Bob Dylan: Timeless War Anthems

Throughout Bob Dylan’s early career, many of his songs reference war. There is a sense of urgency in his lyricism and it seems as though Dylan is preaching peace to his listeners. While an anti-war theme is present in many of Dylan’s songs, I think that it is most noticeable in “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Masters of War”. Both of these songs were written in 1963, but the impact they have made in society is still ever-present. The themes of these songs are still relevant today, as we are still struggling to change what Dylan aspired to as well.

In his 1963 song “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Dylan poses a series of questions that are difficult to answer. He also seems to criticize the United States’ involvement in war. During the time this song was written, the Vietnam War was ongoing, so one can assume that Dylan was referencing it in this song. Dylan references a white dove in the lines “How many seas must a white dove sail Before she sleeps in the sand?”. His inclusion of a dove could hint to the dove’s biblical meaning, which is peace. With this, Dylan is questioning how long it will be until peace returns in society. He introduces religious elements into the song to strengthen his argument for his listeners. In the next line of the song, “Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannonballs fly Before they're forever banned?” Dylan points to the government while outwardly referencing war. Essentially, he is asking our nation’s leaders how much longer the pain and suffering associated with war has to occur until it will be stopped.

Dylan says, “The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind” numerous times throughout the song. By using this metaphor, Dylan means that the answers to any of these problems are out there, you just have to be willing to grasp them, like a piece of paper caught up in a gust of wind. This line also shows how Dylan is connecting to listeners. He calls them his friend, which creates a more personal experience for anyone listening to the song. Later, Dylan says, “Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head And pretend that he just doesn’t see?”. This line expresses Dylan’s concern that society turns a blind eye to problems that aren’t directly in front of them, which leads them nowhere in this situation, whether it be referencing war, or the civil rights movement.

While Dylan doesn’t introduce any characters into the song, I feel like he is putting his thoughts out in the open for everyone to hear. “Blowin’ in the Wind” is commonly seen as a civil rights anthem, I find that Dylan’s lyrics pertain to an anti-war argument as well. Dylan’s ambiguity of the true meaning of the song allows listeners to draw their own conclusions and it gives the song more versatility. Listeners can attribute Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” to general feelings of hope and striving for change.

Another song that emphasises Dylan’s anti-war feelings is his 1963 song “Masters of War”. Dylan was inspired by the arrangement of a song named “Nottamun Town” which was made popular by folk singer Jean Ritchie (Callesen). In “Masters of War”, Dylan is speaking to world leaders, nicknamed “masters of war”, and expressing his distaste for war in general.

“Masters of War” is starkly different compared to Dylan’s other songs, as he relentlessly denounces military leaders in a blunt, hateful manner. This contrast to the rest of his discography shows the magnitude of Dylan’s feelings towards this topic. Dylan explains how these leaders use innocent citizens to fight their causes for them and that they simply look the other way from the unnecessary destruction war causes. In the lines, “You put a gun in my hand and you hide from my eyes, and you turn and run farther when the fast bullets fly” Dylan is explaining how government officials hide behind the soldiers who are actually facing danger, and that they aren’t affected by their decisions. Dylan also introduces religious elements into this song similarly to how he did in “Blowin’ in the Wind”. In the lines, “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” Dylan compares war leaders to Judas Iscariot, who famously betrayed Jesus in the bible (Biography). Dylan’s allusion to Judas shows that he views those behind war as evil, manipulative people. These lines also show that Dylan does not trust these leaders. Politicians tell citizens that they will win the war, when in reality it is unknown who will win. Dylan knows that politicians spread lies for everyone to hear, and hopes that others will realize this too.

Later on, Dylan mentions religious beliefs again when he says,”Jesus would never forgive what you do”. This statement encompasses how Dylan feels about the actions of our nation’s leaders. He feels as though their decisions so disgraceful that not even Jesus would support them, even though Jesus is supposed to forgive everyone. For the remainder of the song, Dylan’s tone escalates even higher, when he says that he hopes the masters of war die. He becomes more aggressive with his words and listeners can feel the hatred in his word choice. Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” encompasses Dylan’s disapproval of war. Its dark lyrics set the overall mood of the song, which accompanies Dylan’s disdain for the cowardice of these figures.

Bob Dylan’s 1963 songs “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Masters of War” both express an anti-war narrative. However, “Blowin’ in the Wind” shares an optimistic view of Dylan’s beliefs, while “Masters of War” has a more brash approach. These songs remain relevant in today’s society, as we are facing similar issues more than fifty years later. Dylan’s lyrics, whether they be admired or criticized, pose complex questions to listeners and push boundaries that other artists fear to.


  • “Blowin' in the Wind: The Official Bob Dylan Site.” Blowin' in the Wind | The Official Bob Dylan Site,
  • Callesen, Emma. “‘Masters of War’ by Bob Dylan.” Music Politics, 30 Nov. 2015,
  • “Judas Iscariot.”, A&E Networks Television, 14 Aug. 2019,
  • “Masters of War: The Official Bob Dylan Site.” Masters of War | The Official Bob Dylan Site,
  • “Nottamun Town.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 July 2019,   
01 July 2023
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