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Bob Dylan's Anti-War Songs


Bob Dylan's War Songs

Bob Dylan's songs protesting the Vietnam War and the Cold War are my earliest and strongest memories of Dylan. They are among the most powerful protest songs in the history of American music. "A Hard Rain's a Gonna' Fall" captures the concerns of Americans about the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union which was also powerfully depicted in 1964 by Stanley Kubrick in "Dr. Strangelove." This was the period when Edward Teller was advocating that everybody build a bomb shelter in their back yard stocked with food and water in case of a Soviet nuclear attack. Curtis LeMay was commander of the Strategic Air Command. The idea promoted by these fanatics was that the bomb shelters would assure that more Americans would survive a mutual nuclear attack than would Soviets. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed when John Kennedy started us down the path of détente and disarmament. (There's still a long way to go!)

Dylan's "Masters of War" referred to the "military industrial complex" of which President Dwight Eisenhower warned in the valedictory address of his presidency.

With God on Our Side

Oh my name it is nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I's taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.

Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I's made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side.

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don't count the dead
When God's on your side.

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side.

I've learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
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.

In a many dark hour
I've been thinkin' about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can't think for you
You'll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin'
Ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God's on our side
He'll stop the next war.

A Hard Rain's a Gonna' Fall

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains,
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways,
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests,
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans,
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard,
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard,
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it,
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it,
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin',
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin',
I saw a white ladder all covered with water,
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken,
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children,
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin',
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world,
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin',
Heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin',
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin',
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter,
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley,
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony,
I met a white man who walked a black dog,
I met a young woman whose body was burning,
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow,
I met one man who was wounded in love,
I met another man who was wounded with hatred,
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what'll you do now, my darling young one?
I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin',
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
Where the executioner's face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number,
And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin',
But I'll know my song well before I start singin',
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Who Was Dr. Strangelove?

  • Who was Dr. Strangelove?
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Bob Dylan's Masters of War

Masters of War

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

9-29-13NYTimes "Knockin' on Nobel's Door"

Slate's Bob Dylan Photo Album


Ralph Deeds (author) from Birmingham, Michigan on September 29, 2013:

9-29-13NYTimes "Knockin' on Nobel's Door"

Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Nobel’s Door - NYTimes.com

Bob Dylan, a fierce and uncompromising poet whose writing, for 50 years and counting, still crackles with relevance, should win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Ralph Deeds (author) from Birmingham, Michigan on November 30, 2011:

Thanks for your comment. The big three during the 1960s for me were Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Elvis. I was also a fan of Joan Baez. I heard her sing in a Mt. Auburn Street coffee house in Cambridge in 1958 or 1959.

Bob Dylan reportedly came close to winning the Nobel Prize in poetry this year.

fee on November 30, 2011:

i am a huge dylan fan too! i think it is sad that most of the people in my age don't know who Bob Dylan is, or mostly the ask me questions like " isn't he still dead?!"

last month i saw his bobness live on stage and all i can say is that he hasn't got the best voice, but his lyrics are more important than his voice, the message he wants to deliver. for me, Its alright ma , the lonesome death of hattie carroll and don't think twice, Hurricane and The Times they are a chagin' are his best songs.

i wish i could have lived in the 60s, now i'm 18 and the world seemed so wild then and there.

Ralph Deeds (author) from Birmingham, Michigan on April 17, 2011:

Thanks for your comment. I'm a Joan Baez fan, too. I heard her in a Cambridge coffee shop in 1958 when she was an unknown folk singer.

Jean Bakula from New Jersey on April 16, 2011:

Thank you for a beautiful hub! I love Bob Dylan, and have been fascinated by his relationship with Joan Baez. It seems they never really let each other go, since they cover each other's songs quite often!

Ralph Deeds (author) from Birmingham, Michigan on December 09, 2010:

Michael, here's another item which suggests that Dylan DID write songs protesting the Vietnam War--


Ralph Deeds (author) from Birmingham, Michigan on December 09, 2010:

Here's the first thing that popped up on a Google search for "Bob Dylan on Vietnam War."

Wars are a part of human nature. People will always have different opinions about things, and won't give in to the other side. People have also helped others that have the same opinion, which is not always a good thing to do. When the United States became involved in the Vietnam War, citizens believed that the Vietnam War wasn't the United States' war. Protests became a big thing across the country. One man protested musically. Bob Dylan wrote songs that protested the Vietnam War. Although he wasn't the best singer or musician in many people's opinions, his lyrics are what made him famous. Bob Dylan opened new areas in song writing by writing anti-war songs.

The lyrics that Bob Dylan wrote contributed to a new way of anti-war protest in the 1960's.


Ralph Deeds (author) from Birmingham, Michigan on December 09, 2010:

Michael Corrigan, thanks for your comment. I was not aware that Bob Dylan didn't write a song protesting the Vietnam War. That doesn't comport with my memory. Perhaps he didn't mention the Vietnam War specifically in any of his anti-war songs, but they certainly were interpreted by millions as opposing the war. At least that's my memory. I'll do a bit more research. And I would welcome any more definitive information on the point which you or anyone else may have.

Michael Corrigan on December 09, 2010:

Bob Dylan never wrote a song about the Vietnam War and said so, in fact.

barranca on January 09, 2010:

Go dylan. My favorite singer/poet. Thanks for the hub.

Ralph Deeds (author) from Birmingham, Michigan on January 09, 2010:

Thanks for your comment. It caused me to re-visit and add some text and a photo to the Hub. For me, Dylan is one of the greatest of the era, along with The Beatles and Elvis Presley.

Coolmon2009 from Texas, USA on January 09, 2010:

Wow Joan Baez sings Bob Dylan I love their music I have a few mp3's of Joan Baez and a lot of Bob Dylan CD's MP3's thanks for sharing enjoyble hub.

Bob Walker on July 15, 2009:

Hello Ralph - Thanks for the Hub with Dylan's war songs. These mean so much more in the times we find our selves in. Drop by and say hi.http://www.dylanbootlegsblog.com

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