Masters of War – Bob Dylan

Masters of War

Bob Dylan / 4:31

Musician: Bob Dylan: vocals, guitar

Recording Studio: Columbia Recording Studios / Studio A, New York: April 23, 1963

Bob Dylan wrote “Masters of War” during the winter of 1962–63, right after the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. He sang “Masters of War” in public at Gerde’s Folk City for the first time on January 21, 1963, and published the lyrics soon after in February in Broadside (number 20) along with drawings by Suze Rotolo, two months before the official recording session with Columbia.

Ironically, when the readers of Broadside read the lyrics and when the public at large discovered it, the repercussions were considerable. Very rarely—perhaps never—had Americans ever heard such a bitter and determined condemnation of war.

For many people, this was a misunderstanding. “Masters of War” is not an ode to pacifism—even if students quickly turned it into a hymn against American involvement in Vietnam, but rather an aggressive attack on the warmongers, on those who have vested interests in seeing the world explode into conflict and, as the song says so eloquently, “hide behind desks.” The songwriter was alluding to the American military-industrial complex, which was first denounced by Dwight D. Eisenhower himself in his farewell address from the Oval Office on January 17, 1961. In an interview granted to USA Today on September 10, 2001, Dylan was explicit: “[‘Masters of War’] is not an antiwar song. It’s speaking against what Eisenhower was calling a military-industrial complex as he was making his exit from the presidency. That spirit was in the air, and I picked it up”

Come, you masters of war

You that build the big guns

You that build the death planes

You that build all the 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 all the triggers

For the others to fire

Then you sit back and watch

While the death count gets higher

You hide in your mansion

While the young peoples’ 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 threatenin’ 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

That 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 will come soon

I’ll follow your casket

On a pale afternoon

I’ll watch while you’re lowered

Down to your deathbed

And I’ll stand over your grave

‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead

Source: Bob Dylan: All The Songs

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