Some anti-war songs show the horrifying aspects of war, while others will satirize war. You will find many songs for this theme from the 60s during the Vietnam War, but you also encounter songs about the anti-war theme in the modern era.
On the list below, we will cover a variety of anti-war songs and the most popular ones worth listening to. In some cases, anti-war songs were even popular among the US soldiers in Vietnam who didn’t want to be there. Many of the songs with an anti-war message remain relevant even today because war disrupts communities and ruins the social and economic fabric of nations.
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1. We Gotta Get Out of This Place by The Animals
Immensely popular with the US military during the Vietnam War, it perfectly described American sentiment during the 20-year conflict that ended in 1973. While the song had strong resonance among the US soldiers and their need to “Get out of this place,” the song was actually about pursuing a better life for the working class, but it shows you one example of a song that they successfully repurposed to be an anti-war song.
2. Saigon Bride by Joan Baez
Written in protest of the Vietnam War, you wouldn’t listen to this one as a love song. The song started as a poem that Nina Druschek wrote, and Baez put it to music. The song looks at the harsh realities that soldiers faced during the war. It talks about men dying and children killed to meet the impossible missions set before them during the war. It’s worth a listen, especially to learn more about the history of Vietnam.
3. Empty Walls by Serj Tankian
|Album||Elect the Dead|
One of the songs from a more modern era, Serj Tankian wrote “Empty Walls” to lambast the meaningless waste of time and effort from troops in Iraq. It talks about the pointless suffering and loss of life. Soldiers burned and hung in the town square of Baghdad to prove a point. This song has multiple meanings for the anti-war theme. Serj Tankian, the lead singer from System of a Down, is known for his outspoken criticism of the Armenian genocide that started in 1915 and ended in 1923.
4. The Unknown Soldier by The Doors
|Genre||Rock, Pop, Blues, Folk|
|Album||Waiting for the Sun|
Despite the song’s release in 1968, The Doors didn’t write this song specifically about the Vietnam War. Especially during that time, many radio stations banned this song because of its violent anti-war message. The song examines the death of a faceless soldier and how life continues back home without a change. The song has violent themes but was popular among US soldiers in Vietnam.
5. Zombie by The Cranberries
|Genre||Alternative Rock, Grunge|
|Album||No Need to Argue|
The Cranberries wrote this song in response to the two bombing deaths of two children in March 1993. Two devices hidden in litter bins detonated to kill three-year-old Jonathan Ball and 12-year-old Tim Perry. This song speaks to the ongoing ethnopolitical conflict in Ireland.
6. What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye
|Genre||Psychedelic Soul, R&B, Progressive Soul|
|Album||What’s Going On|
This song speaks about the experience that Vietnam soldiers had when they returned to the United States. Beneath the feelings of celebration, they experienced a deep uneasiness and hatred. This song especially found popularity in the African American community.
7. I Don’t Want to Go to Vietnam by John Lee Hooker
|Album||Simply the Truth Album|
The name of the song should speak for itself, and it’s a song about how many of the US soldiers in Vietnam had deep feelings against the war. Many of them were drafted into the war and had no choice but to fight. The song talks about the issues that many of them faced right at home without the need to go to war and multiply their problems.
8. Put Down That Weapon by Midnight Oil
|Genre||Alternative, Rock, Pop|
|Album||Diesel and Dust|
This song speaks about the threat that all of us face from nuclear weapons. The song talks about the Americans laying down their nuclear weapons, and it’s an Australian rock band that is telling Australia not to accept the ships full of nuclear weapons from the United States.
9. Masters of War by Bob Dylan
Another song that protested the buildup of nuclear weapons, this song happened three years before the United States made the decision to enter Vietnam. It references the protests against the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. The song talks about the harsh realities of war, and it says how the elite who initiate these wars often stay back and safe while the everyday population must go out and fight in the war.
10. Hands Held High by Linkin Park
|Album||Minutes to Midnight|
Linkin Park is one of the most popular rock bands of all time, and while this wasn’t their greatest hit, it is certainly one of the most powerful anti-war songs of all time. The song tells the story of the divide between the rich and the poor when it comes to war. They do a great job explaining the harsh reality of war and following orders by people who don’t have to live with the consequences. I find the lyrics to be extremely powerful, and anyone who has ever been in the military will probably resonate with at least some of the message.
