Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and recorded by Edwin Starr, “War” is one of the most famous protest songs of the latter part of the 20th century. This is a song protesting the war in Vietnam, the first truly unpopular war in the history of the United States (War (song)). Starr’s song harnesses the anger of the general populace towards the war and channels this anger into a persuasive and moving medium.
The Vietnam War was met by heavy public resistance by the general public as it progressed and as atrocities were uncovered. As new information was reported about the massacres in Vietnam in 1969, public opinion sharply turned against the war (Vietnam War 7). Edwin Starr’s release of “War” in June of 1970 reflected the growing negative feelings of the public.
Starr articulates the fears of a growing number of Americans in his song, using rhetoric that is understood by all; the rhetoric of consensus. Starr protests, “War means tears to thousands of mother's eyes, /When their sons gone to fight and lose their lives”. A draft was instituted during the Vietnam War. Very few young men were safe from the draft lottery. The terror and anger of mothers sending their sons off to war was indeed universal. By appealing to this universal feeling, this common denominator, Starr not only articulates the feelings of the public, but also puts himself in a position to encourage others to join his cause.
The delivery and performance aspects of the “War” also serve to highlight Starr’s message. The beat and rhythm of the song articulate the anger of the public towards the destructive war. Percussion instruments and the saxophone are used to convey the strength of the message. The beat is strong and loud and the rhythm fast, underlining the force of Starr’s point. The raw and guttural sound of the lyrics--- “War...huh...yeah/What is it good for? /Absolutely nothing” also add to the effect. The combination of the lyrics and the delivery make a formidable and...
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