Best Anti-War Songs Ever?

by Kevin Jon Heller

One of my favorite playlists on my iPod is a collection of anti-war songs from the Vietnam era.  Even though I was alive for only some of it, the mid-60s/early 70s produced my favorite music — much to the delight of my father, who was a hippie at the time and doesn’t understand why I relate so deeply to the music of his generation.  (The answer, I think, is that it was the last great era of mass protest against war in the U.S.)  In any case, here are my six favorite anti-war songs from that era, in chronological order:

And a bonus 70s lefty song: Paul Revere & The Raiders, Indian Reservation (1971)

Readers, what are your favorite anti-war songs — Vietnam era or otherwise?  I need to update my playlist.

33 Responses

  1. I absolutely love Eve of Destruction but will add two more recent anti-war songs by Michael Franti – Bomb the World (with the great line “we can bomb the world to pieces but we can’t bomb it into peace) and Light Up Your Lighter (with the great lines “In the Afghan hills, the rebels fighting / Opium fields keep on providing / The best heroin that money can buy an’ / Nobody know where Osama bin hidin'”)

  2. Great list!A couple of others I like are ‘Handsome Johnny’ and ‘Freedom’ by Richie Havens, ‘Fortunate Son’ by Creedence, ‘War’ by Bob Marley & The Wailers, ‘Long Walk to DC’ by the Staple Singers.Slightly broadening the category, to protest, ‘Zombie’ by Fela Kuti ( and ‘Indictment’ by Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, are quality. And a post Katrina protest song, ‘We Made it through that water’ Free Agents Brass Band. 

  3. Great call, MK.  Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy’s Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury is one of the best hip-hop albums ever — and by far the most politically aware.  “Language of Violence” is absolutely stunning.  And these lines from the title track say it all:

    The problem has never been our political logic
    but the way we enact it
    We can imagine a perfect society
    but can’t maintain a decent relationship

  4. DM,

    Like your list, too.  I was tempted to put “Fortunate Son” on my list!

  5. “Let them Eat War” by Bad Religion and “Zombie” by the Cranberries, though granted, Zombie is not anti war but anti NIAC. Another great song is “El Niño Soldado” by Spanish Band Ska-p, but that is also, not really anti-war but anti-use-of-children-in-armed-conflict

  6. AGD,

    I think those count. And I really like “Zombie,” even if the Cranberries basically stole their entire sound from the (tragically underrated) Cocteau Twins.

  7. Bring the Boys Home by Freda Payne.

  8. John Prine, You’re Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore (1971)
    John Prine, Sam Stone (1971)
    Slovo, 21 Today (2002)
    Pharoahe Monch, Agent Orange (2003)

  9. Phil Ochs “Draft Dodger Rag.” Has the advantage of being funny, not sanctimonious. I bet there were some great ones about the Civil War, too. It is more interesting if the war that song is “anti” is a (now) popular one.

  10. Eric Bogle’s 1971 “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”?  My all time favorite cover is by Tom Waits, live in 1977. 

  11. Eugene,

    I love that one, too.  What I particularly like about “I Ain’t Marching” is the way that it traverses history, including the Civil War.

  12. Ken,

    A truly great Australian song.  I’d never heard the Waits version (surprising, because I love him) — thanks.  My favorite cover of the song is Joan Baez’s:

  13. Re Waits – I think I’d prefer having the Baez version in a playlist; I love Waits too, but I think for repeated listening a less unique version … and now the dang thing is stuck in my head as an ear worm!

  14. Can’t forget Graham Nash’s Military Madness, Bob Dylan’s Master’s of War and Where Have All the Flowers Gone, written by Peter Seeger and recorded by many artists.

  15. Not an anti-war song as such, but one that became popular among US soldiers in Vietnam: “We Gotta Get out of This Place” (‘written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and recorded as a 1965 hit single by The Animals’).