11. Hero of War by Rise Against
|Album||Appeal to Reason|
“Hero of War,” tells the story of a young man who was lured into joining due to benefits such as gaining respect, traveling the world, and getting paid to carry a weapon. This sounds like an exciting adventure for many young men, but the tone of the song shifts suddenly when he sings about actions he and his fellow soldiers did while fighting overseas. While this song is anti-war, I wouldn’t say it’s anti-military. The song rather just talks about the aspects of war that many do not think about.
12. Vietnam by Jimmy Cliff
Jimmy Cliff wrote the song “Vietnam,” and as an anti-war song, it takes on the perspective of the mother who receives a letter from her son. While the song doesn’t necessarily attack the war, you can feel the anti-war sentiments. The soldier was due to come home, but he died in the war instead, and the narrator doesn’t want to lose more good men to Vietnam.
13. Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation by Tom Paxton
|Album||Ain’t That News|
This song is an important part of American history because it talks about the double-speak of American president Lyndon B. Johnson. He would deny escalating the war in Vietnam as he sent more soldiers to fight in the war. The song points out the hypocrisy of Johnson’s statements, such as “Save Vietnam from the Vietnamese,” while the American involvement in Vietnam made the war worse.
14. Imagine by John Lennon
You might not look at this song as an anti-war song about a particular war, but the song dreams of peace around the world. Soon after its release, this song became the global peace anthem. Born out of the radical politics of the era, “Imagine” was a song that spoke about the things that divide us all, such as religion, nationality, and possessions. The song looks at the things that everyone fights over and how the world could be different if we all adopted a different viewpoint. The peaceful sound is worth a listen for every audiophile, and it’s more of what made John Lennon a legend.
15. Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival
|Genre||Folk, Blues, Rock, Southern Rock|
|Album||Willy and the Poor Boys|
This song talks about the ever-growing disquiet about American involvement in the Vietnam War toward the end of the 1960s. It became an anti-war movement album and spoke about how rich men didn’t face the draft like the poor lower classes because of high-profile connections. This song talks about the unfairness of the financial class system more than the war, but it gives you a great look at the history of the time.
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16. Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen
|Album||Born in the U.S.A.|
Many see the title and would think of it as a patriotic song, but in fact, “Born in the U.S.A” is probably the opposite. Those who listen closely will hear it talk about the story of an American Vietnam veteran who returns home to America and faces hard circumstances because he tries to get his old job back, and the administrator says there’s nothing available. Springsteen tried to write about the hardship that many Americans faced upon return from Vietnam. In truth, the song talks about how Vietnam veterans were born in the United States, and they deserved better treatment than what they received.
17. Have You Ever Seen the Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival
While not necessarily an anti-war song, some rumors said that the “rain” in the song was actually about the bombs dropped in Vietnam. This song is one of the more emotional songs that you will listen to. They released this song right around the time that Creedence Clearwater Revival was breaking up. This song hit hard during the Vietnam War when the US government kept sending soldiers to die there.
18. Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones
|Genre||Hard Rock, Rock, Folk|
|Album||Let It Bleed|
The Rolling Stones wrote “Gimme Shelter” as a song about the political and social landscape of the 1960s. In particular, it looks at the Vietnam War and the social upheaval brought to America. The song makes references to images of burning napalm. One of the references in the song, “It’s just a shot away,” talks about heroin use and the metaphorical shelter that it provided to some of the youth during this era.
19. Run to the Hills by Iron Maiden
|Album||The Number of the Beast|
Iron Maiden takes a different approach with its song “Run to the Hills,” which talks about the arrival of Columbus and the coming slaughter as a result. This isn’t an anti-war song in the traditional sense of the Vietnam War, but it still has many of the anti-war sentiments that we see in many of the other songs.
20. Killing Strangers by Marilyn Manson
|Album||The Pale Emperor|
Marilyn Manson’s father fought in the Vietnam War, and this song was written about the struggle his father had with PTSD. The song highlights how violence doesn’t solve the issue. Instead, it causes more suffering than anything it resolves. This is one of the better songs that Marilyn Manson has written.
