq War.
"Let us beg to differ
As we set aside our differences
And assemble our own army
To disarm this Weapon of Mass Destruction
That we call our President, for the present
And Mosh for the future of our next generation
To speak and be heard"
Edwin Starr had been recording soul hit singles, including the top 10 pop hit "25 Miles," since 1965, but he was not widely recognized as one of America's top soul singers. That all changed when the anthemic protest song "War" went to the top of the charts in 1970. It remains one of the most powerful simple statements about the futility of war. Bruce Springsteen took his live version of the song into the pop top 10 in 1986.
"War - What is it good for? - Absolutely nothing!"
In 1984 punk legend John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) got together with hip hop godfather Afrika Bambaataa to record this cross-genre classic. The video makes extensive use of clips of US President Ronald Reagan speaking about nuclear war.
"This is the world destruction, your life ain't nothing
The human race is becoming a disgrace
Nationalities are fighting with each other
Why is this? Because the system tells you"
Although it has never been declared specifically a war, the "troubles," first as part the Republic of Ireland's battles for independence and then as the violence between factions in Northern Ireland, amount to long drawn-out civil war. This anthem expressing frustration with the violence helped bring U2 to world attention. The song is the lead track from the album War.
"And the battle's just begun
There's many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart"