WATCH: 5 Anti-War Protest Songs That Are As Relevant Today As When They Were Written (Videos)

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If there is one thing in common in all movements and revolutions, it’s that they include music, and that music tends to play an integral role. Ben Franklin and John Adams played “Yankee Doodle” to raise money for the cause. From the Civil War through the Civil Rights Act spirituals like “We Shall Overcome” helped keep spirits up and hope alive as the struggles continued. Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger helped spark and grow a labor movement that would eventually unionize many oppressed and abused workers and make their lives better. And of course, the 60’s wouldn’t have been the 60’s if not for Bob Dylan, The Beatles and virtually every artist and band having anti-war and peace songs in their repertoire. Even non-confrontational artists like pop song-smith Burt Bacharach had the peace anthem “What The World Needs Now Is Love.”

Most of the songs are of their own time, and often lose their relevancy in the years after. For example, no one is raising war funds with Yankee Doodle and many of Woody’s songs were so specific to a local cause that today’s labor movement wouldn’t be able to latch on to most of them. But some tunes do live on and can inspire and raise awareness to future generations. Here we look at 5 that are still relevant today, if not more relevant. Sometimes a word or two might need to be substituted, but the whole of the message stays true.

5) John Brown – Bob Dylan (1962)


John Brown is the story of a soldier going off to and coming back from war. Going in, he and especially his mother are extremely proud of being part of the glorious fight. Coming out, John is permanently injured, blinded and maimed, and not so proud like his mother continues to be. This anti-war song is thought by many to be about Vietnam, though the time of the writing would suggest that it was written about all war, and actually predates the American anti-war movement against Vietnam. It was never released on any of Dylan’s albums officially until Dylan’s MTV Unplugged performance decades later but was a legendary rarity among hardcore Dylan fans and committed protesters and was occasionally performed live.

Why It Is Relevant Today

The song describes the horrors of war, all of them. And as time goes on, science’s ability to patch up injured people who have fallen victim to enemy fire only increases.

Some Key Lines / Phrases

And I couldn’t help but think, through the thunder rolling and stink
I was just a puppet in a play
And through the roar and smoke, this string, it finally broke
And a cannon ball blew my eyes away”

As he turned away to go, his mother was acting slow
Seein’ the metal brace that helped him stand
But as he turned to leave, he called his mother close
And he dropped his medals down into her hand


4) Dead Kennedys – Kinky Sex Makes The World Go Round (1984)


The Dead Kennedys were probably one of the best punk rock bands America has ever produced. Everything about them provoked the listener. The lyrics were intelligent and unlike many in their genre, they were pretty good players too. Frontman Jell Biafra is probably one of the best frontmen ever to grace a stage. This song, which is actually two songs, shows that artistic strength and genre-leading cleverness.

Why It Is Relevant Today

The background music of the song is actually a 1982 track that went to number 3 on the British indie charts, “Bleed For Me.” Bleed is a song describing America’s dysfunctional foreign policy, dealings with dictators and secret police. Sound familiar in today’s landscape? The “lyric” of KSMTWGW is a phone call between a Presidential aide and the British Prime Minister in which they organize the “creation” of a war, to please their corporate masters and rid the world of degenerates. Even though the song specifically deals with a Russian threat, it can easily be interpreted by today’s politics. In fact, in more recent versions, Jello substitutes the word “Muslims” in for “Russians” in lines like ” “So what’s ten million dead, if it’s keeping out the Russians?” Pearl Jam has also covered the song live in recent years with minor lyric modifications.

Key Lines / Phrases

We’ve got our college kids so interested in beer
they don’t even care if we start manufacturing germ bombs again.
Put a nuclear stockpile in their back yard,
they wouldn’t even know what it looked like
So how ’bout it? Look-War is money.
The arms manufacturers tell me unless
we get our bomb factories up to full production
the whole economy is going to collapse


3) Charlie Daniels – Uneasy Rider (1973)


This is a cult classic, written by Charlie Daniels before he hit the big time with “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” It is the story of a hippie/anti-war activist getting stranded in the rural south and his confrontations with the local Klan/John Birch Society members.

Why It Is Relevant Today

This one is pretty simple and anyone who has ever dealt with the Tea Party certainly will relate to this humorous yet poignant story.

Key Lines / Phrases

I just ordered up a beer and sat down at the bar
When some guy walked in and said, “Who owns this car
With the peace sign, the mag wheels and the four on the floor?”

He looked at me and I damn near died
And I decided that I’d just wait outside
So I laid a dollar on the bar and headed for the door

2) Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth (1966)


What is considered one of the quintessential anti-war songs actually isn’t an anti-war song at all. Many people think the song is about the infamous Kent State demonstrations and the subsequent killings of protesting college students who were by all accounts peaceful when the National Guard fired on them. It isn’t about that at all as those events didn’t even take place for years after the song was penned. It was originally about a demonstration on the Sunset Strip when the L.A. police were cracking down on “loitering.” But since then, the song has taken on a life of it’s own, despite the intent. Vietnam protesters used the song as an anthem throughout the 60’s and 70’s.

Why It Is Relevant Today

Lines describing people and authorities with guns threatening peaceful citizens, descriptions of paranoia in tense political situations and resistance to change can fit perfectly into today’s landscape.

Key Lines / Phrases

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

1) Bob Dylan – With God On Our Side (1963)


This another song written by Dylan before the escalation of the Vietnam war. It is about all war, not just “a war.” It tells the tale of all societies and how they all believe that their act of war is different from everyone else’s because God is on their side. It is a great examination of how religion seems to be the biggest catalyst of war and will always be.

Why It Is Relevant Today

In this song Dylan simply nails the relationship war and religion have.

Key Lines / Phrases

I’ve learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side.

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side.

Do you know any more great protest songs that have kept their relevancy? If so, feel free suggest one in the comments or email me at or befriend me on Facebook and tell me about them, perhaps we can put together another list.


Featured image via screen capture from

Orig article by the same author appeared here originally.

About Sean Conners 740 Articles
Sean Conners hails from the hills of Pittsburgh where he was weaned on The Steelers and Iron City Beer. He now lives in Delaware with his wife, 3 boys, 4 cats and 1 dog. When he’s not agitating tea people and other extremists (of all ideologies), he enjoys bad television shows, losing at video games and listening or playing as much music as humanly possible. An independent voter and former GOP office holder, Sean makes it his mission to spread truth and smash myths.

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