21. B.Y.O.B by System of a Down
Many hear the words, B.Y.O.B., and it means “Bring your own beer” to the party. In the song “B.Y.O.B.” by System of Down, it means to “Bring Your Own Bombs.” System of a Down wrote the song in protest of the Iraq War. The song refers to the war in Iraq as one big party and talks about it as a party. The song offers us a more modern take on the anti-war theme for songs.
22. The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel
|Genre||Classic Folk Rock|
|Album||Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.|
“The Sound of Silence” talks about the dangers of indifference to suffering and people being unable to communicate with each other. While it wasn’t necessarily a song about the Vietnam War, many adopted it as an anti-war song, and it could have a good message in that way. They wrote this song as the Vietnam War was raging, and you could read it as a song about no one speaking out against the war.
23. Soldier Side by System of a Down
Another epic song by System of a Down, Daron Malakian, wrote this song to decry the horrors of war. The song speaks about the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. “Soldier Side,” in fact, is a play on words that means “Soldiercide.” Malakian said that he strongly related to the mothers who sent their sons out into combat, and based on those emotions, he wrote “Soldier Side.”
24. Bulls on Parade by Rage Against the Machine
|Genre||Metal, Alternative Rock|
“Bulls on Parade” speaks about the United States and its spending on the military. The song speaks about the aggressive military tactics of the United States and how the arms industry even encourages war. The song rages about the neverending conquest of global leaders and their hunger for power that often leads to the death of innocent people. This song also makes fun of the budget for the US military and its spending on war.
25. The Words That Maketh Murder by PJ Harvey
|Album||Let England Shake|
“The Words That Maketh Murder” highlights the atrocities of war and how bringing them to the light is justice. This song brings you straight into the horrors of war, and it talks about war as a cyclical thing that happens without end. We can’t avoid it despite our best efforts at times to do so, and how war is the last act of failed diplomacy.
26. White Flag Warrior by Flobots
This song has open anti-war sentiments. The song speaks out against violence and war and how speaking out against war shouldn’t be thought of as treason against your nation. Instead, anti-war songs ultimately have a love for human life and to make a world free of suffering. War only multiplies the suffering in our world.
27. Draft Morning by The Byrds
|Genre||Alternative, Folk, Rock|
|Album||The Notorious Byrd Brothers|
Many of the men who fought in the Vietnam War had to do so because of conscription, and this song talks about the draft that forced so many innocent Americans to fight in a war that they never wanted. This song was a protest song that was written about the life of American soldiers in Vietnam. “Draft Morning” highlights the bleakness of war and how many soldiers were forced out of their peaceful and stable lives into chaos.
28. Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire
|Album||Eve of Destruction|
“Eve of Destruction” focuses on the frustration felt at the explosion of violence. It reminds us all that if we continue on the path of war, every country around the world faces extinction. “Eve of Destruction” was a song that attacked many issues, but the central concept behind the song was to shame the world of violence. For the time, they applied it to the Vietnam War, but the song has just as much relevance today as it did before. You’ll find how many of the songs from the Vietnam War have an equal level of relevance even today.
29. Give Peace a Chance by John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band
”Give Peace a Chance” started from the thoughts of John Lennon after he responded to a reporter. John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote the song together as a way to protest the horrors of war. This song became the worldwide anthem for peace, and you hear it played around the world for that purpose, especially at events for things of that nature.
30. One Day by Matisyahu
“One Day” is a beautiful song that expresses the hope that the world will one day live in peace, free from the horrors of violence. He hopes for a future without war, and he prays to God that he will remain in the world because he has a purpose in singing about peace. This song doesn’t sing about a particular story, but it sings more to a point of protest against war
31. Bring the Boys Back Home by Pink Floyd
Right from the title, you can assume anti-war sentiments, and you would be correct to think so. “Bring the Boys Back Home” has more to it than a simple protest against wars. While it does talk about how we shouldn’t let people go off into war and die, it is also about how we shouldn’t let the trivial things in our lives become more important than family and friends.