    “It was frequently requested of, and played by, American Forces Vietnam Network disc jockeys.During 2006 two University of Wisconsin–Madison employees, one a Vietnam veteran, began an in-depth survey of hundreds of Vietnam veterans, and found that ‘We Gotta Get out of This Place’ had resonated the strongest among all the music popular then…. This was the Vietnam anthem. Every bad band that ever played in an armed forces club had to play this song.'” (Wikipedia)

  16. Arguably an anti-war song: Randy Newman’s “Political Science”

    No one likes us-I don’t know why
    We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
    But all around, even our old friends put us down
    Let’s drop the big one and see what happens

    We give them money-but are they grateful?
    No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful
    They don’t respect us-so let’s surprise them
    We’ll drop the big one and pulverize them

    Asia’s crowded and Europe’s too old
    Africa is far too hot
    And Canada’s too cold
    And South America stole our name
    Let’s drop the big one
    There’ll be no one left to blame us

    We’ll save Australia
    Don’t wanna hurt no kangaroo
    We’ll build an All American amusement park there
    They got surfin’, too

    Boom goes London and boom Paree
    More room for you and more room for me
    And every city the whole world round
    Will just be another American town
    Oh, how peaceful it will be
    We’ll set everybody free
    You’ll wear a Japanese kimono
    And there’ll be Italian shoes for me

    They all hate us anyhow
    So let’s drop the big one now
    Let’s drop the big one now

  17. Jimi Hendrix, Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock 1969 ,

    In my efforts to create a panel for ASIL on The Music of Internatonal Law, my attention was drawn to Buffy Sainte Marie’s Universal Soldier

    Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On –

    For What It’s Worth should be our anthem these days.

    What a field-day for the heat
    A thousand people in the street
    Singing songs and carrying signs
    Mostly say, hooray for our side

    It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
    Everybody look what’s going down

    Paranoia strikes deep
    Into your life it will creep
    It starts when you’re always afraid
    You step out of line, the man come and take you away



  18. Patrick,

    Love, love, love The Animals.  “We Gotta Get out of This Place” and “House of the Rising Sun” are both on my iPod (the former in my anti-war playlist!).

  19. Black Sabbath – War Pigs
    Iron Maiden – Two Minutes to Midnight

  20. My favourite anti-war song is “Sunday bloody Sunday”, from U2. That is a song with a lot of history behind:

  21. Australian songs include Cold Chisel ‘Khe Sahn’ (initially banned from airplay in Australia), Redgum ‘I Was Only Nineteen’ along with Eric Bogle ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ mentioned above.
    Also System Of A Down ‘Boom!’

  22. On the point of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, has anyone heard The Pogues version? In the context o the Irish troubles, that version of the song really sends shivers down my spine. Plus, the nasally gravelly voice really gives depth to the longing in the song.

    In modern times, I find System of a Down to have the best anti-War songs. In a more folksy direction, you can’t look further than Billy Bragg or The Nightwatchman (Tom Morello).

    Best anti-war song ever though has to go The Clash & ‘London Calling’. Joe Strummer just had this way of viewing the world with a squint in his eye, as if always sceptical of everything.

  23. Redgum: I was only 19…

    The Clash: London Calling is one of my all time favs. Joe Strummer was a brilliant man!
    The Stray Cats: Storm the Embassy (written by Joe Strummer & Brian Setzer)

    Frank Turner: Sons of Liberty

    Iron Maiden: Run to the Hills!
    Dixie Chicks: Travelin’ Soldier (because its an utterly beaut5iful song!)

  24. Response…
    Silent Night on Christmas eve — sung during WWI first, by the Germans across the trenches, then by the allies — but the next day or so they fought again. 

  25. Dropkick Murphys: Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye
    Pink Floyd: When the Tigers Broke Free.
    Virtually anything by Rise Against, but Survivor guilt is one of my particular favorites:
    Guns and Roses: Civil War 

  26. Primal Scream – Swastika Eyes
    DJ Shadow – War is Hell
    As for the album cover on the topic, the shattered UN building: Megadeth – Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?

  27. Roads To Moscow by Al Stewart

  28. Response…One of the great all time anti-war songs is the Irish “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye”.  Judy Collins has one great version of it.

  29. In case anyone is wondering, yes, that is my aforementioned father in the previous comment.  I have to admit, he does have very good taste in music…

  30. As a colollary, any thoughts on the most infamous pro-war songs? La Marseillaise comes to mind. The case against Simon Bikindi at the ICTR.

  31. For What It’s Worth is not an antiwar song. If anything, it’s an anti-hooray-for-our-side song.

    Political Science is pure genius. I sang it in a bar full of lawyers from all over the world, to rave reviews (especially from the Aussies). It didn’t seem as funny when the Tube was bombed the next day.

    Eve of Destruction is rightfully at the top of the list. 

  32. Ah — forgot the best of them all:

    Brothers in Arms, Dire Straits 

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