Edwin Starr’s Powerful Song Still Rings True

During the height of the Vietnam War, when even Walter Cronkite was beginning to question whether we should be there, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong penned a song simply called “War.” The lyrics are magnificently belted out by Edwin Starr as the song vaulted up the charts. While there is repetition, I have included the entire lyrics below for your emphasis.

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Uh-huh
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, y’all

War, huh, good God
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

Ohhh, war, I despise
Because it means destruction
Of innocent lives

War means tears
To thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
And lose their lives

I said, war, huh
Good God, y’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again

War, whoa, Lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

War, it ain’t nothing
But a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker
Ooooh, war
It’s an enemy to all mankind
The point of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die
Aaaaah, war-huh
Good God y’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it, say it, say it
War, huh
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Uh-huh
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again y’all
War, huh, good God
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

War, it ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker
War, it’s got one friend
That’s the undertaker
Ooooh, war, has shattered
Many a young mans dreams
Made him disabled, bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious
To spend fighting wars these days
War can’t give life
It can only take it away

Ooooh, war, huh
Good God y’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again

War, whoa, Lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

War, it ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker
Peace, love and understanding
Tell me, is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord knows there’s got to be a better way

Ooooooh, war, huh
Good God y’all
What is it good for
You tell me
Say it, say it, say it, say it

War, huh
Good God y’all
What is it good for
Stand up and shout it
Nothing

I have a simple thesis which is echoed by our valiant troops. Exhaust other means to address a problem before we commit our young men and women to die. If we commit our troops, make sure we know what the end game looks like along with a strategy that is flexible to meet the changing demands. And, we need to make sure we equip our troops to the fight that is needed. Finally, let’s spend as much money as needed to help our troops when they return, both mentally and physically.

War is an ugly thing. I am not a fan of chest beaters with no answers to complicated problems. I am also not keen on people creating bigger problems than they are to win elections. If we must fight, let’s do it for the right reasons where we can make a difference. We seem to fail to learn this lesson. Here is a simple question for any chest beater – what do you propose to do and how can you guarantee that will be successful and not cause other problems?

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12 thoughts on “Edwin Starr’s Powerful Song Still Rings True

  1. Spot On. But I can’t read those words without thinking of the joke Jerry Seinfeld pulled on his friend Elaine when he told her Tolstoy had originally considered “War, What Is It Good For” as the title to what became “War and Peace.”

  2. There’s a reason all these armchair chicken hawks are so strongly for war. None of them have ever been in the military, and none of them have family or friends in the military. If there were compulsive military service in this country, and their little sons and daughters were members and faced danger, how quickly their songs would change.

    • That would get folks to take more notice of what is going on rather than what tend to pay attention to here – fashion, entertainment, sports, etc.

    • Lisa, sounds like the chorus from “Where have all the flowers gone?” The future of learning from past mistakes looks less promising, especially when we change the history to fit a political narrative. The invalidated WMD reason for invading Iraq overshadowed the decision to ignore our generals and go in with too few troops, to not adequately equip our troops for a desert battle, to fire the largely Sunni police force which is now part of ISIS, to have to few interpreters, to rely on some self serving confidantes, etc. The best line was uttered by a former Vietnam veteran and now historian back when all this happened – he said if we invade Iraq, be prepared to be there for 30 years. Sorry for the wordy answer, but I see folks listening to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, whose opinion should be taken with a grain of salt (due to their bias and involvement). Thanks for your comment, BTG

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