32. For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield
Not originally meant as a protest song against the horrors of war, “For What It’s Worth” became an anti-war song during the Vietnam War. The song called for peace in the unrest. The song was made for young people at the frontlines, and whether one hears the song as being about Vietnam or something else, the song held a lot of regard during this era.
33. Draft Resister by Steppenwolf
“Draft Resister,” tells the story of a volunteer soldier who deserted in Vietnam after he learned about its true nature. The lyrics continue in calling draft resisters heroes and how the shame was on the wrong people. Obviously, while it’s a song against war, this isn’t the type of song that everyone will respect. This song was made for those who opposed the draft at the time, and it shows you the angry soldier-blaming mentality at the time of those who opposed the war, if nothing else. Nowadays, some people may feel uncomfortable with it.
34. Harry Patch (In Memory Of) by Radiohead
Radiohead made this song in honor of the last surviving World War I veteran, Harry Patch. He died on July 25, 2009. Originally, the band released the song in 2009, but they released it again in 2021 on November 1st. The date is significant in that they call it Remembrance Day, and it honors the veterans who passed away in combat. Thom Yorke said that he felt inspired to write this song as an ode to the last British soldier who survived on the Western Front.
35. Two Soldiers by Bob Dylan
|Album||World Gone Wrong|
In this song, Bob Dylan performs a traditional folk song, and you can feel the emotional effort. The depth of his tone makes the beauty of this song even more enchanting. The lyrics tell you about a story from the Civil War and the Battle of Fredericksburg. In the battle, a blue-eyed boy fights alongside a dark-skinned man, and he tells the man to tell his mother if he dies in the war. He tells that man that he will do the same for him. The song ends with both of them passing away on the battlefield, and no one can tell the mothers what happened to their sons.
36. Disposable Heroes by Metallica
|Album||Master of Puppets|
“Disposable Heroes” decries all the abuses of war—the draft, manipulation, and death. The song debuted live and spoke about how we use men as cannon fodder without regard for if they live or die because they trained others to replace them.
37. War by Bob Marley
Bob Marley grew up in a period of racism and war—some may argue that never went away. This song was Marley’s response to the injustices of the world. War by Bob Marley is a legit battle cry, and if you want to know an interesting fact about this song, Johnny Depp once showed up to his court battle against Amber Heard while blasting this song.
38. Mosh by Eminem
In “Mosh,” Eminem speaks out against the War in Iraq. While most know Eminem for his lightning-fast and comical deliveries, Eminem sings this song at a much slower pace. The lyrics tell us about why we supposedly invaded Iraq to begin with, which was weapons of mass destruction.
39. Soldiers by Abba
Abba wrote “Soldiers” to speak out against war and those who force it on an unwilling populace. You wouldn’t think of “Soldiers” as the typical Abba song, but you would ultimately say that this song is about the fear that people feel during times of war. It has a great sound, and the lyrics hit straight at the heart. Abba has never released a bad song ever.
40. War by Edwin Starr
|Album||War & Peace|
Released at a time of great civil unrest and during the Vietnam War, Edwin Starr’s biggest success was “War,” and it became a No. 1 hit in 1970. The song protests the Vietnam War, and interestingly enough, Edwin Starr wasn’t the original singer. The Temptations first recorded it, but Berry Gordon, the head at Motown, didn’t want them associated with such a controversial song. As a result, he told Starr to record it, and it became a huge hit, especially on college campuses across America.
41. Morning Dew by The Grateful Dead
|Album||The Grateful Dead|
Morning Dew talks about a nuclear holocaust and tells about the survivors who made it through. This song looks at a dialogue between the last man and woman on earth. Like most Grateful Dead songs, it’s a chill tune against nuclear proliferation—a huge issue at the time. Canadian folk singer Bonnie Dobson wrote the song, and it has had a few lyrics added and changed over time. Fun fact, the Grateful Dead always played this cover at their live shows.
42. People, Let’s Stop the War by Grand Funk Railroad
|Album||E Pluribus Funk|
Definitely an anti-war song; I like the bold and fast pace of this song. If you want to listen to a great protest song, this would belong in that category. It criticizes the president, who fails to do what he says, and it was a plea to bring our troops home from Vietnam. Don Brewers’s energetic drum workout really plays out well and electrifies this song.
43. Where is the Love by Black Eyed Peas
This iconic song from the Black Eyed Peas does more than speak about war. In fact, it talks about all the cruel and inhumane things in today’s world. The Black Eyed Peas wrote this song in response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers. The lyrics in this song address all the issues in society like war, racism, gang violence, intolerance, and LGBTQ hate crimes.
44. Machine Gun by Jimi Hendrix
|Genre||Psychedelic Soul, Hard Rock|
|Album||Band of Gypsys|
Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” lyrics talk about the manipulation at the top and getting people to kill each other in war for nothing. Specifically, it talked about the Vietnam War and the Vietcong tactics of war. Oftentimes, they were farmers who would work in the fields by day and kill US soldiers by night. This is what the lyrics talk about, and it talks about how war deadens us over time to the pain. The final lyrics in the song say, “Let’s all live and live, you know, instead of killin’.” This is a direct call to action against war.
45. California Dreamin’ by Mamas and Papas
This song even became an expression in Vietnam, and the soldiers would say, “California Dreamin’” as an expression to be free and away from the hardships. They didn’t originally make this song an anti-war song, but like many other songs in the Vietnam era, they adopted them to make them about it. The song is worth a listen as a piece that sums up the 1960s and its beauty.
46. It’s a Mistake by Men at Work
“It’s a Mistake” by Men at Work talks about what might happen in a nuclear war due to the arms buildup between the Soviet Union and the United States. Especially if you watch the music video, it has a lighthearted tone, but the theme has a serious meaning to it. This song talks about how they never know who might push the launch button on the nuclear missiles by accident. This song sums up the fear felt during the Cold War. It also talks about how it will do no good to cry about it after the damage has been done. This song looks at what the end of the world will look like.
47. What are You Fighting For by Phil Ochs
|Album||The Early Years|
This song, while being an anti-war song, also talks about the values we engender and the reasons that we hold those values. It looks at what we truly want to fight for rather than fighting blindly in a war.
48. Boom! by System of a Down
|Album||Steal This Album!|
“Boom!” is a song that talks about how we could spend our money on more productive things than bombs and weapons. It talks about the issues in society and the song was written in direct criticism of the War in Iraq and how the bombs were killing children. The song also talks about how everyone in society has a responsibility to participate in the global dialogue against wars.
49. War Pigs by Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath released “War Pigs” in 1970 as an anti-war protest song. The band said that it took its inspiration from the Vietnam War, and they talk about those who send people to war to die without getting their own hands dirty. They made this song to criticize warmongers and those who profit from war. Ultimately, this song does its best to show how the root of evil comes from war. Especially for the time, Black Sabbath was only two years into its music career, and this song became iconic and one of the best anti-war songs ever released for heavy metal.
50. Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? by Megadeth
Megadeth has written a ton of songs against wars, and it’s quite a political band in terms of its music. You only have to read the titles to know their stance on war. This song deals with disillusion and the politics of the Cold War. These themes occur throughout Megadeth’s songs, and this song is regarded as one of the milestones in metal music. The song has some great aggression typical of 80s metal bands.
51. Army Reserve by Pearl Jam
“Army Reserve” is told from the perspective of a woman whose husband went off to war. He fights for his family and his son, but some believe that he passes away in the war. This song is one of the best on the Pearl Jam album. This song is ghostly and haunting, and it has beautiful and poetic lyrics. Pearl Jam is the band that helped to popularize grunge music in the early 90s.
52. Handsome Johnny by Richie Havens
Following the story of the stereotypical soldier, “Handsome Johnny” looks at the most famous battles in the Vietnam War and the civil rights marches that followed. This is a lively song that isn’t as well known but well worth a listen. “Handsome Johnny” looks to do the right thing always, but it often winds him up in terrible situations.
Hi, my name is Kevin and I’m from Butler, Pennsylvania. I’ve been obsessed with music and audio gear for as long as I can remember. I started this website to help people find professional advice related to a wide range of audio topics. We have a number of Audio Engineers on our team who have been designing and fixing audio gear for decades.